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!

Modern BBC Docu-Rock and Ambient Space Treasures

Friends, I have some very special records in store for you, and many more in the post on their way.

Recently I was exploring related-artist lists for long-standing favorites Sundae Club and Lemon Jelly on a number of music services.  One result had quite an intriguing name, so I gave them a listen.

Public Service Broadcasting is a project of J. Willgoose and Wrigglesworth from London.  The association with Jellyheads and fans of Sundae Club is instantly apparent – their music is electronic, but with a uniquely organic (and perhaps an emotive) element that separates it from the countless electro-pop artists of the day.

PSB uses samples from old public information films, archive footage and propaganda material, which fits well in a playlist of Found Sound Orchestra and Future Loop Foundation recordings.

The result, when paired with their minimalist geometric album packaging, is a krautrock-flavored mechanical sort of BBC documentary music, if you can imagine such a thing.

I enjoyed their INFORM • EDUCATE • ENTERTAIN LP, but was most impressed by THE WAR ROOM EP.  Just one look at the album jacket and anyone who follows my blog with any frequency will instantly understand why I just had to acquire this glorious disc.

 

Here is your new desktop wallpaper.  You're welcome.

Here is your new desktop wallpaper. You’re welcome.

See if you can detect traces of the metronomic percussion of Neu!’s “Hallo Gallo” in PSB’s music, or a touch of Kraftwerk inspiration in the packaging of INFORM • EDUCATE • ENTERTAIN.

Public Service Broadcasting - Inform-Educate-Entertain

On to other treasures, I had perused the Record Store Day list for April 2014 but no items particularly grabbed me so I sat the holiday out and saved my cash for the seasonal record show that followed.

In the days after the holiday, I stumbled upon a redditor who ran an independent record store in the States offering limited edition RSD items at store-price to those who couldn’t make it that day.  He listed an album that had entirely escaped my radar – a condensed and remastered 50-minute distillation of the epic 24-hour “7 Skies H3” by Flaming Lips.

Available exclusively for RSD, this was most fans’ only opportunity to own a piece of the notorious track, of which 13 copies were produced and sold on a hard drive encapsulated in a real human skull.

Flaming Lips - 24hrskull - 7 Skies H3
The offer was extended to fellow redditors at 11am on the morning of Easter Sunday, and I didn’t hesitate for a single second.  To make the situation even more exciting, I discovered that I had just sold a record I had received for free for the exact price of the Flaming Lips album, which chalks up to getting it for free!

Flaming Lips 7 Skies H3 and KLF MINUS SIX

I should caution fans who acquire this record, however – The album ships with a download code from Warner Music, but the file is not what it appears to be.  There are no options for MP3 quality (or for a FLAC download) – the album automatically downloads a set of files marked as 256 CBR.  I was a tad suspicious of Warner Music so I tested the file and it appears to be only a paltry 128kbps MP3.

If anyone can verify this I would love to hear from you, but I was extremely disappointed that this rare recording was essentially presented in the sonic equivalent of a Napster file from 1999.

"I'm telling you... realplayer is going to be HUGE."

“I’m telling you… RealPlayer is going to be HUGE.”

Regardless, best to focus on the positive – like that mysterious KLF item from the Lips’ photo above!

I cannot express the level of my excitement in finally hearing this special recording.  You may well recall my featuring of Disc 6 and of The KLF Remix Project Part III in earlier entries.

This new disc was to be the ninth in the series of unofficial reworkings of the KLF’s catalog – masterfully engineered and easily one of the finest ambient recordings of the year. Sadly, due to issues beyond the producer’s control, the disc will not be released to the public.

The disc contains a 2014 72-minute epic rework of the original Space LP created 24 years ago, originally as a collaboration between Dr. Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty – the original line-up of The Orb.

For those who aren’t familiar with the outstanding KLF: Recovered & Remastered unofficial releases from my past entries, let me bring you up to speed.

1987. British acid house. Drummond. Cauty. The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. The Timelords. The JAMs. One World Orchestra. 2K. The Stadium House Trilogy. Doctorin’ the Tardis. Anarchism.   The White Room. The Illuminatus! Trilogy. Top of the Pops. America: What Time is Love? The Manual. A lost road movie. The K Foundation. Extreme Noise Terror. Why Sheep? Waiting. The Rites of Mu. Chill Out. The birth of Ambient House. Burning a million quid on the Isle of Jura. Abandon all art now. And Space.

There. That about sums it up.

20 years into the silence that followed the K Foundation’s exit from celebrity a man surfaced who set himself to the task of recovering and remastering the KLF’s catalog to fill the void left in Cauty and Drummond’s absence.

The first six releases, catalog #KLF 001 RE – KLF 006 RE were brilliant, and the sixth release, Live From The Lost Continent 2012 presented listeners with a 77-minute stadium-packed concert that never was.

Following this triumph, two more released emerged – KLF MINUS-ONE and KLF MINUS-FOUR, each better than the EP before.

But our hero had one last stupendous project up his sleeve. And in April of 2014, it was complete.

A message from its creator revealed that MINUS-SIX was to be:

“…a 72 minute remodel of the classic SPACE release, sounding like a cross between ‘Silence’ (from Pete Namlook’s legendary Fax +49-69/450464 label), SPACE, and classic ambient drone releases. It’s almost like Trainspotting for KLF fans.”

The original Space LP (1990)

The original Space LP (1990)

The final piece is a monumental achievement – a new Music for Airports, or perhaps a new Selected Ambient Works Vol II.  It effectively unites sparse white-noise drones with all of the familiar elements of the original Space record which made it so memorable.  It is brilliantly subtle, while simultaneously making the sounds of simulated space flight an exciting and dramatic experience.

Then came the crushing news – the MINUS SIX project had suddenly been halted, and there were to be no more releases in the series.

I make no exaggeration when I state that, with this loss, the ambient music audience is experiencing its own Nick Drake, or more accurately – its own SugarMan.

searching-for-sugar-man-poster

At least this dude got his own movie.

Worse yet – because Rodriguez had a nation celebrating his work for generations an ocean away from his quiet daily life, and at least Nick Drake experienced posthumous success – becoming a household name in the years which followed his untimely demise.

But production of MINUS-6 has been cancelled. Quite sadly, the millennium’s ambient and drone audience and the millions of listeners who grew up with the KLF may never hear this record.

Its legend is shroud in mystery. Will KLF fans ever know the engineer’s name?  Why the sudden cease just before unveiling his holy grail?

But perhaps it is the legend and the mystery that adds a touch of vitality to the series.

And I still have hope. The K Foundation announced a 23-year moratorium on all projects beginning November 1995. Perhaps, in honor of the 2018 reformation of the KLF, our mysterious friend will emerge.

My sincerest hope is that the man behind these nine fantastic EPs one day receives the recognition (and listenership) that he deserves.

If you’re out there – Bring the beat back.

The+KLF