Friday, October 30, 2009

Krautrock or Kosmische Musik?

(Songs from the playlist are in pink)

This Episode is dedicated to German rock music from the years spanning roughly from 1968 – 1977.  By connecting each song to the next through shared musicians, studio staff or narrative I hope to paint a broader picture of the music movement labeled by the British music press, pejoratively, as Krautrock. It must be noted that many, if not most, of the bands involved in the ‘Krautrock’ scene despise the term.  Out of respect for the musicians, beyond a catchy blog title that is easily found on Google (its like that!), I will refrain from using this term to describe the movement, instead using the term coined by Tangerine Dream, Kosmische Musik.

In order to understand why the German scene was so unique to the rest of the world, it is important to identify where it had grown from.  The prolific composer, Karheinz Stockhausen was, along with such visionaries as Varese, Berio, Pousseur (a personal favorite) and especially Boulez, a definitive contributor to the ‘Darmstadt School’.  Like Krautrock, the term ‘Darmstadt School’ was a derisive invention by its critics but is now used affectionately by some of its admirers.  The ‘Darmstadt School’ is a reference to the Internationale Ferienkurse fur Neue Musik, Darmstadt.  The Ferienkurse (Summer course) was an annual (it is now every two years) summer school which presents the premier composers of “New Music”, a specific term for post 1945 serial composition.  A great deal of the pieces composed as part of the ‘Darmstadt School’ were either organically rooted Musique Concrete or fell under the category Elektronische Musik, utilizing the new invention of synthesizers.  Stockhausen’s early masterpiece, Gesang der Junglinge, became one of the first works to successfully merge both approaches.

Listening to this piece one notices the meticulous composition of what might seem like noise to some.  There is a sense of minimalism as well as a machine-like precision that would become staple sounds of Kosmische Musik.  In 1968, two of Stockhausen’s students, Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt would form the band Can.  It is with this in mind that I begin this show with two pieces.  First, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s seminal work, “Gesang der Jünglinge”.  This is followed by Can’s “Sing Swan Song”.  It seems that even the water recording that opens “Sing Swan Song” sounds a bit like the synthesized notes of “Gesang der Junglinge”, yet the organic sound would be more aptly described as Musique Concrete: almost a mergence of Elektronische and Musique Concrete in and of itself.  Radiohead has often cited Can as an enormous inspiration and “Sing Swan Song” illuminates just how indebted they truly are.

1) Karlheinz Stockhausen - Gesang der Jünglinge
2) Can – Swing Swan Song

Fast forward to 1975, Can’s album Landed introduced Olaf Kubler as a member, which brings us to our transition.  On one of Popol Vuh’s most highly regarded albums, Einsjäger & Siebenjäger, Olaf Kubler is again featured on flute on the song Würfelspiel.  Kubler, however is most famous for his band, Amon Duul II.

Popol Vuh are responsible for one of the most important contributions to German rock music, the introduction of the moog synthesizer.  Founding member Florian Fricke was among the first musicians in all of Germany to own the Moog synthesizer.  While Walter Carlos’ (Soon to be Wendy Carlos) Switched on Bach was the first album to popularize the Moog synth, Popol Vuh’s Affenstunde was the first Moog album to feature original works.  Popol Vuh’s music is especially well known as the soundtracks for Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo.

The name Popol Vuh comes from an ancient Mayan text containing mythological narratives and the story of creation. Fricke was quoted as saying, "When I read the book for the first time, I got ideas all of a sudden by which I was able to define other old books. I found a key in the book of ‘Popol Vuh.' I was able to understand the way people in the very early days described the creation of Earth and the way of human evolution. I was touched like by a thunderstorm."  This quote seems particularly apt to describe the song Vuh from the album In Den Garten Pharaos.

Finally, the band that has acted as our transition, Amon Duul II.  Amon Düül was a German political art commune formed out of the student movement of the 1960s.  Civil unrest had swept youth culture across Europe in 1968, most notably resulting in the riots in France. Amon Düül was the German counterpart to this political angst.  The commune became known for its free form musical improvisations. Out of this reputation came two groups, Amon Düül (sometimes known as Amon Düül I) and the more famous Amon Düül II.  Another link between Amon Düül II and Popol Vuh is that after the death of Amon Düül II's drummer Peter Leopold in 2006, he was replaced by Popol Vuh’s Daniel Fichelscher who had played on and off with Amon Düül II as far back as 1972.

3) Popol Vuh -  Wurfelspiel
4) Popol Vuh – Vuh
5) Amon Duul II – Wolf City

Looking further at 1968, the two most important events in the foundation of Kosmische Musik took place: The German Rock Festival in Essen and the foundation of the Zodiak Free Arts Lab.  The Zodiak Free Arts Lab, or "Zodiak Club" was only open for a few months but proved the birthing ground for Kosmische Musik.  The venue’s importance is immediately evident by the names of the founders.  The club was started in what was then West Berlin by German artists/musicians Conrad Schnitzler, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Boris Schaak.  Performances at the club were advertised by fliers promoting, simply; “Noise”.  Anyone was welcome to create sound.  Musicians would work together having never met before.  Often two bands would play at the same time, playing against each other.  The prevailing attitude at Zodiak was that "songs were considered bourgeois."  It was here that Conrad Schnitzler, who had also studied with Stockhausen, first began working with Klause Schulze and Edgar Froes founding the band Tangerine Dream when they were actually cool.  Possibly even more importantly, Schnitzler and Roedelius would begin sound and musical experimentation along side Dieter Moebius under the name Kluster.  It was after the departure of Conrad Schnitzler in 1971 that Kluster changed their name to Cluster.

Another band founded by Schnitzler was Eruption featuring musicians whom he had played with at the Zodiak Free Arts Lab.  Eruption featured Klaus Schulze, Manuel Göttsching, and Hartmut Enke, who would go on to form the trio Ash Ra Tempel, Dieter Serfas of the jazz band Embryo, Michael Gunther and Lutz Ulbrich of Agitation Free, and members of Amon Düül.  Unfortunately, I do not have any music by Eruption to play.

I do, however have plenty of music by the group that formed out of Eruption, Ash Ra Tempel. Interesting sidenote: Acid Mothers Temple (prominently featured in my show about music from Japan) named themselves in reference to Ash Ra Tempel.

Walter Wegmuller is not a musician, per se.  He is more of a spiritualist, obsessed with the Tarot (and friends with H.R. Giger, who’s phallic poster got the Dead Kennedys in trouble with Tipper Gore over the Frankenchrist album).  Wegmuller’s friend Timothy Leary convinced him to create an album based on the Tarot.  Wegmuller decided to dedicate one track to every card in the deck.  To create the album he brought on board Manuel Göttsching and Klaus Schulze from Ash Ra Temple as well as musicians from Wallenstein.  While Wegmuller is Swiss, this album remains an acme of Kosmische Musik.

The Cosmic Jokers are not really a band as much as they are a bunch of guys jamming at an acid party.  These recordings come from that party…seriously.

6) Ash Ra Tempel – Amboss (Klaus Schulze, Manuel Göttsching, and Hartmut Enke)
7) Walter Wegmuller – Der Wagen (Featuring Manuel Göttsching and Klaus Schulze from Ash Ra Temple as well as musicians from Wallenstein)
8) Cosmic Jokers – Galactic Joke (a) (Manuel Göttsching and Klaus Schulze of Ash Ra Tempel, Jurgen Dollase and Harold Grosskopf of Wallenstein)
9) Klaus Schulze – Comphära
10) Tangerine Dream – Ashes To Ashes  (Edgar Froese, Conrad Schnitzler, and Klaus Schulze)
11) Conrad Schlitzner – Krautrock
12) Kluster - Klopfzeichen, Part Two (Dieter Moebius, Conrad Schnitzler and Hans-Joachim Roedelius.  Engineered by Konrad Plank)

Konrad “Conny” Plank might be the single greatest piece to the six degrees game of Kosmische Musik. While performing in countless bands including Guru Guru, Cluster, Mobius and Plank and others, he engineered or produced EVERYTHING.  Plank began his career as soundman for Marlene Dietrich became one of the most important figures of experimental music.  One of the very first albums he worked on as an engineer was for a band called Organisation.  The album was called “Tone Float”.  Organisation’s lineup included Florian Schneider and Ralf Hutter…Kraftwerk.  Other bands/albums he worked on include Ash Ra Tempel, Cluster 71, Kraftwerk 1 (With Michael Rotter and Klaus Dinger) all Kraftwerk records (ending with Autobahn in 1974), Neu!, Brian Eno’s Before and After Science and Music For Airports, Devo: Q: are we not Men? A: We Are Devo.  He produced The Eurythmics’s “In The Garden” and Killing Joke’s “Revelations”.  He crosses paths with Schnitzler as engineer on Klopfzeichen, from which we just heard Klopfzeichen part II.

Konrad Plank was idolized (and befriended) by Brian Eno.  He and Eno worked together throughout the Berlin Period.  Listening to his work, it becomes clear just how much influence Plank had over Eno.  When albums such as LCD Soundsystem’s “Sound of Silver” are attributed (often by me) as love letters to Brian Eno, one can not understate what a testament to Conny Plank that statement is.  Funny aside: Eno's tried to convince Plank to produce U2’s "The Joshua Tree" instead of him. Shortly after meeting the band Plank refused the job saying, "I cannot work with this singer".

12) Organisation (1969) – Milk Rock (Florian Schneider and Ralf Hutter Engineered by Konrad Plank)
13) Kraftwerk – Ruckzuck  (Florian Schneider, Ralf Hutter, Klaus Dinger, Michael Rother.  Engineered by Plank)

After the first Kraftwerk album Klaus Dinger (along with his brother Thomas) and Michael Rother split from the group and formed Neu! Neu! Was highly influential, especially for the use of repetitive 4/4 drum beats later termed “Motorik”, a defining feature of Kosmische Musik.  The band Negativeland is named after the Neu! song of the same name and John Lydon cites the song Hero (playing next) as a major influence on PIL, a fact that becomes evident immediately upon listening to the track.

14) Neu! – Hero  (Dinger, Rother.  Produced by Plank)
15) Faust –Jennifer (Faust toured with Guru Guru bassist Uli Trepte who had also played with Neu!)
16) Guru Guru – Woman Drum  (Konrad Plank (band member), Bruno Schaab (who took over bass duties from Uli Trepte on this record) Zodiak Club founder and Cluster member Roedelius was also an on and off member of this band)
17) Night Sun – Crazy Woman  (Bruno Schaab from Guru Guru produced by Plank)

The album Material by Mobius and Plank is basically the father of Techno music.  The extent of the influence of this pairing is impossible to overstate.

18) Mobius and Plank – Tollkuhn (Mobius from Cluster and Plank from EVERYTHING)
19) Cluster – Fur Die Katz (Mobius and Roedelius.  Produced by Plank)
20) Harmonia – Deluxe (Dieter Moebius, Michael Rother, Hans-Joachim Roedelius.  Engineered/Produced by Konrad Plank)  (Eno joined the band after this album)

The next two songs are notable less in the musicians they have, but the separations that they represent.  While Harmonia contained Neu! Guitarist Michael Rother, La Düsseldorf finds his partners Klaus and Thomas Dinger without him.  Finally, The album Trans-Europe Express, while one of the most important albums of the genre is notable for the absence of Conny Plank.  The band and producer last collaborated on 1974’s Autobahn.  Two albums and three years later Kraftwerk released this record, which was later sampled by Afrika Bambaataa for Planet Rock and thereby eternally connected Kosmische Musik with Hip Hop.

21) La Düsseldorf  - Düsseldorf 
22) Kraftwerk - Franz Schubert

Thus ends the narrative section of the show.  For the last 45 minutes I'm going to return to actually being a DJ and just play German tracks that sound good next to each other.  Send in your requests.  Hope you liked the show! 

23) Can - Mushroom +
Request By Cody
24) Amon Duul II - Deutch Nepal
25) Walter Wegmuller - Der Narr
26) Night Sun - Nighmare
27) Jah Wobble and Holger Czukay - How Much Are They
28) Neu! - Hallogallo
29) Guru Guru - Der LSD Marsch (This is the song that Japanese Psych-rock band LSD March got its name from (click here for link to my Japrock Episode Blog))
30) Cluster - Holywood +
Request By Danny Gabai
31) Harmonia - Monza (Rauf Und Runter)

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