HOLGER CZUKAY-ON THE WAY TO THE PEAK OF NORMAL.
HOLGER CZUKAY-ON THE WAY TO THE PEAK OF NORMAL.
Holger Czukay’s name is synonymous with Can, the group he cofounded in 1968. Soon, Can went on to become one of the most innovative, influential and groundbreaking groups in musical history. Their music is best described as a fusion of ambient, avant-garde, electronic, experimental, industrial, jazz, psychedelia and rock. Known for their ability to improvise, Can became famous for what they referred to as spontaneous composition.
When Can headed into the studio they improvised. Feeding off each other, genres and ideas melted into one. It was spontaneous and off-the-cuff. Can played with freedom and in doing so, pushed musical boundaries to their limits and sometimes, beyond. Afterwards, the results would be edited and the result would be some of the most exciting music released between 1969 and 1979, when Can split-up.
In total, Can released eleven albums between 1969s Monster Movie and 1979s Can. During this period, Can released classic albums like Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, Future Days and Soon Over Babaluma. This was music that’s bold, challenging, innovative, inventive and influential. Expecting the unexpected, a new Can album featured exciting, innovative and progressive music, where a fusion of musical influences and genres became one. For ten years and eleven albums, Can released cutting-edge music. Sadly, in 1979, Can split-up. Thankfully, they reconvened in 1989 for Rite Time.
After Can split-up in 1979, Holger Czukay returned to his solo career. Holger released Movies in 1979. This was the long-awaited followup to 1969s Canaxis 5. Then two years later, as a new decade took shape, Holger Czukay released On The Way To The Peak of Normal, which will be released on Groenland Records on 8th December 2013. Before I tell you about On The Way To The Peak of Normal, I’ll tell you about Holger Czukay’s career up until 1981s On The Way To The Peak of Normal.
Holger Czukay was born in March 1938, in what was then the Free City of Danzig. Nowadays, it’s known as Gdansk. As war broke out, Holger and his family became refugees. This impacted upon his education. Like so many displaced children, Holger’s education suffered. Despite this, Holger managed to get a job in a radio repair shop. Not only did he learn how to repair electrical equipment, but became fascinated by radio and the opportunities it offered. This would prove crucial to Holger Czukay’s later career. Before that, Holger served his musical apprenticeship.
For a three year period between 1963 and 1966, Holger Czukay was privileged to study music under the legendary Karlheinz Stockhausen. A true pioneer, Karlheinz was way ahead of time. He wasn’t just a visionary in terms of electronic music, but was fascinated by aleatoric music, where some element of piece is left to chance. Granted there will only be a certain number of outcomes, but the musician has to choose the outcome they believe is correct. Serialism was another subject Karlheinz was interested in. With serialism, a series of values are used to manipulate musical elements. This form of composition fascinated Karlheinz. So did musical spatialism, which would influence Can. Karlheinz was an evangelist, encouraging his pupils to investigate, examine and scrutinise each of these subjects. So it’s no surprise that once Holger had finished studying, he became a musical teacher.
Having settled into life as a music teacher, Holger was enjoying life as a teacher. Then when he heard The Beatles’ I Am A Walrus in 1967, he was captivated by this psychedelic rock single. With the innovative use of bursts of radio and the experimental sound and structure, Holger went in search of similar music. Soon, Frank Zappa and Velvet Underground became favorites of Holger. Inspired by what he’d heard, Holger decided to form his own band in 1968…Can.
During his time studying under Karlheinz Stockhausen, one of Holger’s fellow pupils was Irmin Schmidt. After graduating, Irmnin headed to New York, where he spent time with avant-garde musicians like Steve Reich, Terry Riley and La Monte Young. Soon, Irmin was aware of Andy Warhol and Velvet Underground. This inspired him to form his own band when he returned home to Cologne.
In Cologne, Irmin a pianist and organist formed Can with American flautist David C. Johnson and bassist Holger Czukay. Up until then, the trio had exclusively played avant-garde classical music. Now their ambitions lay beyond that. Their influences included garage, rock, psychedelia, soul and funk. So they brought onboard three new members of the group which started life as Inner Space, and then became The Can. Eventually, they settled on Can, an acronym of communism, anarchy, nihilism.
The first two new additions were guitarist Michael Karoli and drummer Jaki Liebezeit. Vocalist and New York-based sculptor Malcolm Mooney joined the band midway through 1968. By then, they were recording material for an album Prepare To Meet Thy Pnoom. Unfortunately, record companies weren’t interested in the album. So the group continued recording what would become their debut album Monster Movies. However, David C. Johnson left the group at the end of 1968. He was disappointed at the change in musical direction. Little did he realise he’d lost the chance to be part of a groundbreaking band Can.
Monster Movies which was released in August 1969, marked the debut of Can. It started their career as they meant to go on. A groundbreaking, genre-melting fusion of blues, free jazz, psychedelia, rock and world music, Monster Movies has a Velvet Underground influence. It’s as if Can have been inspired by Velvet Underground and pushed musical boundaries to their limits. Experimental, multilayered and an example of Can’s spontaneous composition and editing skills, Monster Movie wasn’t just the album that launched Can’s career, but saw the term Krautrock coined. The founding father’s of Krautrock were Can, lead by Holger Czukay.
1969 saw the release of another Holger Czukay album. Credited to the Technial Space Composer’s Crew, Canaxis 5 was a collaboration between Holger and Ralf Dammers. Canaxis 5 is an often overlooked album, which features two lengthy tracks. It shows two innovative musicians pushing the musical envelop, as Can would continue to do.
Released in 1970, Soundtracks, was Can’s sophomore album. Essentially, Soundtracks is a compilation of tracks Can wrote for soundtracks. It’s the album that marked the departure of vocalist Malcolm Mooney. Replacing him, was Japanese busker, Damo Suzuki. He features on five of the tracks, contributing percussion and vocals. The addition of Damo wasn’t the only change Can were making.
Soundtracks was a coming of age for Can. It marked a move away from the psychedelic jams of Monster Movie and a move towards their classic sound. That saw the music becoming much more experimental and avant-garde. The music took an ambient, meditative, mesmeric and thoughtful sound. This marked the beginning of what became known as Can’s classic years, when albums like Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, Future Days and Soon Over Babaluma were released.
Tago Mago was released to critical acclaim in 1971. This was the start of a golden period for Can. They could do no wrong. Kenji Damo Suzuki had joined the band officially. Now a permanent member of Can, the band spent a year living in a castle near Cologne recording Tago Mago. Songs started as lengthy jams and improvised pieces. Then Holger worked his magic. He edited them and they became mini masterpieces.
Seven songs featured on a double album released in February 1971. On Tago Mago’s released, it was hailed as their best album yet. Jazzier with an experimental sound, the music has a mysterious, mesmeric sound. Innovative, genres and influences melted into one on Tago Mago. Multilayered, nuances, subtleties and surprises reveal themselves. Since its release, several generations of musicians have been inspired by Tago Mago, a true Magnus Opus, that belongs in every record collection. So does the followup Ege Bamyasi.
Can were on a roll. It seemed they could do no wrong. Ege Bamyasi was released in November 1972 to critical acclaim. Recorded in a a disused cinema, which the band lived in, the result was an album that was a fitting followup to Tago Mago. Just like its predecessor, it’s an essential part of any self respecting record collection. A fusion of jazz, ambient, world music, traditional music and rock, Ege Bamyasi saw Can continue to innovate and influence musicians and music lovers. As of another critically acclaimed classic album wasn’t enough, Can enjoyed their first hit single.
Spoon was chosen as the single from Ege Bamyasi. It reached number six in Germany. That was helped no end, by the single being used as the theme to a German thriller Das Messer. It seemed nothing could go wrong for Can.
That seemed the case when Can released Future Days, in August 1973. It marked a change of direction for Can. Their music moved in the direction of ambient music. The tracks especially, demonstrate that, Future Days and Bel Air. The move towards ambient music may have surprised some Can fans. However, Brian Eno was just one artist pioneering ambient music. This move towards ambient music must have pleased Holger’s guru Karlheinz Stockhausen. He must have looked on proudly as Can released the third of a quartet of classic albums. The final album in this quartet was released in 1974.
Soon Over Babaluma marked the end of Can’s golden period. It was the end of a period where they were releasing some of their most innovative and groundbreaking music. There was a change of direction on Soon Over Babaluma. Can were without a vocalist. Despite this, when Can released Soon Over Babaluma in November 1974, it received praise from critics. With a myriad of beeps, squeaks and sci-fi sounds, Soon Over Babaluma is like musical journey into another, 21st Century dimension. A musical tapestry where layers of music are intertwined during five tracks on Soon Over Babaluma, which brought to a close the most fruitful period of Can’s career.
Following the “golden quartet,” Can didn’t go into decline. Instead, Can continued to reinvent themselves and their music. Landed was released in September 1975. It had been recorded between February and April 1972. It was the first Can album to be released on Virgin Records. Gone is the ambient sound of Soon Over Babaluma. Only Unfinished on Landed has an ambient influence. Instead, Landed has a poppy, sometimes glam influence. With uptempo, shorter songs, Landed was a much more traditional album. Surely Can weren’t conforming?
Flow Motion was Can’s eight album. Again, Flow Motion was an album that drew inspiration from everything from funk, reggae, rock and jazz. Released in October 1976, Flow Motion saw another change. The album featured lyrics written by Peter Gilmour. This was the first time someone outside the band had written for the band. However, this resulted in Can’s first UK single I Want More. It was later rerecorded by Fini Tribe and then Italo disco group Galaxis. With what was just their second hit single in seven years, maybe Can were about to make a commercial breakthrough?
Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Saw Delight which was released in March 1977, wasn’t the commercial success many people forecast. That’s despite embracing world music. To add a percussive element, Holger added a myriad of sound-effects. This was Holger at his groundbreaking best. Experimental sounds including a wave receiver was used. Holger didn’t play bass on Saw Delight. Instead, he brought onboard former Traffic bassist Rosko Gee and percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah, another member of Traffic.
Despite the all-star lineup and a bold, progressive and experimental album, Saw Delight wasn’t a commercial success. It was well received by critics. The problem was, Saw Delight was way ahead of its time. If it had been released in the eighties, like albums by Paul Simon or Peter Gabriel, it would’ve been a bigger commercial success. Sadly, by then Can would be no more.
Out Of Reach which was released in July 1978, proved to be a prophetic title. After all, commercial success always seemed to elude Can? This would prove to be Can’s most controversial album. So much so, that they disowned Out Of Reach. On Out Of Reach Holger was left toadd myriad of sound-effects. Bassist Rosko Gee and percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah of Traffic returned. They were part of the problem.
Unable to play with the necessary freedom Can were famed for, the two ex-members of Traffic stifled Can. Rebop’s percussion overpowers Jaki’s drums, which have always been part of Can’s trademark sound. At least Michael’s virtuoso guitar solos are a reminder of classic Can. A nod towards Carlos Santana, they showed Can were still capable of moments of genius. There wouldn’t be many more of these. Can would breakup after their next album.
Can was released in July 1979. Holger didn’t play on Can. Instead, edited the album. That was his only involvement. The two ex-members of Traffic were still present on Can. They played their part in what would prove to be a farewell for Can. What was their final album to their 1989 reunion album Rite Time, didn’t replicate the success of their golden quartet. Shortly afterwards Can split up and Holger’s solo career began.
Movies, the first album Holger released since Can split-up, saw Holger play everything from keyboards, bass, synths and guitar. Other members of Can made guest appearances on the four tracks. Rejuvenated after playing a supporting role in Can, Holger pushed musical boundaries. Fusing musical genres, Movies was released to widespread critical acclaim. Revitalized and rejuvenated Holger Czukay was back. Two years later, he released On The Way To The Peak Of Normal which will be released on Groenland Records on 8th December 2013.
On The Way To The Peak Of Normal featured five tracks. Four of them, Ode To Perfume, On The Way To The Peak Of Normal, Two Bass Shuffle and Hiss ‘N’ Listen were written by Holger. The exception was Witches Multiplication Table, which was written by Conny Plank. These five tracks were recorded at Inner Space Studio, Cologne.
At Inner Space Studios, Holger played keyboards, vocoder, organ,bass, harmonica, congas, synths and guitar. A number of musicians made guest appearances. Most played just on one or two tracks. This included Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, bassists Jah Wobble and Uli Putsch and guitarist Uwe Jahnke. Conny Plank played synth violin, Jurgen Wolter organ and Harry Rag added vocals on On The Way To The Peak Of Normal. These five tracks became On The Way To The Peak Of Normal, which was released in 1981.
Just as had been obvious on the release of Movies, two years earlier, On The Way To The Peak Of Normal a found a rejuvenated Holger ready to innovate and create music that was groundbreaking and capable of challenging and pushing musical boundaries. Hailed as a return to form from Holger, On The Way To The Peak Of Normal marked a new era in his career.
Ode To Perfume opens Side One of On The Way To The Peak Of Normal. A fourteen minute soundscape unfolds. Bursts of guitar give way to rolls of drums and scorching, searing guitar solos. Washes of synths ring out, while a vocal is sung through a vocoder. Then there’s the pulsating bass, sound effects and keyboards. The arrangement assails and surrounds you. Layers of music reveal their hidden secrets and depths. Subtleties and nuances unfold. With each listen something new appears. Grandiose, ethereal and symphonic, the music’s inherent beauty and drama inspires, lifts and tugs at your heartstrings. It’s music you want to tell people about, evangelize about and introduce to a wider audience. That’s how good this opus is.
Opening Side Two of On The Way To The Peak Of Normal is the title-track. Haunting and broody, describes the introduction. A faint, whispery, vocal that best describes as eerie and sinister vocal joins broody, moody bass. In the distance, a crystalline guitar almost dances. Atmospheric and evocative describes this captivating combination. As the arrangement meanders along, washes of Hammond organ are surrounded by a myriad of sound effects and percussion. All of a sudden, a funky slap bass is unleashed, while searing, rocky guitars compete for your attention. So do bursts of Holger’s radio frequencies. By now, genres are melting into one. Ambient, electronica, funk, jazz, Latin, psychedelia and rock are thrown into the melting pot. Together, they create a dramatic, atmospheric and evocative soundscape, that’s innovative and bold, just as you’d expect from Holger Czukay.
Guitars reverberate as Fragrance unfolds. Like a 21st Century, space age symphony, synths and vocoder combine with the rhythm section and crystalline guitars. Veering from bursts of dramatic sci-fi funky to a much more understated, meandering arrangement, it’s a track that pushes musical boundaries. To do that, Holger combines P-Funk, electronica, jazz, rock, psychedelia and ambient. It’s best described as a track that’s genre-melting, mesmeric, hypnotic, dramatic and understated.
Witches Multiplication Table is the final track on this version of On The Way To The Peak Of Normal. Hiss ‘N’ Listen is omitted. So this haunting, eerie track closes the album. As was often the case on Can albums, space is used effectively. Just like Can, there’s a free jazz influence. That comes from the braying horns. They’re the perfect foil to a haunting vocal and are part of a band who are in the groove. They exploit this groove fully. Whether it’s the constant churning bass, tormented horns, shakers or sound effects, they’re ying to the vocal’s yang. They also play their part in a haunting, eerie and atmospheric track that’s a fitting finale to On The Way To The Peak Of Normal.
Although On The Way To The Peak Of Normal was released to critical acclaim, it wasn’t a commercial success. Granted it found an audience, but not the audience it deserved. On The Way To The Peak Of Normal was more of an underground album, rather than a widespread commercial success. It seemed that history was repeating itself all over again. Just like Can, the group he cofounded, Holger Czukay didn’t enjoy the commercial success his music deserved. That meant Holger Czukay and Can were in good company.
Holger Czukay and Can followed in the footsteps of a whole host of innovative artist who didn’t enjoy the commercial success their music enjoyed. Among them are Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa, two artists who influenced Holger Czukay and Can. A small crumb of comfort for Holger Czukay is that both the music he recorded with Can and his solo albums, including On The Way To The Peak Of Normal went on to influence several generations of musicians. Why?
Well, the music on On The Way To The Peak Of Normal eclectic, genre-sprawling and ambitious. It’s music that pushes boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, beyond. It’s a fusion of ambient, avant-garde, electronic, experimental, funk, industrial, jazz, psychedelia and rock. Genre-melting describes an album of bold, challenging, innovative, inventive and influential music. Expecting the unexpected on On The Way To The Peak Of Normal, Holger Czukay’s third solo album, which will be released on Groenland Records on 8th December 2013. It features exciting, innovative and progressive music, where a fusion of musical influences and genres became one.
Whilst innovative is an overused word, Holger Czukay is a truly innovative musician. Whether it was with Can, or on solo albums like On The Way To The Peak Of Normal, Holger Czukay wasn’t afraid to push musical boundaries. In doing so, he fused musical genres. Throwing everything into his musical melting pot, Holger Czukay gave it a stir. The result was On The Way To The Peak Of Normal, a unique, enthralling and captivating album that was way ahead of its time. Indeed, Holger Czukay was way ahead of his time.
Holger Czukay’s career has lasted over five decades. In 1989, Can reunited and they released their farewell album Rite Time. Maybe this was the Rite Time for Can to go their separate ways? They’d been together for twenty years, on and off. They’d released groundbreaking music, music that pushed musical boundaries. Can’s best albums were their golden quartet of Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, Future Days and Soon Over Babaluma. After that, Holger returned to releasing solo albums and collaborating with other artists. One of the finest moments of Holger Czukay’s solo career is On The Way To The Peak Of Normal. It features this charismatic, enigmatic and mercurial musician at his best. The forthcoming rerelease of On The Way To The Peak Of Normal, will allow another generation of music lovers the opportunity to discover the music of an innovative and visionary musician Holger Czukay.
HOLGER CZUKAY-ON THE WAY TO THE PEAK OF NORMAL.
- Posted in: Ambient ♦ Electronic ♦ Free Jazz ♦ Jazz ♦ Psychedelia ♦ Rock
- Tagged: Can, Ege Bamyasi, Future Days, Groenland Records, Holger Czukay, Monster Movie, On The Way To The Peak of Normal, Soon Over Babaluma, Tago Mago