FLORIAN FRICKE/POPOL VUH-KAILASH.

FLORIAN FRICKE/POPOL VUH-KAILASH.

In music, the most overused word is legend. It’s a word thrown around like confetti at a Las Vegas wedding. Nowadays, every two-bit hip hopper, EDM star or Nu Soul singer is being referred to as a legend. That’s far removed from the truth. However, it’s nothing new.

The overuse of the word legend has been used since the birth of rock ’n’ roll. For seven decades artists have been over hyped, and wrongly hailed a ‘legend.’ Partly, the confusion over legendary status comes from what makes someone a legend. 

Everyone has their own definition of what makes a musical legend. Is it that the music they release is innovative, influential and inspirational? That could be part of the definition. Is their music got to be outstanding and timeless? 

That’s debatable. Many artists who are regarded as legends didn’t produce outstanding music. The Sex Pistols are an example of that. They struggled to play their instruments, but are regarded by many people, as musical legends. Similarly, the music produced by many supposed Motown legends is far from timeless. It’s formulaic and hasn’t aged well. Yet many regard the Motown soul factory as being a production line for legends of soul. It seems who is worthy of attaining legendary status is arbitrary.

One artist who is definitely worthy of being called a musical legend, is Florian Fricke. He was a musical innovator, who as a member of Popol Vuh, created music that was innovative and influential. It also inspired future generations of musicians. The music Popol Vuh produced is now regarded as timeless and outstanding. That’s not surprising. 

Popul Vuh were one of the greatest German bands of their generation. Quite rightly, Popol Vuh are held in the same regard as Can, Cluster, Harmonia, Kraftwerk, Neu and Tangerine Dream, who Florian Fricke later joined. Just like each of these bands, Popol Vuh’s music has played an important part in German musical history. Part of Popol Vuh’s success, was keyboardist Florian Fricke.

Recently, Soul Jazz Records released a new collection of music that’s celebrates the life and music of a true musical innovator and legend, Florian Fricke. It’s no ordinary release. There’s two CDs and a DVD in the Florian Fricke/Popol Vuh box set Kailash. This lovingly compiled box set is the work of both Florian Fricke and Popol Vuh. The Florian Fricke story began in 1944. 

Florian Fricke was born in Lindau am Bodensee, Germany on 23rd February 1944. Growing up, Florian Fricke learnt to play the piano. Quickly, he mastered the instrument, and on leaving high school, studied piano, composition and directing at the Conservatories in Freiburg and Munich. By then, Florian had two new passions.

The first was music. Florian loved music, especially new music. This included free jazz, which Florian embraced. He through himself into this new musical genre, and quickly, realised its potential and possibilities. However, there was more to Florian’s life than making music.

Florian was making short films. Although it was just a hobby, he would later become a film critic for the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. By then, he had experience as a critic. As a student, Florian became the music critic for Der Spiegel, a German magazine. Music and art seemed to dominate Florian’s life.

That was the case when Florian graduated. In 1967, Florian met film director Werner Herzog. The two became friends, and a year later in 1968, Florian landed a part in Werner Herzog’s film, Lebenszeichen. This was just the start of their relationship. They would reunite in 1972, but before that, Florian Fricke formed Popul Vuh in 1970. 

Joining Florian in Popol Vuh, were percussionist Holger Truelzsch and fellow synth player Frank Fiedler. All the nascent group took its name from an ancient, sacred, Mayan manuscript. With a name in place, Popol Vuh began work on Affenstunde, the first of nineteen albums they released.

From the earliest days of Popol Vuh, Florian established himself as the group’s leader. He had been one of the first musicians to own a Moog II synth. This wasn’t an easy instrument to “tame.” Florian, a talented keyboardist soon got to grips with what was cutting edge technology. The Moog II would be used extensively on Popol Vuh’s debut album Affenstunde. 

Recording of Affenstunde took place at Bavaria Music Studio, in Munich. Popol Vuh were joined by Bettina Fricke. She produced Affenstunde with Gerhard Augustin. The producers guided the nascent group through their debut album. It featured just four tracks. However, they were four innovative and influential tracks. Especially Affenstunde, a near nineteen minute epic, which took up all of side two. 

When Affenstunde was released later in 1970, the album was described variously as space rock and cosmic music. It was very different to much of the music being released. However, there were other like-minded groups releasing similarly innovative and influential music. However, very few would enjoy the longevity of Popol Vuh.

Just a year later, Popol Vuh returned with In den Gärten Pharaos. It was a precursor of ambient music. Popul Vuh deploy Florian’s Moog II and add a myriad of experimental electronic sounds. At the time, In den Gärten Pharaos was perceived variously groundbreaking, experimental and thanks to the African percussion, exotic. Vuh, which took up side two of In den Gärten Pharaos was perceived as kosmische musik at its most spiritual. In den Gärten Pharaos was the first classic album of Popol Vuh’s long and illustrious career. 

Popol Vuh’s third album, Hosianna Mantra was one that passed many critics and record buyers by. The group’s lineup changed for the first, but far from the last time. Florian was the only remaining original member of the band left. From there, the lineup is best described as fluid.

That didn’t seem to matter. Hosianna Mantra featured music that was timeless, spiritual and innovative. Sadly, it went almost unheard of outside Germany. It was only later, that Hosianna Mantra found an audience. However, Hosianna Mantra wasn’t the only album Popol Vuh released during 1972. That year, Florian renew his friendship with Werner Herzog.

By 1972, Werner Herzog was producing the conquistador movie Aguirre, the Wrath of God. He needed someone to provide the soundtrack. That’s where Popol Vuh came in. Not only did Popol Vuh provide the soundtrack to He needed someone to provide the soundtrack to Aguirre, the Wrath of God, but Heart Of Glass in 1976 and 1979s Nosferatu the Vampyre. The combination of Popol Vuh and Werner Herzog proved a successful one. Popol Vuh were already experienced and accomplished when it came to composing soundtracks. This would stand Florian and Popol Vun in good stead. Especially when Florian and Frank Fielder later, embarked on what was the journey of a lifetime.

Before that, the German music scene was thriving during the seventies. Popol Vuh released an album every year of the seventies. Very rarely, did they disappoint. The nearest they came was with 1973s Seligpreisung. It received mixed reviews from critics. Popol Vuh more than made up for this with 1974s Einsjäger und Siebenjäger. It’s now recognised as one of Popol Vuh’s best albums of the seventies. The followup Das Hohelied Salomos was released in 1975, and featured Popol Vuh showcasing New Age music. Constantly, it seemed Popol Vuh reinvented their music. However, later in 1975, Popul Vuh returned to the world of soundtracks and penned the soundtrack to Werner Herzog’s latest film, Aguirre, The Wrath of God. The soundtrack, Aguirre became Popol Vuh’s seventh album since 1970.

 In 1976, Popol Vuh returned with their eighth album, Letzte Tage–Letzte Nächte. It was released to critical acclaim, and ensured that Popol Vuh were seen as purveyors of ambitious, exciting and groundbreaking music. Partly, that was down to Popol Vuh’s determination to push musical boundaries to their limits. Popol Vuh’s reputation was further enhanced when they recorded the soundtrack to Werner Herzog’s movie Herz aus Glas in 1978. Later in 1978, Popol Vuh released Brüder des Schatten–Söhne des Lichts which they had recorded in August of 1978. When it was released on Brian Records, critics embraced the Gerhard Augustin produced album. Despite the critical acclaim lavished on their albums, still many people were unaware of Popol Vuh. So penning the soundtrack to another film directed by Werner Herzog exposed their music to a wider audience. Nosferatu was one of their finest soundtrack albums, and Popol Vuh’s penultimate album of the seventies. Die Nacht der Seele, which was subtitled tantric songs, was released to critical acclaim in 1979, and was a fitting way for Popol Vuh to close the seventies. Incredibly, Die Nacht der Seele was Popol Vuh’s twelfth album since they formed in 1970. 

During the eighties, Popol Vuh were no longer as prolific. They only released four albums. The first was Sei still, wisse ich bin. It was released in 1981, two years after Die Nacht der Seele. However, it was well worth the wait. Die Nacht der Seele saw Popol Vuh reinvent themselves once again, resulting in an album that was released to widespread critical acclaim. However, it was another two years before Popol Vuh returned.

When they did, it was with Agape-Agape. The album was released on the Norwegian label Uniton. Agape-Agape featured Popol Vuh creating music that was variously, beautiful, captivating, dramatic and as one would expect from Popol Vuh, groundbreaking. It won the approval of critics, but didn’t find a wide audience. Neither did Florian’s debut solo album.

After thirteen years as a professional musician, somewhat belatedly, Florian released his debut album Die Erde und ich sind Eins in 1983. Despite his status as one of the most innovative German musicians of his generation, Florian Fricke found himself releasing Die Erde und ich sind Eins as a private pressing. Just like Popol Vuh, he wasn’t getting the credit he deserved. Meanwhile, Can, Kraftwerk and Neu! were receiving all the plaudits. However, Popol Vuh and Florian Fricke continued to make music.

1985 saw Popol Vuh release the fifteenth album of their career, Spirit Of Peace. It was released on the French label, Spalax. Popol Vuh were having to flit between labels. Despite its quality, and how highly regarded their music was by some critics, Popol Vuh albums weren’t selling in vast quantities. So when Warner Herzog used We Know About The Need The as part of the soundtrack to Dark Glow Of The Mountains, this was welcomed by Popol Vuh. Two years later, and Popol Vuh Walter Herzog were reunited.

Walter Herzog was directing Cobra Verde. He needed someone to compose and record the soundtrack to Cobra Verde. By then, Popol Vuh were had plenty of experienced writing and recording soundtracks. They had also worked extensively with Walter Herzog. So it made sense that they provide the soundtrack. However, the Cobra Verde soundtrack was released to mixed reviews. This was disappointing for Popol Vuh. They didn’t release another album during the eighties.

It wasn’t until 1991 that Popol Vuh released another album. Again, it was a soundtrack album. This time, the soundtrack was for the film For You and Me. Popol Vuh had recorded the soundtrack at the African Studio, Munich and Sound Fabrik, Munich. Between January and April 1991 they recorded eleven tracks. The soundtrack was described as: “a celebration of world music.” For You and Me showcased Popol Vuh’s versatility and ability to switch between genres. However, some critics didn’t seem to “get” the music, and again, reviews were mixed. It would another four years before Popol Vuh returned.

Before that, Florian Fricke released another solo album. This time, it was an album of classical music. Florian Fricke Plays Mozart was released in 1992, and showcased another side to the Popol Vuh leader. Unknown to some people, Florian was a keen student of classical music. He had studied music at the Conservatories in Freiburg and Munich, and just as comfortable playing classical music than working with Popol Vuh. So in his down time from Popol Vuh, Florian often composed piano pieces, like those on Kailash. However, in 1995 Popol Vuh returned with their eighteenth album.

City Raga had been recorded at the New African Studios, in Munich. Florian Fricke, Guido Hieronymus, and Maya Rose composed the seven tracks. This latest lineup of Popol Vuh were joined by Daniel Fichelscher and the Kathmandu Children’s Choir. The result was a captivating album from Popol Vuh. However, little did anyone realise that it was Popol Vuh’s penultimate album.

Another two years passed before Popol Vuh returned with their nineteenth and final album, Shepherd’s Symphony-Hirtensymphonie. Again, Popol Vuh’s lineup had changed. They were still a trio featuring Florian, Guido Hieronymus and Frank Fielder, who would later collaborate with Florian after their journey of a lifetime. Before that, the latest lineup of Popol Vuh headed off into the studio.

The three members of Popol Vuh made their way to Afro Sounds Studio, in Munich. Between September 1995 and March 1996 they recorded the seven tracks that became Shepherd’s Symphony-Hirtensymphonie. It was only released in 1997, but would prove a fitting finale to a career that spanned three decades and nineteen album. Popol Vuh took their bow with album that wowed critics. 

Following Shepherd’s Symphony-Hirtensymphonie, Popol Vuh never released another album. Tragedy struck in 2001, when Florian Fricke suffered a strokem and died aged just fifty-seven. One of the true legends of music, had died way too early. He was the one constant in Popol Vuh. Accompanying for much of the Popol Vuh adventure was guitarist and drummer. He didn’t try to revive Popul Vuh. Without Florian Fricke as its driving force, there was no Popol Vuh. While Florian and Daniel Fichelscher enjoyed a long-lasting musical adventure, Florian and Frank Fielder also enjoyed a series of adventures.

Together, Florian and Frank Fielder travelled to Afghanistan Israel, Lebanon, Mesopotamia, Morocco, the Sinai desert, Nepal and Tibet. These journeys were captured on film by Florian and Frank. Both were keen filmmakers. One of their journeys is captured on a box set recently released by Soul Jazz Records.

The Florian Fricke/Popol Kailash Vuh box set features a new collection of music that’s celebrates the life and music of a true Florian Fricke. It’s no ordinary release. There’s two CDs and a DVD in the Florian Fricke/Popol Vuh Kailash box set. This lovingly compiled box set is the work of both Florian Fricke and Popol Vuh.

On disc one, Piano Recordings; there’s eight of Florian’s favourite recordings and compositions. They’re a mixture of released and previously unreleased tracks. It’s just Florian and his piano. This is a truly potent combination. On each of the eight tracks, patterns appear, only to disappear and recur. Then Florian heads off in an unexpected direction. He’s improvising and experimenting. However, it all makes sense. Florian’s love of classical and improvisational music shines through, resulting in music that’s beautiful, bewitching, captivating, dramatic, ethereal spellbinding and has an inherent spiritual quality. That however, is only half the story. On disc two,there’s an unreleased soundtrack. 

The soundtrack to Kailash: Pilgrimage To The Throne Of The Gods features on disc two, while the film can be found on the accompanying DVD. Both are captivating. Especially what’s essentially an album featuring ten ethereal soundscapes. That describes Kailash: Pilgrimage To The Throne Of The Gods perfectly.

Kailash: Pilgrimage To The Throne Of The Gods comprises ten tracks, where Florian takes the listener on a journey to the holiest mountain in Asia. Tucked away in a forgotten corner of West Tibet, far from the rest of the world is Kailash. For pilgrims from four disparate religions, this is a sacred place. At 6675 metres high, Kailash is referred to as the “throne of Gods.” That’s why for countless centuries, pilgrims have risked life and limb to take this journey. It’s a journey that Florian and filmmaker Frank Fielder made.

The two founding members of Popol Vuh made their own journey to Kailash. Their journey was documented on film. It was no ordinary journey. Instead, it’s a epic journey that tests the limits of pilgrims. That was the cue with Florian and Frank. On their return, Florian and Popol Vuh decided to document this journey musically.

Over ten tracks what was a truly spiritual journey was documented. The music is cinermatic, ethereal, dramatic and spiritual. It’s a captivating listen, where the listener accompanies Frank and Florian on their journey round the “path of initiation.” Florian’s music conjures up pictures of a challenging, rugged and spectacular landscape. By the end of Kailash: Pilgrimage To The Throne Of The Gods, Florian achieves what he set out to do. This is described perfectly by film director Werner Herzog: Florian set out to create music I feel helps our audiences visualise something hidden in the images on the screen, and in our soul too.” 

That’s a fitting homage to music that Florian Fricke made during a recording career that lasted three decades. This includes the nineteen albums Florian recorded with Popol Vuh and his two solo albums. Then there’s Florian’s guest appearance on Tangerine Dream’s 1972 double album Zeit. It was Tangerine Dream’s third album, but marked a stylistic departure for the band. Guiding them through this move towards a slower, much more ambient and atmospheric sound was Florian Fricke. Already he had won the respect of his contemporaries. Soon, others would want to collaborate with Florian.

Between 1973 and 1974, Florian and Popol Vuh’s drummer and guitarist Daniel Fichelscher were invited to join a new group, Gila. It had been founded in 1971, by Connie Veit, who previously was Popol Vuh’s guitarist. He left to form Gila. Along with Florian and Daniel,  Renate Knaup of Amon Düül II was recruited. They all played on Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. It was released in 1973, and was the last album the band released until they reunited in 1999. However, this short-lived band featured four of German music’s most innovative musicians. Especially Florian Fricke.

Throughout his career, Florian Fricke released music that was innovative and influential. Constantly, he strove to push musical boundaries, and constantly reinvent Popol Vuh’s music. Their music constantly changed, and the Popol Vuh back catalogue is best described as eclectic. Maybe, that’s because Popol Vuh’s lineup constantly evolved. 

With a lineup that can only be described as fluid, Popol Vuh release some of the most groundbreaking music of the seventies and eighties. That period, was what many regard as the golden era of German music. One of its pioneers was Florian Fricke. 

Sadly, Florian Fricke and Popol Vuh often don’t get the credit they deserve. Instead, Ash Ra, Can, Cluster, Kraftwerk and Harmonia received the plaudits. To some extent, Popol Vuh, who were much more prolific than most of their contemporaries, are the forgotten group of the golden era of German music. Maybe, Hopefully, the release of the Florian Fricke/PopolVuh Kailash box set will go some way to rectify this, Hopefully, the Florian Fricke/PopolVuh Kailash box set will introduce a new and wider audience to one of the greatest groups in German musical history, Popol Vuh and a true musical legend Florian Frick.

FLORIAN FRICKE/POPOL VUH-KAILASH.

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