Berlin native Klaus Schulze formed his first band—Psy Free—in 1967. He was part of the birth of Tangerine Dream, playing on their debut Electronic Meditation, joined Manuel Göttsching in Ash Ra Temple for a while, and was an important part of the Cosmic Couriers team. Although revered for his role as a major innovator and explorer in the realm of electronic music, Schulze was primarily a drummer on those early recordings.
But the call to composition was clarion and so Herr Schulze launched his career as composer, performer and electronic innovator. His output is prodigious and his catalogue vast. David Stubbs, in his entertaining book on ‘krautrock’, describes Schulze as a ‘compulsive creator’, a description supported by the musician himself.
I produce more music than a record label can release. After all, I do nothing other than working – playing and recording – in my studio. [p. 296]
Given that Schulze estimates his working week to average between eighty and 120 hours, few would dispute the ‘compulsive’ label.
He has certainly created a substantial body of work. With over sixty albums across five decades, there’s a lot to trawl through (or collect). Certainly the titles in the Vinyl Connection collection barely scratch the surface.
Or so I thought when I originally contemplated a Klaus encounter. But some research at the informative (if aesthetically shabby) Klaus Schulze web-site yielded unexpected results.
I had assumed that the 70s would be the dominant decade for this collector. This was the music that entranced me at the time: wondrous cosmic albums full of pulsing analogue synthesiser expeditions; outer space delivered to your lounge-room. So no surprise that all titles were present and correct.
What was unexpected was discovering that of the nine original albums KS released in the 1980s, I had all but one. Who’d a thought? After that the hit rate falls off dramatically but frankly, I’m not so fussed about the later material. Time has allowed the pack to catch up to the pioneer.
But let us begin at the somewhat unexpected beginning.
It may come as some surprise to find that Irrlicht, the first solo album by electronic demi-god Klaus Schulze, was entirely devoid of synthesisers.
Irrlicht, released on the famous Ohr label in 1972, is a dystopian melt of orchestral sounds, pensive organ and overlapping octaves of alienation. It is brilliant, unsettling and timeless.
Essentially two long sides (29 minutes and 21½ respectively), the album unfolds like a creeping fog, wherein shadowy giants move slowly, but with frowning purpose. “Satz Ebene” (the first word meaning “movement” in this context) has a five-minute coda at the end, a peaceful, quieter interlude that continues in the introduction to “Satz Exil Sils Maria” on the second side. This soon becomes a drifting dark-ambient dreamscape, one you’d rather not inhabit for too long.
It is hard to believe there are no synthesisers, as the waves, distortions and drones sound like some later artist’s space nightmare or an alternate soundtrack to Tarkovsky’s Solaris. But no, there are no synths. Just manipulated recordings, studio effects, and a vision both beautiful and bleak. Stubbs observed that “the organ sounds like the manic playing of a headless spectre” [Stubbs, p.300] while Julian Cope described the album as “a phased berserk thing” [Cope, p. 134].
If this sounds just a little demanding as an entry point to the world of Klaus Schulze, there are other options. Many people’s favourite Schulze album is Moondawn. This 1976 analogue masterpiece was my introduction to the German maestro and it still sounds rich, enveloping and transporting.
Opening with a chanting voice, ambient tinkles soon give way to the echoing textures of deep space. Klaus has all the big guns: Moog, ARP, EMS and of course organs. Plus drums. The addition of Harald Großkopf adds a propulsive energy, pulling us along with urgency and understated power. This is not dreamy music; think a cooler, Teutonic Jean-Michel Jarre and you’ll get a feel for the stellar voltage of Schulze’s sixth LP. (And it is long indeed: more than fifty-two minutes on the original vinyl).
In sum: bearing comparison to the best of the seventies—Phaedra, Oxygène, Trans-Europe Express—Moondawn is fascinating, enjoyable, and highly recommended.
As the chart shows, the Schulze catalogue is moderately well endowed. Let me know if you are interested in further Klaus Encounters.
Cope, Julian (1996) Krautrocksampler. 2nd Ed. Head Heritage, UK
Stubbs, David (2014) Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany. Faber & Faber, UK