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Class ?

Main Category: Electronica
Also applicable: Mood Music
Starting Period: The Interim Years
Also active in: The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties,

From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Klaus Schulze fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Klaus Schulze fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1972

I suppose I could simply justify this low rating by referring the reader to my reviews of early Tangerine Dream albums, most notably Zeit. To put it brief, this record is just the kind of 'cosmic' stuff that the Ohr label, to which Schulze was assigned, wanted everybody to do so badly in the early Seventies, and thirty years on, it just sucks. Ironically, Schulze and Tangerine Dream's Edgar Froese are said to have parted ways after TD's first album, Electronic Meditation, notably because Schulze wanted to do this kind of purely electronic stuff (something really new, man!), while Froese was still sticking to guitar arrangements - yet right when Schulze was putting forward Irrlicht, Froese steered the band into writing Zeit, tee hee hee. And they appeared to be stuck on the same label, too, probably hating each other, or else hating the fact that they parted ways so abruptly when in fact there was much more similarity between the two...

But back to the music, now. Irrlicht ('Wandering Light') is a bit better than Zeit, most notably because it functions better as background music - there's none of that stop-and-start dissonant industrial crap that deconcentrates the listener. That's why it gains an extra half-point. And another extra half-point is earned by the album's technical mastership; you might not believe it, but Schulze actually produced Irrlicht without using a simple synthesizer - just an old organ, a couple oscillators, a whiny cracked amplifier, and occasionally, a little tidbit of symphonic orchestra played through this cracked amplifier and mixed in a backward direction. And all this gives an effect that's quite similar to the effect produced by the best synth-produced muzak.

Could have given, rather, because essentially Irrlicht is not that far removed from George Harrison's messing around with the synthesizer on Electronic Sound; the main difference is that George just turned whatever knob he could find and seemed intent on recording whatever sound combination he could produce (like a little kid happily exhausting his painting kit over your front door never caring much for a particular effect), while Schulze goes for atmosphere. He doesn't spend that much effort, though, creatively at least. I have no doubt that each of those twenty-minute long tracks took hours and hours of hardship and toil to arrange and place on record, but I count about one and a half musical ideas on 'Satz Ebene' and about half a musical idea on 'Satz Exil Sils Maria' (no idea what that second title might mean - the first means something like 'smooth part'). Wanna know why the absolute majority of electronic composers are so dang prolific? Because they use as many different notes on twenty albums as a normal rock band, not even a very creative one, would have used on one. In other words, give me just one song like 'A Day In The Life', I mean, and I can definitely use it as the main source of inspiration for at least a dozen electronic albums of this type.

Which means that Irrlicht is a badly dated record, of course. But doesn't mean it's impossible to appreciate, of course. Sure, it's just the kind of sound you now see in every average sci-fi movie, but it is ORIGINAL, and that means a lot. Don't deny originality! Would you dare to claim that a faithful reproduction of Mona Lisa has the same charm as the original? Dare to claim this! Irrlicht should at least be treasured as a tidbit of historical delight. Plus, let's just imagine it's your first venture into the world of electronic music. Then, 'Satz Ebene', with its solemn oscillating organ parts, will give you a feeling of something stern, eternal, transcendental, well, in other words, just exactly what the soul of a German needs. Then the short 'Satz Gewitter' will serve as a brief cosmic interlude (kinda like an airlock which transports you from one dimension into another), and 'Satz Exil Sils Maria' will... well, actually, for the most part 'Satz Exil Sils Maria' makes me feel like I'm locked in a secret atomic laboratory and forced to watch the endlessly spinning dials, but maybe it'll cause other feelings for you, I dunno.

All in all, definitely an acquired taste - and dare I say, dis-acquired, as I really doubt people would be taking this album seriously today. Fortunately, Klaus soon moved on to better things, and he actually spent far less time in the clutches of the Ohr people than Tangerine Dream did.



Year Of Release: 1973

But of course, before Schulze moved on to better things, he moved on to worse things. This is even closer to TD's Zeit, in that it's a double album with each side dominated by a twenty-plus minute suite. And believe me, it's completely unlistenable.

Well, almost completely. One thing you learn to do when you're in this friggin' reviewin' business is to stay away from categoric statements. For instance, just as I wrote that sentence, I realized I actually sat through the whole experience two times without vomiting or having a mental breakdown or donating my entire CD collection to people who know better. In that respect, Cyborg is dang much listenable. And it's certainly better than Zeit in that there seems to be an actual theme running through all of these ninety minutes. I may be wrong, but it's as if Schulze were, you know, describing the inner construction and processes of an electronic being. It starts with the 'blood-and-bone' structure of 'Synphara' and 'Conphara', then gets deeper with 'Chromengel', and finally gets to the 'brain' of the thing with 'Neuronengesang' ('Song Of The Neurons', you know, that kind of crap). This kind of, well, sonic perspective would certainly be the ultimate soundtrack to a documentary which is dedicated to describing all these physical/chemical inner processes in substance. Like, when the camera, or the graphic approximation of whatever is going on, just hangs out on the screen before you and you get to see all the cells pulsating and all the electrons circulating and so on - in this case, the music not only helps you not to get bored, but also adds an atmosphere of seriousness, solemnity and occasionally serenity to the proceedings. So you get a feeling that this is no ordinary routine - this is magical activity, maybe festered by the Lord, maybe not...

I DO seem to be carried away, but that's the only way to analyze this album - if you try doing this from a purely technical standpoint, it deserves a minus rating. Once again, back in the early Seventies this stuff was deemed radical and revolutionary. And as a sonic panorama, Cyborg really opened the eyes and souls of many, which is a thing I can't deny. But that's the very problem with such kind of minimalistic atmospheric stuff: everybody can do this. I can bet anybody's life I can go to the nearest videotheque, borrow a bunch of cheap sci-fi flicks made over the last twenty years and extract numerous 'sonic themes' out of them that only a seasoned expert would distinguish from this stuff. Am I supposed to revere it simply because it's Klaus Schulze who did it and simply because he did it first? (More or less). That's a question to be pondered upon.

'Conphara' and 'Chromengel' seem to be a bit more musically developed than the other two, mainly because there are actual chord changes there - Klaus plays with his organs and Mellotrons and stuff and draws slightly Gothic-like little patterns, but even these have to be listened to over and over to understand there's actually something going on. (That doesn't mean the tracks require multiple listens - they go over twenty minutes and according to the rules of 'ambient', or 'kosmik rock', as the term 'ambient' was still non-existent back then, they sound more or less the same at any given minute, so eventually the 'theme' will get to you whether you really want it or not). 'Neuronengesang', on the other hand, seems to have a "fuller" production, as it's conceptually the most important thing on the album, but apart from the sci-fi loop on which the whole composition is based, I didn't really notice anything else. Today, to do something like that, you just program your computer and leave it overnight. Back then, Schulze must have huffed and puffed to do something like that. I admire the effort, and I admit it hasn't been entirely wasted, having inspired so many better things to come, but that's about it.

Not that I really hate the album, mind you - as background music, it works - but the length really offends me. Had he at least cut the lengths down to ten minutes each and put out a single LP of four tracks, I'd maybe have given this stuff an extra point or so, because, frankly, ten minutes is absolutely tops for each of these 'things'. As such, I simply consider this whole experiment to have been a shameless mockery of poor vinyl buyers. Pay for a double LP when all you get is two or three different musical ideas? Call me simplistic, close-minded, subjective, biased, superstitious, ignorant, empty-headed, unpracticed, unschooled, half-baked, half-assed, half-brained, moron, mooncalf, fascist, communist, maoist, or vegetarian, but then again, so are most people in the world, I guess, and they'd all have to agree with me. Or maybe not? You make the call!



Year Of Release: 1973

Aha! Now we're finally getting somewhere! In fact, we're definitely getting somewhere, as this album was the reason (or the pretext) for a serious conflict between Klaus and the Ohr label that resulted in its being seriously delayed. Or else it was just that Klaus and Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser, the Kosmik Dude number one, ceased to see eye-to-eye over different matters. Could be. Whatever the reason, Picture Music was delayed, saw the light of day only after the success of Blackdance and so naturally could be neglected as an important step in Schulze's evolution.

The structure of the music doesn't really change all that much - once Klaus gets the groove going, he really doesn't feel the need to stop it until he runs out of vinyl. Two long twenty-minute compositions again. The important difference is that finally, there's some kind of rhytmic pulsation to the groove: Schulze introduces the throbbing synth loops, even earlier than Tangerine Dream introduced theirs (or more or less at the same time - funny that the first TD rhythmic loops appeared on Green Desert, which was also recorded in 1973 and also delayed until better times. Coincidence? I think not.), and in the blink of an eye the album is transformed from chaotic atmospheric sludge to... rhythmic atmospheric sludge. Which one is better? The second one, of course. You have atmosphere AND you have rhythm, whereas earlier you had only the atrmosphere. That's a pretty straightforward manner of thinking, for sure, but if we never get our way of thinking straightforward, we'll be forced to walk slant-eyed for the rest of our lives. Just a thought.

Anyway, 'Totem' haunts us for about eighteen minutes or so with these drip-dropping bleeps and beeps looped in a never ending cycle, while the background is still the same - Schulze fidgets around with the organs and stuff and goes for the same kind of sci-fi sound. Subtract the rhythmic pulsation and you get Cyborg. Later on, however, you find out that the bleeps and beeps aren't always the same - the rhythmic pattern slowly, but constantly evolves, and becomes almost intriguing in its constant evolution. Then, towards the end of the track, it just fades away, and we're left with several minutes of pure atmospheric pitter-patter. If the track weren't called 'Totem', I'd suggest it represents a quiet, relaxed astral voyage with the traveller leaving ship at the end and finding himself on some faraway lonely planet; as it is, I'm not quite sure what are the associations Schulze would like us to experience.

That said, 'Totem', even with its loops, is not the main point of departure. The main point of departure is 'Mental Door', which finally founds Klaus writing a real electronic symphony - it's a piece that has a real evolution, and gruesomely violates the main principle of ambient in that different parts of it actually sound in different ways despite being integrated into an organic whole. Oh sure, Herr Kaiser could not have forgiven such a vile betrayal of the essence of Kosmik Rock, now could he? The first seven minutes of it (yeah, get used to it! When you're dealing with electronica pioneers, a twenty-minute track is the NORM! In fact, a twenty-minute track is a SHORT track!), anyway, the first seven minutes of it almost deceive you into thinking it's the same moody bore as everything on Cyborg, but then at about 8:00 or so, there's this really sleazy, really nasty, really ominous organ riff coming in and things start to move. Eventually, drums join in (don't forget that Klaus was originally an avantgarde drummer!), then the astral bubbly synths and the heavenly background Mellotrons (I may be wrong in defining the instruments, forgive me in advance) complete the establishing of the whole pattern. And then, as the jerky little riffs suddenly break off at 17:34, the whole suite radically shifts gears and loses all of its aggression in favour of a majestic-sounding, yet somewhat humble finale. Throughout, Klaus' drumming is admirable - he's one of those bashers who's all over the place, but he does know how to use a drum pattern in a creative way.

It's not as if I were standing on my knees and praying to this record right now. It's not a masterpiece - it's a transitional effort that's actually quite dated by now, not really any less than Cyborg. But at least when I listen to 'Mental Door' I get a clear feeling that this isn't just a kind of ordinary sci-fi soundtrack muzak that anybody can make. Even today, it would actually take wits, talent, and technicality to get something like that out of your system, not just a few turns of the knobs or a few computer taps. So, if Irrlicht and Cyborg showed the world that Klaus Schulze had a whole pack of original ideas in his pocket (full pack - one idea per track, at least!), Picture Music actually showed the world that the guy HAD the guts to carry them out in a good way. Although, just to be frank and spoil the mood of all you Schulze fans some more... remember that 'festival of drip-bleeps' that closes the main part of 'Totem'? It sounded really really cool. But it wasn't until Brian Eno took that trick and used it within the context of an excellent pop song (the coda to 'King's Lead Hat') that it really began to sound totally amazing. I guess that should have sounded like total blasphemy for electronic music fans... I realize that. Heh.



Year Of Release: 1974

Just a bit of patience, ladies and gentlemen, we're definitely getting there. What's that I hear on 'Way Of Changes'? Do my ears fail me, or is that acoustic guitar? Real, crystal clear acoustic guitar? Klaus Schulze kowtowing to the mainstream? Trimming down the proud artistic excesses to fit the ears of the lowest common denominator? FUCK THAT SELLOUT!

Oh, never mind. I've been ironizing on the sell out subject for so much time now it really doesn't matter any more. What does matter is that Blackdance isn't really much of an improvement over Picture Music, but it's still a tolerable record. At least the two main parts of it, because the seven-minute long 'Some Velvet Phasing' just doesn't go anywhere. Oh no, not that it's supposed to. It matches its perfectly selected title pretty well - 'velvet phasing' is what Schulze does on the album, only to me it looks like he just repeats the same 'velvet phase' over and over again. When you do this for sixty minutes on end, it's called 'artistic sonic genius', dubbed Thursday Afternoon and credited to Brian Eno. When you do this for but eight minutes, it's called sonic masturbation, dubbed 'Velvet Phasing' and credited to Klaus Schulze. Is that a contradiction I hear coming from meself? Ponder on it, ladies and gentlemen.

In the meantime, let me introduce you to 'Way Of Changes'. It is a bit similar to 'Totem' in that it's also a lengthy 'driving' tune based on loops that propel you into the future with a rapid-fire quiet groove. But one thing is entirely gone, and that is the sci-fi feel. Really now, if a track starts with a bit of background atmospheric synth and a rambling nearly-classical acoustic guitar shuffle, how 'sci-fi' is that? Then, after a few minutes, the guitar parts go away, replaced by a synthesized drum beat, but it almost sounds like real drums, with synthesized cymbals and stuff, and there's a certain 'open' sound to this track which was deifintely lacking in 'Totem' (I'd categorize 'Totem' as more of a 'claustrophobic' number, you know).

In other words, my guess is that Blackdance really rips us out of the limited, almost self-isolated world of 'Kosmik Rock' of the previous releases and offers a vast field for further experimentation. And so much for the better - no longer is it sufficient to just find the right 'kosmik' note and then repeat it forever because it is so 'kosmik' that nothing else matters. Now it also becomes necessary to prove that Electronica actually has the potential to fulfill other functions as well - that it can be substituted in a skilled and talented way for certain other musical philosophies, if not for every one of them.

Therefore, 'Voices Of Syn', the album's longest track, begins with some German guy chanting operatic-style arias over a church organ background... okay, it's not really church organ, it's really just another one of Schulze's synths that occasionally undergoes some 'velvet phasing' as well. The feeling? The feeling is that the singing and the musical background are integrated a bit too clumsy, as if they're battling with each other instead of, you know, harmonizing and all. But there's also the feeling that essentially, this approach works and can be developed to greater heights. Then, after six minutes of singing and phasing, a strange, almost tribal 'chooka-chooka' synthesized rhythm appears and carries the composition to its logical end sixteen minutes later...

Let me also notice that I don't enjoy Blackdance at all the way I enjoy its excellent successor. In fact, I am looking at all those four albums from the point of view of a, er, 'distant' listener that is able to understand how all this stuff might be really pleasant and all to some people, but essentially I am way more interested just in following Schulze's artistic evolution because it intrigues me. Essentially, this is all too early: Blackdance is way more 'mature' than Irrlicht, of course, but twenty five years on, it's still not very listenable. However, that would all soon change.


TIMEWIND ****1/2

Year Of Release: 1975

HERE. Just stop right here. This is the acknowledged classic, and rightly so. Again, it's not radically different from its predecessors, but it differs just in the exact proportion to be a breathtaking chef-d'oeuvre where the others were not. As far as I know, Timewind was inspired by Wagner's music and is supposed to carry around a sort of 'glorious medievalistic note mixed with a late XIXth century Germanic feel', something like that. But even if you've never heard about any circumstances of the album's recording, that's no big problem - Timewind is a prime mood piece in any case. But not a mood piece in the way of Schulze's early minimalistic Kosmik Rock stuff. It's almost symphonic in structure, with carefully elaborated rhythms and tricky alternating patterns. It may seem that there's little or even nothing going on while the synth loops carry forward the 'rudimentary' melody, but it is not so. Something happens all the time.

The album is pretty huge in length - I don't know how Schulze managed to fit almost an hour worth of sonic perspective onto a single LP, but somehow he did it. 'Bayreuth Return' occupies the first side, and true to the 'timewinds', it sounds very close to Tangerine Dream's albums of the time like Phaedra or Rubycon, but mostly because all of them are based on jerky synth loops - here, one of these loops serves as a basis for the entire composition. It's made really well, though - I have to suppose that it does matter which synths you are using, after all, because some loops sound positively dorky, while this one is as close to a shimmering soloing classical keyboard instrument as possible. (Besides, its tone is alternating from time to time, putting it sometimes closer to harpsichord, sometimes closer to piano, etc.).

Against the loop's background Schulze arranges everything else - which is not that much (everything is purely electronic once again), but always effective. There's the sound of the wind. There are heavenly organs that don't change much. There are goofy little 'brassy' synth notes popping out from time to time. It's kinda cute to notice these things. But of course, the LOOP is still the main ingredient - one of the best things about perfectly made mood music is how perfectly made mood music stays mostly within the same basic mood pattern, but is able to explore various 'corners' of the same mood. You may not notice a lot of changes by listening to the composition in its entirety, but try skipping parts of it and see how it fits - it won't fit at all. It's just as if you tried to fast-forward the sun from one part of the sky to another. This whole thing flows so smoothly it's a real wonder. Until, of course, it isn't cut off by that nasty slab of white noise at the very end. That one, when it first arrived, made me jump out of my chair almost like some goddamn Pink Floyd gimmick. Bastard!

And then we move on to 'Wahnfried 1883'. For me, it's not as effective, mainly because there's no rhythm and there are no loops; it is supposed to be more 'relaxed' in tone, I guess. But it's still emotionally resonant, particularly if played very, very loud... and it's supposed to be played very loud, just like Wagner. It's quite minimalistic again - as far as I understand, it's just one synthesizer carrying forward the melody (which, frankly speaking, is more Bach than Wagner in itself), but the key factor to the understanding of this stuff is the awesome combination: "main organ/synth melody + ominous sea noises + dinky sci-fi noises crashing on the listener every now and then". The combination in question really gives the track an apocalyptic mood where there couldn't be supposed to be one, and prepares you for the furious, vicious outcome, when the melody fades away and Schulze finally cannot resist the temptation to instigate a chaotic 'synth battle' to top off the whole experience.

In short, this is the genial breakthrough if there ever was one - not only is this stuff groundbreaking, it's also nerve-pulling, enough if not to make you cry, then at least to sit down and think a little metaphysical thought after it's all over. And believe me, I've heard quite a lot of Electronica stuff by now to make sure there's plenty of 'pompous-sounding' stuff in that genre that's completely generic, or completely dated. Irrlicht, for instance. So, what's the recipe of making a decent Electronica album? Why, bring out some Wagner influences, of course!



Year Of Release: 1976

Not as cool, mainly because it's almost a carbon copy of its predecessor. Another "two-part Electronic Symphony" with a 'rougher' side and a 'gentler' side; the big difference is that the 'gentler' side eventually also becomes 'rough', but generally the conception is the same. And this time around, there's no novelty value at all. There are some vocals, though - somebody saying a prayer in Arabic at the beginning of the first side, I believe, and some female wordless chanting on the second side. There are some drums as well. Maybe there are actually more kinds of synths than last time around; I didn't exactly notice.

What I did notice was that 'Floating' did not at all entice me with its main synth loop. All this Tangerine Dream and Schulze listening leads me to the brilliant conclusion that there are actually two types of loops: the 'bright' loop and the 'dull' loop. The 'bright' loops are usually taken in a higher key and brought to the forefront where they shimmer and glimmer in all of their gorgeous beauty (or intentional ugliness); the 'dull' loops are usually lower and shoved into the background just so that they could uphold the actual rhythm. In the latter case, a loop only serves the purpose of adding rhythm; in the former case, the loop is a value in itself. So this does not necessarily mean that a record with a 'dull' loop will be bad, but it sure adds additional pressure on the composer to add something really truly irresistibly atmospheric - otherwise, the record will be so smooth and untangible it would leave no impression.

I feel that 'Floating' doesn't exactly cope. The first seven or eight minutes of the track after the Arabic introduction are simply a sonic landscape with nothing to hold on to, just like the miriads of other sonic landscapes created by Klaus. Then, when the loop appears, you'd hope the melody would grow and state its case more loudly, but it doesn't. It just sits there in its ugly minimalism and never does anything. Yeah, like on 'Bayreuth Return', Schulze is playing his organs and Yamahas and Moogs and whatever his budget was allowing him at the time, but I can't really make out a single part. I can only understand that there's some kind of crescendo, with the volume slowly increasing and all kinds of sci-fi effects gradually added, but you know, there are limits to every crescendo - when you raise your pitch half a note per millennium, that's not a crescendo, that's a mockery. You can only guess it if you sit next to your CD player and toy with the fast forward button in many different ways. (Which is a rather cool thing to do - electronica albums were MADE for fast forwarding. In a purely experimental sense, of course - if you actually push your FF button with the ordinary purpose of "skipping that boring part over there", you might as well not put in the CD at all).

So 'Floating' kinda sucks, although I can't deny the [totally unoriginal] atmospherics. But the rating is still pretty high because of 'Mindphaser'; where 'Floating' was a serious regression after 'Bayreuth Return', 'Mindphaser' can even be called a relative improvement over 'Wahnfried 1883'. The first ten minutes give you another crescendo, more definitely performed this time; the further the 'heavenly' part of the tune progresses, with that pretty (but inhumane) female vocal in the background, the more you get the feeling that 'something is going to happen', and you're right, because around 11:45 or so the tune radically changes direction and goes into a gloomy Gregorian-influenced organ-dominated drum-based requiem-like composition where at a certain point all hell breaks loose. I don't know what this is supposed to represent. My mind only keeps drawing all kinds of generic sci-fi pictures, but one thing I know for sure that I've been sitting with this thing turned up loud for a long time, and then I suddenly got the urge to turn it down, not because I didn't like it, but because it started to scare me - the lower, growling synths almost appeared as some kind of heavy metal monsters. Well, Schulze is a German, after all, isn't he, and German art is known to draw heavily upon 'heavy' emotions; so this is typically 'suppressive', 'dominative' music. Hope you don't commit suicide to it... ah, well, chances are you'll just fall asleep to it, but you'll certainly be having some heavy dreams, I tell you.

All in all, though... are you still with me? Hey, you should be! What other guy in the world would give you such a detailed guide on Klaus Schulze? Hey, I probably wrote more words about the guy than he played notes on his synthesizers, ever! Ever! You wanna buy a Klaus Schulze album? You wanna be able to select from the billions of gazillions of his albums? Then shut up, sit down and listen: don't start with Moondawn, as it's nowhere near as good as Timewind. It's... yeah, it's mainly just a half-inspired transition piece from Timewind to Body Love. Get those two, skip this one. 'Mindphaser' is okay, but don't waste your money on 'Floating'. Listen, 'Floating' does a terrible thing. IT FADES OUT! Now do you believe me?



Year Of Release: 1977

Wow, a double album. Actually, more like two separate records - Vol. I and Vol. II - but if you pardon me, I'll review them in one sitting, because (a) they did come out in the same year and (b) they do belong to the same movie and most importantly (c) I'm not the kind of gushing Klaus Schulze fanatic to go around spewing million-sentences-long paragraphs about every cosmic mind-opening tape loop the man had the idea of committing to record.

Now, the movie thing. Apparently, all of the six tracks represented here made part of a porno movie Mr Schulze was invited to write the soundtrack for. This, and the very idea of electronica composers writing soundtracks for porn flicks in general (Vangelis also made stuff like Sex Power, remember that?), can set your mind off thinking in two opposite directions - (a) "Naturally, these guys couldn't make a living off their tape-fiddling and diddling, so at least they made some money from the porn bosses", and, in a more pleasant way, (b) "Hey, what a better way to apply your creative development! It's like, the sex scenes are long and, well, uh, pretty monotonous (unless you change position every second, which would be kinda tiresome for the actors, right?), so what a better way to accompany them than with a lengthy electronic sequence? And then, when he takes her from behind, you change the pitch a little, to diversify the scene a little, and when they go for the oral stuff, you bring on that Casio horn...'... uh, sorry, what was I speakin' about? Ah yes, well, I guess the correct answer here is both (a) and (b).

Anyway, the music is more or less the same as on Moondawn - essentially the same principles. There are some differences, though. First and foremost, the synths are way more prominent in the foreground than before, which is a bit strange from a formal-minded position: why does a porn flick actually need active, prominent synthesizers, almost 'synth solos' to distract the audience from, uh, the real thing? What's that, a brave pioneering move in electronica soundscapes? Well... maybe it is. 'Stardancer', which opens the album is actually pretty aggressive, with violent drum and drum machine bashings splattered all over the place, and even when the 'electronic groove' finally falls into place, the drums still accompany the tape loop and the tape loop itself isn't as significant as the wild synthesizer soloing that is mixed high above the loop.

Same goes for the 'lighter' tracks - 'Blanche', for instance, progresses from pure synthesized landscape of soothing sounds to something which actually has a distinct musical theme, or something like that, at least. As for 'Nowhere - Now Here', which opens the second disc of this conundrum, it has a rhythm, Jesus. I'm not talking techno rhythmics here, it, like, has a four-four beat. It's almost a progressive rock tune! With chorale vocals and real unmistakable synthesizer solos and all! Has a pretty majestic and serene feel to it, too (wonder what was going on in the film at the time... do you think music like that is more suitable for foreplay?). Okay, so it does go into the usual synth loop treatment after about ten minutes or so, but nobody will notice it because I can't imagine anybody listening with attention by the time Schulze's twenty-plus minute symphonies straddle past the first half.

And 'Stardancer II' is all pretty spooky, with the regular synth bleeps traded from speaker to speaker and the whole picture looking like Klaus was preparing the synth track to a scene on a dark night in a deep forest (rape and torture! I got it!). And 'Moogetique' is just a collection of grim hellish nightmares, like something you'd expect to hear in Quest For Glory V when you enter the realm of Hades. All in all, quite a sympathetic ride, and certainly stands alone without the images that accompany it (er, the porn images, I mean, not the Hades images). I can't however give this more than what I've given it, because the whole damn thing runs for almost two hours, and this makes you think of all those other albums Klaus Schulze made that also run for two hours, and this makes you wanna pull out your gun and blow the wanker's brains out, but I'll sublimate this action by saying it ain't worth than three stars. An exceptional way to kill your time, though. Did you know, by the way, that people used to go all trance-like when hearing this music? Boy, we must have come a long way from there.



Year Of Release: 1977

Am I supposed to believe that Body Love was Herr Schulze's way to make some quick bucks, while Mirage was his real and true artistic statement of the year? If so, that's the best evidence of how selling out can occasionally be a blessing.

Yes, I'm well aware of the fact that Mirage is usually held as one of Klaus' best achievements. It also pioneers a first: this is the first of his 'mature' albums that isn't actually based around rhythmics. The two long suites ('Velvet Voyage' and 'Crystal Lake') are supposed, this time around, to be perfectly atmospheric and create, indeed, a feeling of serenity, tranquillity, and - I guess - some kind of fantastic illusion around the listener. Schulze himself was saying that the idea of stuff like 'Crystal Lake' would be to help the listener realize his conception of 'air castles', create and materialize a whole new world of fantasy while the music is playing. And maybe in the context of a live show it does work out; on record, it's rather debatable.

First of all, I won't go into details about the actual idiosyncratic value of this album. Mirage is clearly 'ambient' work at its core, and has to be discussed in the general context of ambient music, both Schulze's own and that of the other guys doing the same tricks at the time. Frankly speaking, I do NOT see what makes Mirage so special even if we judge it against Schulze's production alone. He has been offering us quiet, relaxed ambient and proto-ambient work for some time now, starting from Timewind at least, and unless I have missed something crucial, I do not see that much difference in the actual ideas. Taken on its own, 'Velvet Voyage' is certainly mind-blowing, taken against 'Floating' and 'Wahnfried 1883', it's just more tape-pollutin'. Except that, unlike those two, it's safe to say that nothing ever happens during 'Velvet Voyage' - well, perhaps it does take about six or seven minutes to 'warm up' from the usual bunch of synthesizer howls, groans and sighs to the slow steady unnerving flow, but who really cares?

'Crystal Lake' is much better, though. But only for the first fifteen minutes of it. Schulze gets out a beautiful, crystal clear 'chiming' tone out of his synthesizers and again, slowly 'builds up' the atmosphere based on this delicate, delicious even chiming, adding layer after layer of synthesizer patterns until the 'tune' adds enough majesty and power to really give you visions of a majestic castle on a crystal lake. He does it so smoothly, with such mathematical precision, that it's a real gas just to take off these fifteen minutes and dedicate them to the analysis of the gradual 'maturation' of the theme. At the end, he grows so bold he actually adds on a layer of white noise (yeah, right, why not? wind on the lake!) and an ominous 'bass' pattern for the synth.

But alas, nothing lasts forever, and some things last even less than you'd want 'em to - midway through the suite, Schulze mercilessly kills off the theme and replaces it with the usual ambient blabbering that can, indeed, hardly be distinguished from the one on 'Velvet Voyage'. Granted, we could argue that there's a necessary mood change here, and that the gradual creation and 'maturation' of the 'air castle upon a crystal lake' needs to be followed by something different, like, for instance, a sudden mythical darkness that falls upon the castle or something like that. Okay then, make it two minutes more and then cut... but no, we have to endure fifteen more minutes of something we just had a good thirty minutes of on the first side. So yeah, that chiming pattern unexpectedly returns halfway through the second part, but by that time, it is simply treated as a 'nostalgic' part of the background and isn't even particularly discernible. What the heck?

So no, I hate this kind of stuff. If the idea of Mr Schulze without the trademark German electronic tape loops for an hour's worth sounds attractive to you, go ahead and get this record, but trust me, you'd be much better off by getting Timewind and X first. And if you want good ambient music, just sell your soul to the devil of reckless commercialization and buy yourself a Brian Eno album, hee hee.


X *****

Year Of Release: 1978

Jesus oh sweet Christ, is this long. My, oh my, is this goddamn long. Another double album, and each friggin' side goes over twenty-five minutes... makes it really close to two hours. I mean, yeah, I know, Body Love was just as long, but at least it came out as two separate records, this one was a double album from the very start. Someday we'll just set the poor hungry German farmers on this guy... who does he think he is, spending all these Deutschmarks on this kind of crap?

Okay, jes' jokin'. X is actually one of Schulze's best, and often comes up as the # 1 Schulze album in surveys and stuff. And it IS good - really adventurous, taking further chances than ever before, and really diverse, in that all the tracks really sound different from each other, the saving grace of this monster. Is there any kind of progress? I guess there is, but only a diehard electronia fan could tell you that - perhaps he's added some different kind of synth, or changed the number of layers in the left channel? Oh wait, let's just get to it when we see it. Now: X is a double album, supposedly dedicated to all kinds of German greats, seeing as how every track here sports a famous (or not so famous name). I can't really see the exact connection of, say, Heinrich von Kleist with the suite that bears his name, nor can I do that for anybody else, but supposedly that's not important. These are just dedications. What would it change if the Beatles dedicated Rubber Soul to Joseph Priestley? Or called 'Flying' 'Christopher Marlowe'? Nothing at all.

The album kicks off with 'Friedrich Nietzsche', which is actually - get this - a fast track, almost an electronic rocker. The background synth layers and grim chorale vocals aren't too fast, but there are also a few fast loops thrown in and a great drum track; I do hope these are some real drums Schulze is playing for the suite (oh, okay, well, they are, my mind just wasn't voluminous enough to take care of all the parts of that track). The suite rules! It can even be said to kick butt, which isn't exactly the most suitable definition for the work of Mr Schulze. There's energy and power, and Moog and Mellotron patterns that come out of each other, do some dinky-dinky work on their own, then merge together again, and all over this Schulze's paranoid drumwork rules supreme. Nietzsche would be proud.

'Georg Trakl' is the next one, and it's shamefully short... five minutes? What the hell is this? Napalm Death? Never mind that, it is a great track as well, slower and more refined and relaxed, with a much lighter drum pattern and some of those 'heavenly' atmospheric synths as the most prominent decoration (don't know the exact name of the synth, but I guess it's the same that Waters and Co. used on 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond'. Hope that makes your tail wag faster!).

'Frank Herbert' opens with a blast... and I mean it! A real blast, a blast and a swoosh of synthesized explosion, and we jump right into the main loop - a very uncommon practice for Schulze, who usually likes everything to start slow and quiet. The loop is aggressive and mean, too, and then the drums enter, and hoopla, it's another fast one, a real rave-up with amazing percussion swoops and swooshes and magnificent minimalistic solos. As the eleven minutes go by, it never gets boring, with the main loop sounding very much like a real funky bassline and the synth (and did I really hear some electric guitar bits out there or am I dreaming?) soloing really raises the adrenaline level if you're ready for it. This is true Electronica-Rock, ravin' and reelin' at its best.

'Friedermann Bach' finally gives you the half-side-long moody relaxed proto-ambient epic... NOT! Again, this one's seriously frigged up, made interesting rather than simply formulaic. It's really similar to that proverbial journey through a dark forest at night, with all of its surprises and mysteries and little shivery horrors, even if there's no real danger and you know it but you're still scared shitless because of all the rumbles and the rustlings and the whoo-hoo's of night birds and stuff. This is an ambient-kind of track, but the ambience is always interrupted by either shrill synthy screams or wild percussion crashes, and to top things off, Schulze actually overdubs strings here, lots of classical XVIII-th century-style Vivaldi-like strings that fit the gloomy atmosphere perfectly.

However, the strings are far more obvious on the first real side-long, 'Ludwig II von Bayern' (man, Schulze really loved that character, almost as much as Jane Jensen, I guess). Through its twenty-nine minutes, the suite goes through several different parts that range from all-out classical-electronic synthesis to monotonous mantraic two-note synthesizer sequences to a thunderous rhythmic pattern that almost has the potential of a war march. As far as electronic sidelongs go, this one can't be beat, and not even its main competitor, the other side's 'Heinrich von Kleist' can compete with its air of mystery and... shit, my language is too stiff for these kinds of things. I guess I'll just leave it at that.

Maybe the five-star rating is a bit over the top, but you see, this is easily the best Seventies' Electronica album I've heard, and it finally establishes the standard everybody should aspire for. Timewind is almost as good, and since it's available on one CD, it's more economic and might be a more reasonable first purchase, but if you're ready to spend a little bit more, Mr Rockefeller, don't regret splurging on this two-CD set ("quoth the sarcastic reviewer who's actually got it in MP3 form, but ssh! don't tell anybody or he'll get pissed off about it"), as the extra time gives Schulze the advantage to be more adventurous and try out just about every little trick he's had so far in his arsenal, and more.


DUNE *1/2

Year Of Release: 1979

You know, I've yet to find a less consistent artist than Herr Schulze (from my perspective, of course - I'm perfectly aware that for some fans, every single tone the man ever jerks out of his synths is treasurable). Just as I thought he finally picked it up, he lets it down again, and it's not like his creativity or inventiveness actually begins to sag: no. It's just that one day he's in the mood for a wild, freaking-out piece of electronic raving, and then the next day he sits down and think: 'Hmm... that last album kinda had too many notes in it, now didn't it? Let's trim it down'. And he gets out a hyper-minimalistic piece like side one of Mirage and I just want to die of boredom and a couple weird aural diseases I wouldn't want to identify on a public website like this.

Plus, I actually begin to think that for Schulze, putting out a double album actually works better, if only because he has more space on it. What your usual pop artist will express in two minutes, Schulze needs to express in twenty-two - it's not that he's "pretentious" or anything, it's just the rules of the game. And naturally, when you have four sides of vinyl to choke with your atmospheres, your hands are relatively untied as compared to when you only have two sides... and you can't release double albums all the time because you're not Frank Zappa. There's only so many double albums one soul can take.

But enough with that... let's get on with the, urh, review. Dune has two sides. Side A does nothing for me and less than that. The title track has nothing to do with Frank Herbert - or maybe it does, but my imagination isn't strong enough to grasp the association. More specifically, it is Schulze's take on the avantgarde thing - it is, essentially, very much a neoclassical piece, transformed into an electronica opus by a thick and vast synthesizer background. But the main instruments here are violins, lots of dissonant (or not so dissonant), classical violins that play, no, not even themes, I'd say bits and snatches and snippets and torn bleeding rags of themes and do it until you're ready to bloody howl at the moon. The 'developing' period takes about ten minutes and is utterly unlistenable - heck, I'd better go and listen to some of the more experimental Schnitke pieces if I want to hear 'avantgarde classical' done well (although, on second thought, maybe I'd not). And then, when the 'tune' finally establishes itself, it takes twenty minutes to go absolutely nowhere. Oh, okay, Schulze's suites aren't supposed to go anywhere, but that's not the biggest problem - the biggest problem is, these violins get on my nerves. Somebody take them away. Don't make me go insane.

The second side is much better (as usual), but not enough to make me forget the Nazi torture of the first one. It has a rhythm, and that's already good. One rhythm for all of its duration (twenty six minutes). That's hardly good, but it's understandable. It hasn't got a particularly memorable main theme, in fact, at times it begins to seem to me it hardly has any theme at all. This is already unforgivable. But at least, heralding a first, it actually features some singing on a Klaus Schulze album, and by none other than Mr Arthur Brown himself, of Crazy World of Arthur Brown's fame. (Funny trivia bit: I'd have never known it was Arthur Brown if I hadn't, the very day of listening to Dune for the first time seriously, fallen upon a copy of a rare 1980 Brown/Vincent Crane collaboration, Faster Than The Speed Of Light, actually produced by Schulze and with liner notes from Klaus himself, thanking Arthur for his participation in the Dune project - obviously, by producing the Brown & Crane album, Schulze was returning the favour).

Not that it really matters - the singing is, for the most part, unremarkable, I can't really make out the lyrics, and while it does provide a refreshing snap of diversity, it's not like adding vocal overdubs to these synthesizer rhythms was the Holy Grail Klaus needed so much. The rhythm gets old and stale pretty quickly, and the overall sound layers are surprisingly thin, at least, when coming off the effects of X and all. At least I understand the purpose of 'Dune' - abysmal as they were, these awful violins were pretending to create a stern spiritual atmosphere in a Johann Sebastian Bach manner. But the purpose of 'Shadows Of Ignorance' (that's the way the second side is called, and boy, is that title correct!)? Establish a mild dance rhythm and chug your ass along in a local dance club? Or sit back and capture every single twang of the synth in the "spot 10 differences between two pictures" way? Silly. A major disappointment, and easily the worst post-Kosmik Rock Schulze album I've heard so far. And coming right after the best, too.



(released by: RICHARD WAHNFRIED)

Year Of Release: 1979

I'm not sure why Klaus preferred to do this album under the pseudonym of Richard Wahnfried, but my guess is that "Wahnfried" is more of a collective name for the entire project - on here, Arthur Brown, carried over from Dune, becomes a full-fledged participant, and the two are also joined by keyboardist Vincent Crane, Brown's old colleague (from Crazy World of A.B.), and ex-Atomic Rooster founding member too. And the resulting album is seriously different from standard Schulze material, even if that doesn't necessarily mean better.

Here, Schulze turns away from his usual multi-layered "sonic panoramas" and determines to make a 'New Age symphony' of sorts, dedicated to the concept of time and age, with complex metaphysical lyrics (or, rather, texts, because at times it sounds more like Kjorkegaard than any rock poet) vocalized by Brown. The resulting product sounds, curiously, not unlike some of Brown's work with Kingdom Come in the early Seventies - which, in turn, sounded a lot like some of Klaus Schulze's contemporary work, which basically means the two guys worked for each other a long time before they really met. However, it's more like a cross between the schizophrenic dynamics of Brown and the majestic statics of Schulze, and not in a particularly good way.

What I mean is: 'Dynamics' means that the tunes have sharp, punchy rhythms, as well as vocal 'quasi-melodies' that do develop in some way as time goes by, and 'statics' means that the musical theme regularly stays the same throughout the entire composition. And the album is goddamn long, although not a double one (still goes over 50 minutes); however, there's only one eighteen-minute suite, probably because it'd be hard to stress Brown to do these lengthy twenty-minute half improvisations one by one, or for some other reason...

...but anyway, the results don't impress me. The novelty factor isn't that huge; compared to Brown's own work, Time Actor is pretty timid, and compared to Schulze's own work, the only innovation is that Klaus decided to do something vaguely different. But on its own, it's just boring. The nine-minute 'Time Actor' just has one rhythm, and one lengthy, lengthy, lengthy philosophical monolog on the nature of time, occasionally transformed into a dialog when Brown seems to battle with himself over some particularly tricky aspects. I do admit the rhythm is a solid techno one, and probably one of the first true techno rhythms to make its appearance, but it's not music to dance to, really. And it's immediately followed by the even longer 'Time Factory', and the only differences are that the rhythm is a little different and Brown sings more than he speaks.

And pretty much the same thing happens on every other track. The intense rhythmic pulsation, the mystically tinged vocals, and rudimentary musical themes that either don't develop at all or develop extremely slowly. Perhaps the only major exception is 'Distorted Emission', which actually has something vaguely resembling a crescendo at its heart. Oh, and the final track, 'Time Echoes', is similar to what it bills itself as: no rhythm, just eight minutes of spooky pseudo-Gregorian chanting over isolated bits and tips of synth atmospheres.

All in all, I just don't understand the goal here. It's clearly a 'project' in the sense that I abhor the most: a "project" as a "let's get together and expand on this funny idea I had tonight, no matter what actually comes out of it" thing. So Schulze, Brown and Crane got together and decided to make a concept album about time. So what? Is this stuff pretending to be beautiful? Or deep? Hell, I'll be the first to admit some parts of it do sound cool. The combination of mad rhythmics, stern vocals and metaphysical lyrics works, but rather as a goofy thought-provoking moment than something so serious and solid you could base a whole damn long album on it. Cut each and every one of these tracks down to two minutes, intersperse them with some Kraftwerk-style hooks and you got yourself a good electronic product. As it is, I just don't have the force to sit through this twice. It's not atmospheric enough for me.


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