An Exploration of Kosmische Musik Essentials (2 of 2)

Welcome to the conclusion to my 2-part feature on kosmische essentials.  First, an apology to readers who expected to see Neu’s first two albums, La Dusseldorf, Faust, and Harmonia.  I fully recognize the importance and grand influence of these artists, however they’ve thus far been absent from my collection.  They will surely be added in due time, but for now we’ll begin with another essential – Germany’s Can.

Can recorded three milestones of krautrock between 1971 and 73 – namely, Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, and my favorite – Future Days.  Fans may argue that their debut album Monster Movie was a far more important record, but these three albums feature some of the most mind-blowing tracks I’ve ever heard.  This is effectively the opposite of Kraftwerk.  Instead of Ralf and Florian’s polished industrial mechanized music, Can offers chaotic, psychedelic tunes and spontaneous lyricism that made them icons of the genre.

These are the United Artists marbled vinyl pressings from around 2009.  I’m uncertain whether or not these are authorized reissues, but no corners were cut on the quality of either the heavyweight gatefold jackets or the quality of the colored vinyl.  Absolutely essential.

Can - Tago Mago

 Can – Tago Mago (1971)

Can - Ege Bamyasi

Can – Ege Bamyasi (1972)

Can - Future Days
 Can – Future Days (1973)

Popol Vuh is another artist with a dauntingly extensive catalog of albums.  I’ll highlight my personal favorite – Hosianna Mantra – minimal choral music from Germany recently reissued by a small independent record store in Spain.  The pressing restored the original album art (after the 1980s American issue replaced the gorgeous cover with a boring large yellow circle).  Better still, the disc shipped with a bonus 7″ single and a poster, limited to 500 copies worldwide.  Wah Wah Records continues to release long out-of-print titles and is a label well-worth exploring.

 Popol Vuh - Hosianna Mantra 07 Seven Inch Sleeve

Popol Vuh – Hosianna Mantra (1972)

Another essential deep into the territory of Berlin School ambience is Manuel Gottsching’s Inventions for Electric Guitar from 1975.  This, in my humble opinion, is space rock perfection.  An expert’s blend of guitar, trance inducing rhythm, and delay and echo effects.  There’s really very little else happening on this record, but Gottsching transports the listener to the furthest reaches of outer space.  This is music for interstellar travel.


Manuel Gottsching - Inventions for Electric Guitar

Manuel Göttsching – Inventions for Electric Guitar (1975)

And Inventions became the precursor to Gottsching’s most important work – E2-E4 from 1984.  Allmusic was spot-on when they described the record as sounding like the house music of the 20 years that followed its release.  Gottsching focuses all his energy on the delicate interplay between guitar loops, drum synths, and sparsely-interjected tones from an accompanying synthesizer.  This is pure trance… from 1984.

Manuel Gottsching - E2-E4

Manuel Göttsching – E2-E4 (1984)

But perhaps no individual had as expansive a solo and collaborative catalog in the Berlin School than Klaus Schulze.  Irrlicht (1972) was Schulze’s first official solo album, recorded just a month before Zeit.  This is cerebral, classically-influenced cosmic music – a magnificent milestone of the genre.

Klaus Schulze - Irrlicht

Klaus Schulze - Irrlicht

Klaus Schulze – Irrlicht (1972)

If you buy only one Klaus Schulze record, (and there are well over 100), please consider the massively successful double LP – X from 1978.  X is hypnotic and entrancing modern classical music and is universally acclaimed as one of Schulze’s finest efforts.  The album is subtitled, “Six Musical Biographies” as each track is named after one of Schulze’s greatest inspirations.  This is not passive listening – these songs, many in excess of 20 minutes in length, are engaging explorations of synthesized sound.

Klaus Schulze - X

Klaus Schulze – X (1978)

Also recommended are Schulze’s 12-volume collaboration with Pete Namlook – The Dark Side of the Moog series, and for the fan who has everything-Schulze, I encourage you to look into The Ultimate Edition – a 50-disc collection of box sets featuring numerous live and non-album recordings.  It clocks in at 65 hours of material and I love cuing it up at work to transform my 9-5 into a calm and meditative atmosphere.

Here I’d like to touch quickly upon a non-German record that was really in the spirit of what Schulze and his fellow Berlin-schoolers were up to in the late 70s.  Steve Hillage, one of the primary figures of the Canterbury scene in the UK recorded Rainbow Dome Musick for the Festival for Mind-Body-Spirit in 1979.  While not geographically qualifying as “Berlin School,” it is most definitely of the same caliber as its German counterparts.

The album features Hillage on guitars, the Fender Rhodes, and ARP and Moog synthesizers.  A smattering of Tibetan bells and the sound of a running stream make the album approach the then-budding territory of New Age music, but Hillage’s musicianship and penchant for the avant-garde exempt the album from the flood of forgettable New Age music of the era.  If you like Schulze’s solo work, you really should check out Rainbow Dome Musick.

Steve Hillage - Rainbow Dome Musick

Steve Hillage – Rainbow Dome Musick (1979)

 I always end my multi-album features with something unique – and this is no exception.

Public Service Broadcasting is a London-based duo who create retro-futuristic electronic music much in the spirit of classic krautrock.  They use samples from old public information films, archival footage and propaganda material, to (quote) ‘teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future’.  PSB combines classic synths with banjo, ukulele, sax and trumpets all propelled by a nearly-motorik beat.

Public Service Broadcasting - Inform Educate Entertain

Both their album art and their music bear the streamlined magnificence of the Futurists.  My two favorite selections are The War Room EP and their first full-length release, Inform, Educate, Entertain.  I’ve also just pre-ordered their exciting new record scheduled for release this February.

Public Service Broadcasting – Inform Educate Entertain

But to close with a proper German record, I can’t leave out my recent acquisition from December of 2014 – GAS.  Wolfgang Voigt’s legendary titles released under the Gas moniker were combined in an abbreviated double LP, Nah Und Fern in 2008 on the Kompakt label.  Recorded between 1996 and 2000, Gas is perhaps the ultimate vision of the Berlin School’s musical philosophy.  To recap the brilliant descriptions from critics upon its release – zero-gravity club music, tunes for lucid dreaming, underwater techno, or as Wire put it, “an outdoor rave, heard floating through the air from a neighbouring village.”  This is precisely the sound of Gas.

Gas - Nah Und Fern

Gas – Zauberberg (1997)

Gas – Königsforst (1999)

Gas – Pop (2000)

My next German music purchases will likely include the first Cosmic Jokers LP, Schulze’s Timewind, and Froese’s solo debut – Aqua on the Brain label.

I hope these featured essentials are helpful to anyone venturing into kosmische music for the first time.  Have I left out any of your own favorites?  Let me know!

The Summer Search for Rare Wax

While re-visiting some of my classics from artists like múm and Mark Kozelek, I found myself really enjoying The Album Leaf’s In a Safe Place.  It’s a wintery, sparse record that merits repeated listening.

A quick bit of research revealed that Jimmy LaValle (the lone member of The Album Leaf) had collaborated with Jón Þór Birgisson, Kjartan Sveinsson, and Orri Páll Dýrason (most of the members of Sigur Rós) and Gyða Valtýsdóttir (formally of múm) at Sigur Rós’ Sundlaugin studio for the album.

It’s no wonder the record is so enjoyable.

And what was even more surprising was that one year later, in 2005, LaValle mixed his next record with the help of Jón Þór Birgisson and Joshua Eustis of Telefon Tel Aviv.

With the hands of so many great artists in this music, and the sounds of a Rhodes piano and a Moog synthesizer in the mix, The Album Leaf has a sound which is just as enjoyable a decade later, and will continue to provide listening pleasure in the decades to come.

If you’ve been following this blog since June of this year you’re quite aware of my love of Black Swan, (drone for bleeding hearts.)

Black Swan continues to operate shrouded in mystery.  I’ve recently acquired 2012’s Aeterna and Heaven as well as 2013’s Redemption (swan plague).  Each is darker and more minimal than the disc which preceded it, and every title is magnificent.  Like all Black Swan releases, this is music for your best headphones.  Sadly these three titles have not yet seen a vinyl release.  I would contact the label, Ethereal Symphony but there is just as little information about the label as there is about the artist.  Clearly these are self-releases, as the titles are only available on CD-R or FLAC and the only (8) releases on the label are those of Black Swan, so the mystery continues.

Here is the opening track from Aeterna – “A Lesson in Slow Flight.”

My hunt continues for a copy of Popol Vuh’s Hosianna Mantra (featured in August 20th’s This Week’s Listening – Early Krautrock, Proto Ambient, and Musique Concrete)

Sales of the original German pressing from 1972 (Pilz 20 29143-1) average around $72.  There is currently a NM gatefold copy for sale, (in the USA, no less!) but it is marked at $120 and I’m saving my vinyl cash for something else at the moment.

Pilz ‎– 20 29143-1 1972
But what was truly staggering was the revised album art which appeared on the Celestial Harmonies (CEL 004) US pressing in 1981.

Gone was the ornamental, silver foil spiritual cover – and in its place was a hyper-minimal, post-modern painting of a circle, (or a sun, perhaps?)

Celestial Harmonies ‎– CEL 004 1981
Fortunately, the German Think Progressive label restored the original art for their 1998 reissue of this lovely recording.  (TPLP 1.803.023)  The TP issue can be picked up for around $45.

Here again is Hosianna Mantra.

But pricier records aside, I joined a few fantastic friends for a day of gallivanting at my local Antique World, where my favorite record dealer gave me a wonderful West German early ambient/drone record by Peter Michael Hamel.

Hamel was altogether new to me but I quickly learned that he is a veteran minimalist associated with the late-1970s New Simplicity movement.

The album is titled, “Bardo” – a Tibetan word meaning “intermediate state” or “in-between state,” a term which aptly describes the cycling organ tones throughout the two side-long recordings of the record.

R-230287-1177961913

This elegantly minimal album is lush with the warm sounds of the pipe organ, electric organ and analog synthesizers, performed by Hamel and Ulrich Kraus.

It’s always exciting when your record dealer knows you well enough to provide you with something wonderful that you’ve never heard. A delightful addition to my library – especially for only $8!

The opening track, “Dorian Dervishes” runs 21:47.  Here is the opening 6 minutes.

I will close this post with two absolutely essential early-electronic gems, both from Germany.

The first is Cluster’s self-titled debut release from 1971. Roedelius, Moebius and Plank produced a proto-ambient milestone which should be required listening of anyone interested in the history of electronic sound.

R-262961-1363962650-6521
Time practically stands still when you tune in to this beatless masterpiece.  The three untitled tracks run just over 44 minutes but when the record ends the listener may feel disoriented and unsure whether minutes or hours have passed.

Have a listen to the closing track.

The other LP I’m after is Manuel Göttsching’s E2-E4.  Recorded at the height of synth pop, this experimental record was a pioneering electronic album which pre-dated the house/techno-era that would follow.

R-303333-1290356604
And 31:13 into the single-track album of relentless, unyielding loops and minimal percussion, Göttsching begins noodling jazzy guitar riffs over the rhythmic loops, taking the listener’s trance to an even deeper level.

The album’s title is the most common opening move in a game of chess.

Enjoy!