TM, ®, Copyright © 2002 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.
Kosmische MusikIn the 1960s, Germany was virtually missing from the map of rock music, but the late blooming of psychedelic music changed the German scene in a dramatic way. The boom of German rock relied on a number of enabling factors. There was a political background: Germany was one of the three countries (France and Italy being the other ones) that experienced the 1968 student riots on a massive scale. That phenomenon created a new class of (very young) intellectuals, and inspired a movement towards collective awareness. Environmental, pacifist and anti-nuclear issues became more relevant and openly discussed. It also led to the actions of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group, which embodied the anger of that generation. The Darmstadt avantgarde had been experimenting with electronic music since the mid 1950s, and composers such as Stockhausen were beginning to create a sensation even outside the academia. The space exploration of the time (culminating with the USA's 1969 landing on the moon) somehow merged with electronic music to provide for the futuristic soundtrack of the era. Finally, the hippies came to Germany a little later than in the USA, but were to stay longer. Thousands of Germans had taken the eastern route from Morocco to India, and were returning home at the turn of the decade.
Rolf Ulrich Kaiser was the rock critic who, de facto, invented the German school. The "presentation" of the new German bands took place in 1968 at at the first major rock festival, at Essen. The British press called it "kraut rock".
Fundamentally, British rock recycled American rock for a different kind of audience: the Beatles recycled it for a pop-oriented audience, progressive-rock (in all its neo-classical and jazz variations) recycled it for an intellectual audience. German rock, instead, invented a different kind of rock music. In fact, many German bands were not playing "rock" music at all. There is no question that the great era of German avant-rock was inspired by psychedelic music, but the German interpretation of psychedelic music had little to do with reproducing the effects of drugs: German musicians saw a relationship between psychedelic experiments and the German electronic avantgarde (such as Karlheinz Stockhausen), a relationship that, in retrospect, was already obvious in American psychedelia, but that no one had articulated before.
In 1968 three young musicians, Conrad Schnitzler, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Klaus Schulze, founded the "Zodiak Free Arts Lab" in Berlin. This became the first venue for popular electronic music in Europe. That can be considered the moment when German musicians figured out that strategic relationship between psychedelic music and avantgarde music. The following year, Can debuted, playing rock music inspired by the classical avantgarde and by modern jazz. In 1970 Kluster (Cluster) began recording keyboards-based instrumental music that was inspired by the industrial society, with an emphasis on static drones (the prodromes of both industrial and ambient music). 1971 is the year when Tangerine Dream invented "kosmische musik", using synthesizers and sequencers instead of guitars and drums. The "trip" of acid-rock had turned into a "journey" into the cosmos. At the same time, Faust began recording songs that were, de facto, studio collages of rock music, electronic sounds and "concrete" noise.
1972 is the year that German musicians went spiritual: Popol Vuh released In Den Gaerten Pharaos, recorded inside a cathedral, and fusing electronic music and Eastern music (thus predating new-age music); and Deuter released Aum, a fusion of Eastern and Western religious music, of acoustic instruments and natural sounds. It was also the year that kosmische musik found its definitive format: the long, electronic suite. Tangerine Dream's Zeit, a double album that contained four side-long suites, and Klaus Schulze's Irrlicht, a cosmic symphony played with electronic instruments, were the archetype that would be copied for the next 30 years.
The last of the great German inventions also occurred in 1972: a band named Neu! began playing obsessively rhythmic music.
The full impact of these profound, multiple and interbreeding innovations
would be felt only decades later, but it would change the whole meaning
of the word "music". No other movement or school or current in the history
of rock music, apart from the early rockers, influenced so many musicians
for so many decades.
Amon Duul II and Can are representative of the two main cultural backgrounds of German bands: the hippy communes and the avantgarde.
Amon Duul 0 were a free-jazz trio, formed in 1966 in Munich by guitarist and violinist Chris Karrer and by drummer Christian Burchard. Amon Duul (with no zero) were instead the musical expression of a commune that included both artists and political activists, and in particular Karrer. This early version of Amon Duul was perhaps the most politicized group of Germany's 1968 (the year of the student riots). A 48-hour session, improvised towards the end of the year, yielded enough material for three albums of tribal and chaotic jams, inspired to the concept of amateurish music proclaimed by leader Ulrich Leopold. Only the first one, Psychedelic Underground (1969), was authorized by the band. Towards the end of 1968, Karrer decided to leave the commune and start a rock band, which was named Amon Duul II (21). They were perhaps the most "teutonic" among the early German masters. Their sound was "gothic" in the most authentic (least sensational) sense of the word. Their cultural roots, not their self-indulgence, led them to gothic atmospheres. The title-track off their debut album, Phallus Dei (1969), is a long, wild, chaotic bacchanal that blends rock'n'roll, electronics, dissonances, psychedelic chanting, blues jamming, African percussions. They soon abandoned the most blasphemous and provocative stances, and their sound more clearly revealed the influence of Californian acid-rock. Their musical language kept evolving, soon incorporating more struments and switching from improvisation to composition. The three multi-part suites that make up the bulk of Tanz Der Lemminge (1971), and particularly The Marilyn Monroe-Memorial-Church, are neither as dark nor as apocalyptic, although they maintain a degree of angst and perversion. Yeti (1970), another masterpiece notable for its Wagner-ian intensity and monumental undertaking, found a balance between noise and harmony, hard and soft rock, the gothic and the pastoral. Amon Duul II had mastered the fusion between rock'n'roll, avantgarde and world-music, using such fusion to pen long and dynamic post-psychedelic musical journeys that reinvented the form of the classical fantasia in the age of post-modernism.
More than any other band, Can transformed progressive-rock into a science. By bridging classical music, jazz music and rock music of their times, Can (23) accomplished the first organic study on rhythm and texture in rock music. Their hypnotic and glacial instrumental jams straddled the line between free-jazz, acid-rock and chamber music. While pursuing an erudite divertissement of Cage's aleatory music and Schoenberg's atonal music, while experimenting with the potentialities of electronically-manipulated instruments, while favoring subdued, fragmented, loose structures and sinister, menacing atmospheres, Can became masters of a new electro-acoustic form of music. Within the German school of the 1970s, Can were the ascetics. After Monster Movie (1969), a largely improvised and exuberant kaleidoscope of Pink Floyd-inspired and Velvet Underground-inspired psychedelic music, Can entered the labyrinthine fray of avantgarde music with their monumental Tago Mago (1971), a work blinded by Eastern mysticism and immersed in a jungle of collage techniques and sound effects (the demonic dissonant concerto of Halleluwa, the oniric caprice of Aumgn). After the bleak Ege Bamyasi (1972), that predates the languid, dejected tones of post-rock and trip-hop, Can dealt another blow to the rules of harmony with Future Days (1973), their most psychological work. Instrumental scores such as Bel Air are dense, amorphous, amoebic lattices of sounds, the musical equivalent of Monet frescoes, that metabolize jazz, funk, rock, Indian music and dissonance.
Canaxis 5 (1969), the first solo album released by Can's Holger Czukay (11), added another milestone to their career: the marriage of electronics and ethnic music, i.e. the birth of electronic world-music. Czukay would explore this theme two decades later, when pop-star David Sylvian lent a hand to the lengthy suites of Plight And Premonition (1988) and Flux And Mutability (1989), particularly Plight.
German chanteuse Nico (113), who
sang with the Velvet Underground in New York before returning to Europe,
invented a style of singing that has little to do with rock music,
a style that belongs to no particular place and no particular time,
a style that may as well be medieval or romantic, Indian or Middle-eastern,
a style that is mainly "enunciation",
a style that sounds by turns like Greek chorus, Shakespearian monologue,
Schubert-ian lied, Gregorian psalm, Elizabethan song, exotic chant.
Her lugubrious litanies (which invented gothic rock more by accident than by
design) sway between the lament of a buried alive and the stately invocation
of a priestess.
The staging of these funereal cries quotes from Goethe's metaphysical
allegory "Faust", from Wedekind's expressionist drama "Lulu", from
Brecht's epic theatre, from French noir cinema, from Dali's surreal paintings.
She straddled the line between aristocratic and prostitute with the elegance
of a ghost.
Tangerine Dream (15), formed in Berlino by guitarist Edgar Froese, percussionist Klaus Schulze and keyboardist Conrad Schnitzler, were among the earliest conscious explorers of a new musical universe opened by electronic instruments.
Tangerine Dream's music was born as a psychedelic journey in the heavens,
and, aided by the new electronic keyboards, transformed into a contemplative
survey of the universe. By borrowing from impressionistic painting,
from ecclesiastic music,
from the minimalist avantgarde, and from Eastern transcendental philosophy,
Tangerine Dream invented
"kosmische musik", one of the most influential genres of all times.
Froese, percussionist Christopher Franke, a flutist and two keyboardists
recorded the three improvised jams of Alpha Centauri (1971) that
defined the genre, and the band pared down to a trio (Froese, Franke and
keyboardist Peter Baumann) for Zeit (1972), their masterpiece and one of the most important albums of the time,
a four-movement symphony which adopted a more electronic format and a looser concept of rhythm.
With Atem (1973), perhaps their most formally accomplished album, they turned to a less intimidating vision of the cosmos, one that led to
the lighter, baroque and melodic approach of
Phaedra (1974), Rubycon (1975) and Ricochet (1976),
and to the new-age sound of the 1980s, when Froese and Franke were joined first by Johannes Schmoelling (1980) and then by Paul Haslinger (1986).
Despite having flooded the market with a lot of awful recordings, Klaus Schulze (126) was one of the most significant, influential and original composers of the 1970s. During his first decade alone, Schulze pioneered a number of genres that would become popular during the following thirty years, from disco-music to ambient music. But, mainly, Schulze penned the first aesthetic of popular electronic music, an aesthetic that inherited from Indian raga the sense of tempo, from jazz the sense of spontaneity, and from late romantic symphonists the sense of magniloquence. In many ways, Irrlicht (1972) created both the archetype and the reference standard for "kosmische musik". Schulze's recipe included Bach-ian organ ouvertures, Tibetan-style droning, "Wagner-ian" polyphonic architectures, Pink Floyd-ian cosmic psychedelia, Gregorian liturgy, John Coltrane's metaphysical explorations, and perhaps even Michelangelo's "Sistine Chapel", and many other ingredients. The synthesis achieved by that electronic symphony was momentous and ground-breaking. Schulze sculpted/painted an ambience that sounded like a live recording of galactic life, but, rather than indulging in rendering cosmic events, he focused on the pathos that the unknown and the infinite elicit into the human soul. The symphony alternates moments of catalectic suspense, of apocalyptic chaos and of moving melody. Schulze sequenced them so as to maximize awe and angst. Like Tangerine Dream's Zeit, Schulze's Cyborg (1973) was a double album containing four side-long electronic suites, and, like many other German musicians, Schulze was introducing more rhythm into his visions. However, this new monolith maintained the "symphonic" quality of the previous one (enhanced by a huge chamber orchestra). While the lengthy, slowly-unraveling suite remained his favorite medium, Totem, on Picture Music (1973), and the inferior Voices Of Syn, on Blackdance (1974), continued the progression towards a more "accessible" format. The best results were to be found on Timewind (1975), which contains two of his most violent (or, better, "Wagner-ian") sonatas: Bayreuth Return and Wahnfried 1883. The explosive Floating, on Moondawn (1976), combined the usual battery of sequencers with manic percussions. Rhythm disappeared from Mirage (1977), one of the earliest albums of ambient music. Another stunning masterpiece, X (1978), summarized all his experiments. The four monumental suites paid homage to teutonic culture like no one had done since Wagner. Having reached his baroque and romantic zenith, Schulze began wasting his talent in trivial new-age music. Audentity (1983) and Dresden Performance (1990) would be his last meaningful works.
Each and every other member of Tangerine Dream launched a solo career,
but noone was as successful as Schulze.
Romance '76 (1976), by Peter Baumann (1)
and Aqua (1974), by Edgar Froese (1),
were probably the best of the solo works of the others,
while Chris Franke (1) would not release
a significant work till Babylon 5 (1995).
Cluster, Kraftwerk, Neu and Faust had little or no interest in psychedelia, and even less interest in the universe. They were (morbidly) fascinated by the human psyche in the 20th century.
Originally, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Dieter Moebius and and Conrad Schnitzler formed Cluster (4), or, better, Ensemble Kluster, to play wildly dissonant and heavily electronic psychedelic music, collected on Klopfzeichen (1970) and Zwei Osterei (1971). Renamed Cluster (with producer Conrad Plank replacing Schnitzler), which is also the title of Cluster (1971), the trio began to indulge in velvety drones, distorted reverbs, cyclic repetitions and tonal poetry, thus aiming for a form of contemplation instead of Kluster's abstract painting. The musical continuum of Cluster II (1972) drew inspiration from Tangerine Dream's psychedelic/cosmic meditations, but without the emphasis on the "visual", sensational, chromatic, symphonic aspects that Schulze had gone on to develop in his solo career. Cluster's electronica was subtle and psychological, rather than emphatic and psychedelic. Sound effects were employed to create unnerving feelings, not the trancey ecstasy of the cosmic poems. Their focus was on the background cosmic radiation rather than on the explosion of a supernova. Zuckerzeit (1974), featuring Neu's Michael Rother, and Musik Von Harmonia (1974), credited to Harmonia (1) but featuring the same trio as the previous one, veered towards lighter atmospheres and artificial rhythms. Continuing the transition, Cluster converted to Eno's ambient music with Sowiesoso (1976) and, after two collaborations with the British master, scored their best ambient work, Grosses Wasser (1979).
Kraftwerk (4) influenced two separate (and often conflicting) groups of musicians: the hyper-abstract noise-makers and the hyper-hedonistic dance-pop crowd. Both industrial music and disco-music descend from Kraftwerk. They were not the first band to focus on the sound of the industrial society (Kluster did so a couple of years earlier) and they were not the first band to make music with electronic keyboards, but they were probably the first musicians to fuse those innovations with pop melody (for better and for worse). When they pursued that fusion, they de facto replaced conventional drumming with electronic rhythms, or, better, the essence of Afro-American civilization with the essence of European civilization. Each suite on Kraftwerk (1970) and Kraftwerk 2 (1971), which introduced the drum-machine (replacing Klaus Dinger) and probably remains their futuristic masterpiece (Kling Klang), was a harrowing, awe-inspiring fresco, worthy of abstract painting, of Morton Subotnick's electronic dadaism, of surrealist poetry, but with the emphasis on the "man machine". Ralf & Florian (1973) refined the relationship between rhythm and melody, and Autobahn (1974) finally abandoned any intellectual pretense and laid the foundations for disco-pop. But now their operation of "black exploitation" was not all that different from what Presley and the Beatles had done: 1. take black music, 2. remove the provocative elements, 3. enhance it with modern technology, 4. and turn it into easy-listening music for the white masses.
Searching for a middle point between post-nuclear psychedelia and psycho-ambient "musique concrete", Faust (112) coined one of the most powerful, dramatic and eccentric languages in modern music. Known for the spartan editions of their records and for the ascetic modesty of their members, Faust were, in a sense, the first "lo-fi" group. Technically, the ensemble's music pushed to the extreme an aesthetic of darkness, ugliness, fear, chaos, irrational, that stemmed from expressionism, surrealism, theater of the absurd, Brecht/Weill's cabaret, myth of the "supermensch", Wagner-ain melodrama, "musique concrete", all fused in a formal system that was as much metaphysical as grotesque. Influenced by Frank Zappa's collages, these teutonic vampires injected angst, like burning lava, into a sound that was deliberately fastidious, repulsive, incoherent. Demented, demonic, paranoid, acid and violent, their compositions constitute a puzzle of sonic boutades and hermetic puns. Their opus was a black mass that deteriorated into "happening". However, behind the surface, Faust's music hid a moving vision of the human condition, one of the most lyrical in the entire history of the century. The visions of hell on their debut album, Faust (1971), particularly Miss Fortune (with the age-defining lyrics "Are we supposed to be or not to be?"), represent one of the noblest testaments to modern alienation. That album was the soundtrack to something both horrible and tender that had just happened to humankind. So Far (1972) was a more conventional set of songs, and Tapes (1973) was a collage of small fragments. Faust's second masterpiece, IV (1973), or, better, its tour de force Krautrock, is a bleak, menacing, agonizing whirlwind of galactic magma that consume thermonuclear energy. If the Indian mystics wanted to become one with Brahman, Faust the atheists tried to become one with the Big Bang.
Formed by guitarist Michael Rother and percussionist Klaus Dinger, both
veterans of Kraftwerk, Neu (102)
Neu! (1972) pushed to the limit the technique of iterative patterns
and the impressionistic approach that were popular among
contemporary cosmic musicians. Pieces such as Negativland are
essentially continuums of rhythmic impulses propelled by
Dinger's legendary "motorik beat" and by obsessive repetition of ferocious
percussive patterns (occasionally bordering on jack-hammer noise).
It was tribal drumming applied to the devastating neurosis of the
Fur Immer, on their second album, 2 (1973), offered the
last glimpse into their personal and public hell.
Neu! 75 (1975) was a much quieter and softer affair,
downplaying the rhythmic element and incorporating a stronger
After the split, each musician continued Neu's mission. Both
first solo album by Michael Rother,
Flammende Herzen (1976),
and Dusseldorf, on the first album
LA Dusseldorf (1976)
by Dinger's LA Dusseldorf (1)
resumed the nightmare.
Neu's anti-romantic futurism and anguished hyper-realism of Wagner-ian
intensity would be highly influential.
Deuter and Popol Vuh turned hippy mysticism into a new musical genre.
Georg Deuter (15) was a pioneer of world-music, and one of the earliest "hippy" musicians to blend western avantgarde and eastern spirituality. The marriage between modern, ancient and eastern cultures is embedded in the core elements of his music: respectively, electronic keyboards, flute melodies, and exotic percussions. Deuter presented his credentials in the four-movement suite Babylon, off his debut album D (1971), that quotes Karlheinz Stockhausen, Tangerine Dream, raga-rock and acid-rock. Aum (1972) was the first Indo-western mass: Hinduist liturgy is transfigured from the viewpoint of the classical avantgarde, while natural sounds and lush percussive textures enhance the ceremonial quality. Deuter continued his mission with a series of devotional albums inspired by his sojourn in India. The suites released on Haleakala Mystery (1978) and Ecstasy (1979) blend Tibetan mantras, "om"-like vocals, electronic drones, sounds of nature and discreet melodies to recreate the intimate ecstasy of the spiritual experience. Silence Is The Answer (1981), his masterpiece, summarizes his musical achievements on a monumental scale, although Deuter would later join the ranks of less profound new-age music with Nirvana Road (1984).
One of the most significant groups of all times, Florian Fricke's Popol Vuh (114) absorbed Eastern spirituality within the format of western music. Fricke's work has been a constant exploration of the same theme: how to express the most personal, profound, austere spirituality by the means of western classical music, western sacred music and profane rock music. It was a marriage of East and West, and a marriage of past and present, made on Earth. In fact, it was made in Germany, and it bears the stigmata of German history. Almost inevitably, Fricke ended up denying the fundamental tenet of German music of his age: electronics. The humble, peaceful tones of acoustic instruments served his purpose better than the majestic complexity of synthesizers and sequencers. Despite the fact that Popol Vuh's debut album, Affenstunde (1971), was an all-electronic album (in fact, it was one of the first rock albums to employ the Moog synthesizer), the ethnic percussions, the natural sounds and the pastoral tone turned it into their first essay in abstract soundpainting, focusing on the ambience rather than on the pathos. Popol Vuh further detached themselves from the cliches of "kosmische musik" with In Den Gaerten Pharaos (1972), one of the most significant albums of the decade. Partially recorded inside a cathedral, its two suites evoke a quiet, intense spiritual experience, aiming for a communion with the forces of the universe, with infinite and with eternity. The sound is mostly inert and timeless: there is no melodic center, no rhythmic underpinning, no narrative development. Electronic instruments had never been employed in such a humble format, to travel "inside" rather than "outside". The transition from electronic to acoustic instruments, and from grandeur to humility, was completed with Hosianna Mantra (1973), one of the most significant works in the entire history of rock music. This Eastern-western meditation-mass for chamber ensemble, centered around the angelic wails of Korean soprano Djong Yun, carried out a sublime integration of Buddhist and Christian meditative/contemplative practices. This album also completed Popol Vuh's repudiation of rhythm: if Tangerine Dream had removed rhythm (i.e., Time) from its cosmic soundpainting, then Popol Vuh removed rhythm (i.e., Time) from its spiritual soundpainting. Building on that intuition, Seligpreisung (1973) began a mystic trilogy devoted to holy books, Einsjaeger & Siebenjaeger (1974) and Das Hohelieds Salomons (1975) being the other two parts. Letzte Tage Letzte Naechte (1976) marked an equally successful conversion to more conventional psychedelic-rock.
Eberhard Schoener (2),
a classical violinist and conductor, who has staged
several collaborations between rock musicians and symphony orchestras,
endorsed Deuter's and Popol Vuh's spiritual stance on
Meditation (1973) and his best electronic poems,
Sky Music and Mountain Music.
Compared with so many giants who revolutionized the history of music, German progressive and psychedelic bands were hardly relevant. Nonetheless, many of those bands rank with the best British bands of the time.
Ash Ra Tempel (1), formed by guitarist Manuel Gottsching (and initially featuring Klaus Schulze on keyboards), practiced a more eartly form of cosmic psychedelia on Schwingungen (1972) and on their masterpiece, Freak'n'Roll, off the album Join Inn (1973), the ultimate synthesis of hippy culture and German expressionism, of Grateful Dead and teutonic sensibility. Manuel Gottsching (2) formed the Cosmic Jokers (1974) with Schulze and then started a solo career with the ambitious Inventions For Electric Guitar (1975), which would be followed by more and more spiritual works for the new-age generation.
Guru Guru offered a surreal mixture of psychedelia, humour, improvisation and collage technique on their 20-minute juggernaut Der LSD Marsch (1970).
Brainticket delivered the exotic-cosmic-erotic-electronic suite Brainticket Pts 1 and 2 on Cottonwood Hill (1971).
Malesch (1972), the debut album by Agitation Free (1), enhanced the recipe of acid-rock with frantic exotic dances (reminiscent of middle-eastern dervishes) and with avantgarde touches due to Michael Hoenig's synthesizer.
The electronic suites of Rot (1973) by Conrad Schnitzler (1), a founding member of both Cluster and Tangerine Dream, are closer to Morton Subotnick's avantgarde electronica than to cosmic music.
Gruppe Between (1), featuring keyboardist Peter Michael Hamel, contaminated "kosmische musik" with free-jazz, world-music, minimalism, and even the symphonic orchestra on Dharana (1974).
A myriad bands were born in the wake of the German boom. Yatha Sidhra's A Meditation Mass (1972) was a spiritual work in the vein of Popol Vuh's Hosianna Mantra. Kalacakra's Crawling To Lhasa (1971) and Dom's Edge of Time (1972) offered world-music a` la Third Ear Band. Gila's Gila (1971) indulged in mystic and medieval atmospheres.
More derivative progressive-rock was played by bands such as: Organisation (later evolved into Kraftwerk), whose Tone Float (1970) was one of the earliest examples of acid-jazz-raga fusion; and Eloy (1), whose symphonic arrangements and Pink Floyd-ian vocals would bloom on Ocean (1977). Progressive-rock cliches were also recycled on Anima's Stuermischer Himmel (1971), Golem's Orion Awakes (1973), Schicke, Fuehrs & Froehling's Symphonic Pictures (1976), etc.
The jazz school featured:
Xhol, whose Electrip (1969) parallels Frank Zappa's developments in jazz-rock;
Embryo (1), whose Opal (1970) was influenced by John Coltrane's mystic free-jazz;
Dzyan (1), whose Time Machine (1973) contains four complex jams that offered an unusual hybrid of acid-rock, progressive-rock, world-music and Canterbury-ian jazz-rock;
Passport, whose Looking Thru (1974) acknowledges the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Soft Machine;
and Brainstorm' Smile a while (1972).
Former Gruppe Between keyboardist Peter Michael Hamel (24) coined an instrumental, keyboard-based sound that is reminiscent of both Bach and Terry Riley with Aura (1972) and Colours Of Time (1980), the latter being his most imaginative work, whose magniloquence and austerity also permeate Nada (1980) and Bardo (1981) as well. Transition (1983), perhaps his most experimental work, ran the gamut from Bach to tribal music, from Tibetan trance to Riley's dervishes, and led to ever more ambitious works: the sonata Organum (1986) and two pieces for string orchestra dedicated to the concept of Time, Arrow Of Time and Cycle Of Time (1988).
The exotic element was central to the music of Stephan Micus (23), as was the entire cultural world of the Far East. Implosions (1977) is more than an erudite version of Popol Vuh's Hosianna Mantra. In pieces such as As I Crossed A Bridge Of Dreams, a gentle psalm for sitar, guitar and voice, Micus sets zen philosophy to hypnotic quasi-ambient music. That form of languid Eastern-western chamber music for small orchestra of ethnic instruments was further explored on Koan (1981) and Wings Over Water (1982), and articulated in more and more virtuoso combinations. Ocean (1986), Micus' definitive symphony of timbres, led to the more abstract soundscapes of Twilight Fields (1987), which is static music for droning instruments and found objects, and Music Of Stones (1989), which collects, literally, improvisations for resonating stones.
After disbanding Agitation Free, Michael Hoenig (10) set a new standard for cosmic music with Departure From The Northern Wasteland (1978), a melodic fantasy that blends Tangerine Dream, and Terry Riley, and even predates ambient house.
Robert Schroder tried to bridge rock and classical music on Harmonic Ascendant (1979) and Floating Music (1980).
Italian-born German keyboardist and producer Giorgio Moroder (1), who had been manufacturing dance singles since the late 1960s, is the man who can be credited with wedding Kraftwerk's robotic music (a very European and elitist artifact) with soul/funk music (a very American and grass-roots genre). Moroder understood the power of electronic keyboards both for "singing" the melody and for "beating" the rhythm. His first experiment was American soul diva Donna Summer: her Love To Love You Baby (1975) co-invented disco-music and launched the idea of the extended "disco mix", while I Feel Love (1976) basically marked the birth of synth-pop. Moroder's production masterworks were his own solo albums, notably From Here To Eternity (1977). A similar style was being refined in France by Jean-Marc Cerrone, particularly with the two lengthy electronic suites Love In C Minor (1977), one of the first side-length tracks that was merely the extended version of one song, and Supernature (1978).
Other German stars of the disco years include Silver Convention, the brainchild of producers Silvester Levay and Michael Kunze, with Fly Robin Fly (1975) and Get Up And Boogie (1976), and Boney M, the brainchild of producer Frank Farian, with Baby Do You Wanna Bump (1975) and Rasputin (1978).
Neue RockTM, ®, Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
The German new wave was a rather confused affair, halfway between dance-music and eccentric songwriting. Hits that reflected the zeitgeist include: Trio's metaphysical anthem Da Da Da Ich Lieb Dich (1981), Falco's funk jam Der Kommissar (1982), Nena's pacifist ditty 99 Luftballoons (1983), Peter Schilling's epic synth-pop ballad Major Tom (1983). Throw That Beat were perhaps the most interesting of Germany's naive-pop bands. A more experimental approach was carried out by Nina Hagen's Nunsexmonkrock (1982) and Liliput's Liliput (1982).
A number of projects were purveyors of noise and anarchy well beyond the proclaims of industrial music, bridging punk aesthetics and expressionism: Der Plan, whose Geri Reig (1979) was one of the earliest experimental albums of their generation; Die Krupps, who debuted with the wild cacophony of Stahlwerksymphony (1981) before converting to metal-industrial dance music; P16D4, who toyed with musique concrete and electronic improvisation on Nichts Niemand Nirgends Nie (1985); Die Haut, whose Schnelles Leben (1982) was one of the most radical works of the national school; HNAS, whose Im Schatten Der Mohre (1987) was noise at the border between industrial, psychedelic and progressive rock.
Einsturzende Neubauten (12) were the main voice of this generation, bridging the gap between 1970s progressive-rock, Throbbing Gristle's industrial music, Swell Maps' punk-rock and something (very atonal, very chaotic, very non-musical, both austere and subversive) that had no name yet. Singer and guitarist Blixa Bargeld (Christian Emmerich) and percussionists Mufti F.M. Einheit (Frank Strauss) and N.U. Unruh (Andrew Chudy) created a living theatre of self-destruction. Their live shows were pagan rituals that sacrificed instruments and people to their totemic angst. The claustrophobic atmosphere of Kollaps (1981) relied on a sinister assortment of harsh sounds (found objects, industrial cadences, psychotic vocals, distorted guitars) but it nonetheless achieved lyrical pathos. Zeichnungen das Patienten OT (1983), their masterpiece, was an expressionistic collage set in a spiritual wasteland. Their cacophonous horror was sincere and internal. That was a point of no return. Only the psychodrama Fuenf auf der nach oben offenen Richterskala (1987) approached that manic suicidal intensity again. Their art, made of silence as much as of sound, made of "gestures" as much as of "harmony", was more closely related to Beckett's theatre than to Berry's rock'n'roll. As their technique became "manner", the ensemble relied on a combination of highly emotional elements to disorient (not shock) the audience: the three-movement "concrete" suite Fiat Lux, off Haus der Luege (1989), and the suite Headcleaner, off Tabula Rasa (1993), carried out less chaotic journeys through their earthly (and very German) hell. Eventually, the old terrorists transformed into gentlemen philosophers, and their visceral ferocity turned into subtle grandeur, but pieces such as Perpetuum Mobile, off Perpetuum Mobile (2004), showed the fundamental continuity between the various stages of the group's militancy. The apocalypse had been postponed, but the burial was already underway.
Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschaft, with Gold Und Liebe (1981), Palais Schaumburg, with Palais Schaumburg (1981), and Xmal Deutschland, with Fetisch (1983), contributed to move synth-pop towards industrial dance-music.
The all-girl group Malaria (1) recorded Emotion (1982), borrowing from Art Bears' progressive-rock, Soft Machine's jazz-rock, and Talking Heads' art-funk.
Switzerland's Yello pursued a lighter version of Kraftwerk's sci-fi cabaret on Solid Pleasure (1980) and then focused on parodies of disco-music.
Remnants of "kosmische musik" in Germany abounded.
Peter Frohmader (13) was an impressive talent of composition and orchestration. His gothic nightmares Nekropolis (1981), Cultes Des Ghoules (1985) and Ritual (1986), particularly the middle one, established his credentials in manipulating electronic and acoustic sounds, and in creating claustrophobic atmospheres. The four-part electronic symphony Homunculus (1988) shifted gear and attained the menacing intensity of a futuristic vision. Through Time And Mistery (1988), his masterpiece, contains compositions that draw inspiration from the Middle Ages as well as from avantgarde composers such as Stockhausen, Ligeti and Cage. Finally, he achieved his mystic phase with albums such as Cycle Of Eternity (1994), still dense, tense and metaphysical.
Austrian multi-instrumentalist Gandalf (1) devoted his career to Tolkien-like fairy-tales such as Journey To An Imaginary Land (1980).
Albums such as Electronic Universe (1985), by the duo Software (1), or Bernd Kistenmacher's Wake Up In The Sun (1987) and Outlines (1990), continued the great German tradition of electronic meditations.
In a more somber and austere register, Asmus Tietchens (1) composed the Marches Funebres (1989) for electronics and percussions.
MetalTM, ®, Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
Despite boasting one of the most successful heavy-metal bands of all times, Rudolf Schenker's Scorpions, Germany's heavy-metal scene was rather inferior to the anglosaxon ones. In the mid-1980s, German bands contributed to the evolution of black metal. Celtic Frost (1) in Switzerland added symphonic arrangements, rhythm machines, samples and sopranos to albums such as Into The Pandemonium (1987). And Helloween (1) in Germany found the common denominator between heavy-metal, Amon Duul and Wagner's operas: the epic and demonic ouvertures of Walls Of Jericho (1986) abused of melodramatic and martial overtones, not to mention panzer-like tempos and machine-gun riffs.
Caspar Brötzmann Massaker (2) wed progressive-rock, jazz and psychedelic noise in a powerful and sophisticated kind of space-rock. The tentative Tribe (1987) merely introduced a revolutionary guitarists obsessed with Jimi Hendrix, but the four terrifying jams of Der Abend der Schwarzen Folklore (1992) roamed a moral "wasteland" that was beyond space-rock, and the apocalyptic Koksofen (1993) chronicled the end of the western civilization.
A seminal achievement of the latter part of the decade was the merger of industrial music with hard-rock and heavy metal, pioneered in Switzerland by the Young Gods (1), whose L'Eau Rouge (1989) made music by sampling heavy-metal guitars and symphonic sounds.
Formed in Germany by keyboardist Sasha Konietzko, guitarist Nick "En" Esch and English vocalist Raymond Watts, KMFDM (3) debuted with the tentative What Do You Know Deutschland (1986) in a derivative robotic style, but found their true voice with Naive (1992), an album that was both explosive and robotic, welding blues, dub, gospel, hip-hop and heavy-metal in a substance that was both guitar-driven and keyboards-driven. The idea was refined on Angst (1993) by incorporating the steady beats of disco-music and techno, while the guitar riffs were pushed to the fore to compete with Ministry and Nine Inch Nails; and Nihil (1995) found a closure of sort, replacing the angst with a nihilistic (but not desperate) acceptance of a grotesque futurism.
The 1990sTM, ®, Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
During the 1990s, the German scene exploded. Even more than in the 1970s, Germany replaced Britain to become the real alternative to the American scene.
The traditional rock genres were the ones that did not fare too well. Switzerland's Sportsguitar, and Germany's Blumfeld were Continental bands influenced by noise-pop. The best one was perhaps 18th Dye, particularly on Tribute To A Bus (1995).
Switzerland's Alboth! (1), a piano-bass-drums trio, invented a new genre at the border between jazz and industrial metal, between Cecil Taylor and Young Gods. The jackhammer rhythms and torrential piano clusters of Liebefeld (1992) were both visceral and sophisticated.
EBMTM, ®, Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
On the other hand, Germany boasted the most varied scene of electronic body music. Disc-jockey Sven Vath (1) virtually invented Frankfurt's "progressive-house" (or, simply, "trance") with the ambient Accident In Paradise (1993); while Maurizio (Moritz Von Oswald) coined a dub-inflected style in Berlin. Air Liquide (10), i.e. Ingmar "Dr Walker" Koch and Cem "Jammin` Unit" Oral, spearheaded Cologne's psychedelic techno with the ambitious The Increased Difficulty Of Concentration (1995), at the border between collage and stream of consciousness, an album that included the colossal Robot Wars Symphony, replete with movements that harked back to (alternatively) Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno. La Bouche, formed in Frankfurt by two black American vocalists, became the most successful acts of melodic techno after they concocted the Euro-techno hits Sweet Dreams (1994) and Be My Lover (1995); while L@n, the Duesseldorf-based duo of Rupert Huber and Otto Mueller, belonged to the avantgarde with the Neu-influenced robotic electronic music of L@n (1996). X Marks The Pedwalk continued the tradition of the industrial dance of the 1980s, whereas Porter Ricks played "intelligent" techno.
Future Primitive (1994) was the manifesto of former Tangerine Dream member Paul Haslinger (12). Swinging from extreme violence to extreme calm, Haslinger unleashed demonic orgies of percussions, techno-funky tempos, heavy-metal riffs, chamber music interludes, industrial beats, screams, electronic distortions and pounding polyrhythms. That futuristic collage technique intensified on World Without Rules (1996), which also boasts a stronger ethnic flavor and the sheer violence of a heavy-metal band, while remaining anchored to the format of dance-music. Score (1999) completed the trilogy in a more technical vein.
German musicians also excelled the ambient and atmospheric variant of techno/industrial music, marked by slower tempos and sophisticated arrangements: Project Pitchfork, with the romantic and exoteric Entities (1992); the tender, delicate minimalism of Bionaut (Joerg Burger), for example on Ethik (1993); Haujobb's charming lounge-techno on Solutions For A Small Planet (1996); etc.
Drome, i.e. German Keyboardist and vibraphonist Bernd "Burnt" Friedman, was one of the first to incorporate hip-hip breaks into chill-out grooves with his album Final Corporate Colonization Of The Unconscious (1993).
A synthesis of techno and rock was achieved in Germany by Atari Teenage Riot (10), the project of Berlin's programmer and anarchist Alec Empire (Alexander Wilke) and two vocalists (Carl Crack and Hanin Elias). The "digital hardcore" (supersonic beats, heavy-metal riffs, agit-prop lyrics, videogame-ish sound effects) of Delete Yourself (1995) straddled the line between punk-rock and techno. Alec Empire (2), the angry young man of techno, toyed with all sorts of styles, notably: the all-electronic Les Etoiles Des Filles Mortes (1996), which displayed the influence of avantgarde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and veered towards gothic ambient music; the "drill and bass" of The Destroyer (1996); and the nightmarish free-jazz electronica of The Curse of the Golden Vampire (1998), a collaboration with Techno Animal's mastermind Kevin Martin.
EC8OR, i.e. French keyboardist Patric Catani and German vocalist Gina D'Iorio, conducted a similar campaign with All Of Us Can Be Rich (1997), a terrifying, excruciating, nonstop sonic assault made of bulldozer/jackhammer beats, mind-bending distortions and death-metal riffs.
Panacea (1), i.e. Mathias Mootz, borrowed elements from death-metal and industrial music for the "drill'n'bass" sound of Low Profile Darkness (1997).
Tosca, i.e. Austrian producers and disc-jockeys Richard Dorfmeister and Peter Kruder, achieved the majestic mannerism of Opera (1997) and especially Suzuki (2000).
CD 1 (1998) by Pole, i.e. Berlin-based sound engineer Stefan Betke, was Germany's main dub artist.
GothTM, ®, Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
Germany's gothic school was also imposing.
Love Is Colder Than Death's Teignmouth (1991) bridged the ancestral and the modern, the middle ages and cybernetics, ecstasy and hedonism, via a sequence that led from monk psalms, funereal tempos and organ drones to disco beats and bombastic arrangements. Aurora (11), formed by Project Pitchfork's members Peter Spilles and Patricia Nigiani, crafted two of the eeriest and most powerful works in the genre: The Land Of Harm And Appletrees (1993), typical of their bleak and majestic overtones, overflowing with memorable melodies and eclectic arrangements (symphonic, acoustic, danceable, dirge-like, and so forth). The apocalyptic lieder of Dimension Gate (1994) covered an even broader territory, evoking both medieval religious music and ancestral tribal music, mimicking at the same time cosmic, techno and new-age music, sounding like a meeting of Popol Vuh and Dead Can Dance in Sven Vath's studio.
Das Ich (1), i.e. vocalist Stefan Ackermann and multi-instrumentalist Bruno Kramm, composed Staub (1994), a symphonic work of heroic proportions. An impressive gothic work also came from Switzerland: The Pleasures Received In Pain (1999), by Der Blutharsch (1).
ElectronicaTM, ®, Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
German electronic musician Pete Namlook (Peter Kuhlmann), one of the most prolific musicians of all times (not a compliment), focused on the untapped potential of analogue synthesizers, often developing or extending the instruments in his own laboratory. Most of his 200+ recordings were collaborations with influential artists of his time, and many were repeated collaborations (i.e., with sequels): Silence (1992) with Dr Atmo, The Dark Side Of The Moog (1994) with Klaus Schulze, Psychonavigation (1994) with Bill Laswell, Jet Chamber (1995) with Atom Heart, etc. Namlook's own music, the series that started with Air (1993), endorsed one or a combination of the following: German "kosmische musik", Brian Eno's "discreet" music, free-jazz and/or Eastern classical music.
German composer Thomas Koner (1) penned the drone-based ambient music of Permafrost (Barooni, 1993).
In Germany, Uwe Schmidt's multi-faceted saga began with Lassigue Bendthaus and unfocused electronic soundscapes such as the ones on Render (1994). His ambient/atmospheric project Atom Heart was more successful, particularly with Morphogenetics Fields (1994). N+'s Built (1996), which was virtually a tribute to cosmic music, and the numerous collaborations Bill Laswell and Pete Namlook completed his training in the field of lengthy, static electronic poems. But his activity ranged from Latin music, explored by Senor Coconut Y Su Conjunto, for example on El Gran Baile (1997), to the digital ambient/industrial jazz-rock of Flanger, a collaboration with percussionist Bernd Friedman, on Templates (1999). His partneship with Japanese visionary Tetsu Inoue was particulary relevant. The third Datacide (1) album, Flowerhead (1994), toyed with a noise-based form of ambient music that sounded like organic matter slowly developing into an embryo. The duo recorded ambient works under several names, notably Masters Of Psychedelic Ambiance's MU (1995) and Second Nature's Second Nature (1995).
Germany's Enigma (2), the project of Romanian-born veteran disco producer and electronic composer Michael Cretu (aka Curly M.C.), elaborated a pseudo-ethnic ambient style that would be very influencial on mainstream music. MCMXC A.D. (1990) mixed Gregorian chanting, dance beats, new-age ecstasy and exotic fascination. The Cross Of Changes (1994) was a tour de force of juxtapositions and layering that roamed the world for inspiration (French chansons, African polyrhythms, Middle-eastern cantillation, Peruvian flutes, operatic choirs, etc).
Mo Boma (12), the duo of German multi-instrumentalist Carsten Tiedemann and Iceland-born jazz bassist Skuli Sverrisson, achieved a brilliant fusion of Brian Eno, Jon Hassell, Klaus Schulze, Weather Report and Pat Metheny, for the age of raves on Jijimuge (1992) and especially on the more electronic, primitive-futurist Myths Of The Near Future (1994). The first part of a trilogy recorded in South Africa in 1993, the latter set the foundations for the sophisticated ethno-jazz of Myths Of The Near Future Part Two (released in 1995) and the lush, symphonic "thickness" of Myths Of The Near Future Part Three (1996). Overall, the trilogy represented a majestic celebration of the human race.
Glitch music originated from Germany. Markus Popp's Oval (1) had the idea of applying the avantgarde technique of musique concrete to the static, droning, ethereal fluxes of ambient music. Systemisch (1994) "composed" tracks by using the "glitches" of defective compact discs as an instrument. The "mechanical" effect of compositions such as Do While (1996) was akin to the aesthetics of Futurism. Oval's Popp and Mouse On Mars' Jan Werner pursued a similar strategy of accident-prone electronic music under the moniker Microstoria on works such as Init Ding (1995).
Another precursor was Pita (1), the project of Austrian electronic musician Peter Rehberg, who contributed to formalize the "glitch" aesthetics with Seven Tons For Free (1996), a concerto for pulse signals, and Get Out (1999), which was the cacophonous equivalent of a romantic symphony.
Bernhard Guenter (13) was the link with the classical avantgarde. The guru of digital, dissonant minimalism, he sculpted sub-atomic soundtracks that picked up the sounds from the crevices between one quantum event and the next one. His Un Peu De Neige Salie (1993) was a work of musique concrete that manipulated noises of ordinary life to the point that they became unrecognizable, and then turned them into cold, dark, monolithic structures of silence, terrible depths from which there emerge unidentified and barely-audible bursts of sound. Time Dreaming Itself (2000) and Then Silence (2001) opened a new phase of sonic exploration, "active" rather than "passive", and frequently reminiscent of Morton Feldman. Redshift - Abschied (2002) bridged this hyper-minimal music and chamber music.
Alva Noto (born Carsten Nicolai in Germany) was one of the composers who switched to the computer. His audio installations, documented by albums such as Prototypes (2000), employed techniques as diverse as minimalistic repetition, abstract soundpainting, musical pointillism and industrial noise, but, ultimately, subscribed to a notion from Physics, that the vacuum is alive and that reality hides in the interstices of the spacetime grid.
Arovane, the project of Berlin multi-instrumentalist Uwe Zahn, wed ambient music, Debussy's impressionism and new-age relaxation on Tides (2000).
Klangkrieg was the main composer of noise, particularly with Das Fieber der Menschlichen Stimme (1999).
German guitar trio Maeror Tri (2) pioneered music for guitar-drones, although their white-noise hurricanes, particularly on the monumental Myein (1995), recorded in 1992 and 1993, were reminiscent of both Glenn Branca's symphonies and Throbbing Gristle's industrial nightmares.
Treated guitar drones and noises reached a new dimension with the work of Austrian-born Christian Fennesz (2), both his harsh cacophonies, such as Hotel Paral.Lel (1997), and his melodic illusions, such as Endless Summer (2001).
Post-rock owed a huge debt to German rock of the 1970s. Thus, it was not surprising that Germany rapidly became one of the centers for post-rock.
Mouse On Mars (3), the Duesseldorf-based duo of Andi Toma and Jan Werner, applied the post-rock aesthetics to post-techno music. The pseudo-psychedelic trance of Vulvaland (1994) was unusual mainly because of its tragic, gloomy mood, but Iaora Tahiti (1995) layered elements of dub, jungle, hip-hop inside a shell of warped ambient/cosmic cliches, thus creating a new kind of futurism, one that was not Kraftwerk's paranoia of machines but a very bodily (and current) neurosis. Autoditacker (1997) consolidated that style in a baroque synthesis of light polyrhythms and bizarre electronics, while Instrumentals (1998) was perhaps the most austere enunciation of their deconstruction technique. The "thickness" of sound effects on Idiology (2001) gave rise to an hallucinated symphony of instrumental colors, while coldly vivisecting a catalog of retro styles.
To Rococo Rot (1) basically unified the aesthetics of trip-hop and post-rock on Veiculo (1997). Ronald Lippock's side-project Tarwater (1) infused the robotic rhythms and alien noises of 11/6 12/10 (1996) with romantic melodrama.
Laub (1), the duo of vocalist Antye Greie-Fuchs and keyboardist Juergen "Jotka" Kuehn, explored alien soundscapes on Kopflastig (1997) and especially Unter anderen Bedingungen als Liebe (1999).
Markus Archer's Notwist (1), featuring Martin "Console" Gretschmann on samples, were fluent in the idioms of hardcore, noise-rock and post-rock; which they applied simultaneously to the carefully orchestrated and absurdist ballads of 12 (1997) and especially Neon Golden (2001). Their cousins Village of Savoonga (1) straddled the line between expressionist drama, psychedelic doom and stream of consciousness on Philipp Schatz (1996). And their other cousins Tied & Tickled Trio (1) revived cool jazz for the digital generation on Tied & Tickled Trio (1998).
The "songs" built by Notwist's sampling engineer Console (born Martin Gretschmann) on albums such as Pan Or Ama (1997) and Rocket In The Pocket (1999). were tributes to studio technique, concentrates of electronic and computer trickery, complex hodgepodges of synthesizer melodies, spastic beats, samples, dissonances, reverbs, computerized voices.
Other notable contributions to German post-rock came from: Kreidler (1), featuring keyboardists Andreas Reihse and Detlef "DJ Sport" Weinrich, with Weekend (1996); Trance Groove, with Paramount (1996); the multinational quartet Karamasov, with On Arrival (1998); Lali Puna, the project of Munich-based vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Valerie Trebeljahr, with Tricoder (1999); etc.
These German projects made up a formidable generation of experimental musicians, worthy of their predecessors Can, Neu and Faust.
Stereo Total, the project of Berlin-based vocalist and electronic wizard Brezel Goering, concocted a goofy, anarchic, exuberant, multi-ethnic (and multi-linguistic) fusion of new wave, punk-rock, disco music and synth-pop, bridging girl-groups, funk, Giorgio Moroder and the Ramones, which turned Monokini (1997) into the sonic equivalent of a Marx Brothers movie.
Beanfield (1998) proved that the heart of Munich-based Michael Reinboth, better known as Beanfield, was in jazz fusion, but his subconscious was still entangled in the genres of his childhood.
Le Hammond Inferno, the project of Berlin-based producers and disc-jockeys Marcus Liesenfeld and Holger Beier, copied Pizzicato Five on Easy Listening Superstar (1999).
TM, ®, Copyright © 2002 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.