CAN-SOON OVER BABALUMA.
CAN-SOON OVER BABALUMA.
Forty years ago, in November 1974, Can released the sixth album of their career, Soon Over Babaluma. This marked the end of an era for Can. Soon Over Babaluma was the end of Can’s golden period. This golden period began with their debut album, 1969s Monster Movie and 1974s Soon Over Babaluma which like all of Can’s back-catalogue, is being rereleased on vinyl by Mute Records. For six albums, Can were one of the most innovative bands in musical history. They established a reputation as one of the most influential bands in musical history. Even today, forty-five years after Can released their debut album, Can’s influence is can be heard in music.
Founded in 1968, 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, prog rock, 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. However, five years before Rite Time, Can released Soon Over Babaluma the album which marked the end of Can’s golden period. Before I tell you about Soon Over Babaluma, I’ll tell you about Can’s career up until then.
For a three year period between 1963 and 1966, Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt were privileged to study music under the legendary Karlheinz Stockhausen. A true pioneer, Karlheinz Stockhausen 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 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 Czukay and Irmin Schmidt had finished studying, Holger 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 favourites of Holger. Inspired by what he’d heard, Holger decided to form his own band in 1968…Can.
After his time studying under Karlheinz Stockhausen, 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 Movie was the start of the Can story. It was recorded in Schloss Nörvenich, a 14th-century castle in North Rhine-Westphalia. Can recorded Monster Movie between 1968-69. It was the released in August 1969. This marked the debut of Can. Their career started as they meant to go on, creating 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, but pushed musical boundaries to their limits.
Throughout Monster Movie, Can improvised, innovated and experimented. Multilayering and editing played an important part in Monster Movie’s avant garde sound. So did spontaneous composition, which Can pioneered.
Spontaneous composition was hugely important in Can’s success. Holger remembers “that the members of Can were always ready to record. They didn’t take time to think. It was spontaneous. The music flowed through them and out of them.” Holger remembers that he was always “given the job of pressing the record button. This was a big responsibility as the fear was failing to record something we could never recreate.” In some ways, Can were an outlet for this outpouring of creativity, which gave birth to a new musical genre.
This new musical genre was dubbed Krautrock by the British music press. So not only was Monster Movie the album that launched Can’s career, but saw a new musical genre, Krautrock coined. The founding father’s of Krautrock were Can, lead by Holger Czukay.
Released in 1970, Soundtracks, was Can’s sophomore album. Essentially, Soundtracks is a compilation of tracks Can wrote for the soundtracks to various films. It’s the album that marked the departure of vocalist Malcolm Mooney. Replacing him, was Japanese busker, Kenji 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 and Future Days were released.
The first instalment in the golden quartet was Tago Mago. This was the first album where Kenji Damo Suzuki was a permanent member of Can. He and the rest of Can spent a year in the castle in Schloss Nörvenich. It was owned by an art collector named Mr. Vohwinkel. He allowed Can to stay at Schloss Nörvenich rent free. For what Holger described as “a poor man’s band,” this was perfect.
Holger remembers Can during this year as “just jamming and seeing what took shape. Songs started as lengthy jams and improvised pieces.” This Holger remembers is “how Can always worked” After that, Holger worked his magic. He edited them and these mini masterpieces featured on Tago Mago, which was four months in the making.
For four months between November 1970 and February 1971, Can recorded what would become one of their most innovative and influential albums, Tago Mago.
A double album, Tago Mago featured seven groundbreaking tracks. Tago Mago was released in February 1971. Straight away, critics realised the importance of Tago Mago. Here was a game-changer of an album. It has an intensity that other albums released in 1971 lacked. Jazzier with an experimental sound, the music is mysterious, mesmeric and multilayered. It’s innovative, with genres and influences melting into one. Nuances, subtleties and surprises reveal themselves. No wonder. Can deliver an avant garde masterclass.
This comes courtesy of jazz-tinged drumming, improvised guitar playing and showboating keyboard solos. Then there was Kenji Damo Suzuki’s unique vocal style. All this, resulted in an album that was critically acclaimed, influential and innovative.
Released to widespread critical acclaim in 1971, Tago Mago was the start of a golden period for Can. Their reputation as one of the most innovative groups of the seventies started to take shape. Can had released one of the most innovative albums, Tago Mago. Holger remembers the reaction to Tago Mago. “I knew Tago Mago was an innovative album, but I never realised just how innovative an album it would become?
On Tago Mago’s release, it was hailed as Can’s best album yet. However, not in Holger’s opinion. “Tago Mago is a classic album, but I much prefer Future Days.” Despite Holger’s preference, 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. They released Spoon as a single in 1972. It reached number six in Germany, selling over 300,000 copies. 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. The money the made from Spoon, allowed Can to hire disused cinema to record what became Ege Bamyasi.
Can advertised for a space to record their next album, Ege Bamyasi. Recording began in a disused cinema, which doubled as a recording studio and living space. The sessions at Inner Space Studio, in Weilerswist, near Cologne didn’t go well. Irmin Schmidt and Kenji Damo Suzuki took to playing marathon chess sessions. As a result, Can hadn’t enough material for an album. This resulted in Can having to work frantically to complete Ege Bamyasi. Despite this, Can were still short of material. So Spoon was added and Ege Bamyasi was completed.
Ege Bamyasi was a fusion of musical genres. Everything from jazz, ambient, world music, psychedelia, rock and electronica melted into one. When it was Ege Bamyasi released in November 1972, it was to the same critical acclaim as previous albums. Critics were won over by Can’s fourth album. It was perceived as a more accessible album than its predecessors. Just like Can’s previous albums, the quality of music was consistent.
Critics hailed Can as one of the few bands capable of creating consistent and pioneering albums. They were one of the most exciting bands of the early seventies. Can were continuing to innovate and influence musicians and music lovers alike. Just like its predecessor, Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi is an essential part of any self respecting record collection. Having released two consecutive classic albums and their first single, it seemed nothing could go wrong for Can.
Despite Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi being referred to as two of the most influential albums ever released, Holger Czukay prefers Future Days. This is the album he calls “my favourite Can album.” It was the third in Can’s golden quartet, and marked a change in direction from Can.
Future Days saw Can’s music head in the direction of ambient music. The music is atmospheric, dreamy, ethereal, melancholy, expansive and full of captivating, mesmeric rhythms. It’s also pioneering and progressive, with elements of avant garde, experimental, psychedelia and rock melting into one. Rather than songs, soundscapes describes the four tracks. Future Days and Bel Air showcase Can’s new sound. Bel Air was the Future Day’s epic. It lasted just over nineteen minutes, and sees can take you on an enthralling musical journey. Just like the rest of Future Days, critics hailed the album a classic.
On its release in August 1973, Future Days was hailed a classic by music critics. 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, Soon Over Babaluma was released in 1974.
Soon Over Babaluma.
The final album in Can’s golden quartet was released in November 1974. This was Soon Over Babaluma, which was recorded at Inner Space Studios, Munich.
Soon Over Babaluma features five tracks penned and produced by Can. It marked a change in direction for Can. This was their first album without a lead vocalist. During this period, Can had released some of the most groundbreaking music of the late-sixties and early seventies. This continued with Soon Over Babaluma.
Can released Soon Over Babaluma in November 1974. It featured the ambient sound that Can pioneered on their previous album, Future Days. Critically acclaimed, and featuring 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, Soon Over Babaluma, which I’ll tell you about, brought to a close the most fruitful period of Can’s career.
Dizzy Dizzy opens Soon Over Babaluma. Moody and atmospheric describes the arrangement. A whispery scat, scratchy strings and drums combine with crystalline, sometimes, wah-wah guitar. Soon, Can are in the groove. From this groove, the song emanates. It’s as if this is an example of Can’s spontaneous composition. Through jamming, then with Holger editing the end result the song evolves. When he’s finished this is the result, an innovative fusion of musical genres. Everything from ambient, country, electronica, folk, funk, jazz, Kraturock and rock is combine as Can continue their quest to reinvent themselves.
Can spring a series of surprises on Come Sta, La Luna. Driven along by the rhythm section, the arrangement is slow and moody. Harmonies interject, and with the piano add drama. Then there’s the return of the sinister scat. It’s as if we’re eavesdropping on someone unravelling. Meanwhile sound effects, piano and the broody vocal combine with a myriad of percussion as the arrangement takes on a jazz-tinged, ambient sound. Other times, the music is dramatic, discordant and veers towards folk, jazz and rock. Gypsy violins, melancholy horns and percussion are all thrown into the melting pot, as the music becomes cinematic and theatrical. Multilayered, full of nuances and subtleties, it’s a pioneering, groundbreaking piece of art. Describing this track as just music, doesn’t do it justice.
Splash explodes into life, allowing Can the chance to showcase their versatility. Seamlessly and peerlessly, they combine musical genres. A myriad of musical influences unite. So do a multitude of instruments. Some are transformed. In the hands of Can, their sonic possibilities seem infinite. Instruments are reinvented as Can maraud their way across the arrangement. Driven along by a thunderous rhythm section, grizzled horns, screeching strings, blistering guitars and percussion Can push musical boundaries. Avant-garde, experimental and free jazz join forces with Krautrock and Latin are added to this lysergic, musical pot pourri. Groundbreaking, defiant and bold, Can go where no group dared go before.
Chain Reaction is best described as an eleven minute epic. With a sci-fi, cinematic sound, it’s as if we’re heading on a musical journey to another dimension. Drums pound, synths bubble and searing guitars herald the start of this journey. Can lock into a groove and explore it to its fullest. Crystalline guitars chime, while the drums provide the thunderous heartbeat. Percussion and sci-fi synths augment the arrangement as the arrangement makes fleeting visits to musical genres. Funk, jazz, Krautrock, ambient and rock are all combined. As Can maraud their way through musical genres, blistering mating gun guitar licks are unleashed. Groove laden, edgy, funky, jazz-tinged, pioneering and cinematic, Chain Reaction is all this more.
Quantum Physics closes Soon Over Babaluma. Broody, moody and haunting, it’s akin to a track from a movie soundtrack. Over nine minutes, washes of eerie, haunting synths, ethereal, chilling vocals, crashing cymbals and dramatic drums play their part in the track’s cinematic sound. This could easily be the soundtrack to a film. The music conjures up pictures, that unfold before your eyes. They’re chilling, haunting, eerie, atmospheric and sometimes, sinister. Ambient, minimalist, experimental and post modern describes this track’s cinematic 21st Century sound. This seems a fitting way to end not just Soon Over Babaluma, but Can’s golden period, when they could do no wrong.
When it was released in November 1974, Soon Over Babaluma was released to critical acclaim. Sadly, it wasn’t a commercial success. Granted it found an audience, but not the audience it deserved. Like most of Can’s albums, Soon Over Babaluma was more of an underground album, rather than a widespread commercial success. It seemed that history was repeating itself all over again. Can, didn’t enjoy the commercial success their music deserved. They weren’t alone.
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 Can. A small crumb of comfort for Can was that they went on to influence several generations of musicians. There’s a reason for this.
The music Can released was pioneering. Inventive, influential and innovative, although it was only twelve years since The Beatles released Love Me Do, this was a musical revolution. Rather than evolution, Can believed in revolution. The revolution began in 1969, with Monster Movies. Through Monster Movie, Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Future Days Can pushed musical boundaries to their limits. Sometimes, they were pushed to breaking point and beyond. The result was music whose influence has been far reaching.
A fusion of ambient, avant-garde, electronic, experimental, funk, industrial, jazz, psychedelia and rock, Can’s music went on to influence several generation of musicians. They were won over by Can’s genre-melting music. That’s the case on Soon Over Babaluma, which is being rereleased on vinyl by Mute Records. The music is bold, challenging, innovative, inventive and influential. As always, it’s a case of expect the unexpected. Can after all, are no ordinary band. No way. Their music is exciting, innovative and progressive, where a fusion of musical influences and genres became one. That’s how I’d describe Soon Over Babaluma, Can’s sixth album, which marked the end of their golden period of creativity and innovation.
CAN-SOON OVER BABALUMA.