By 1978, German music was changing. The Krautrock era had ended in 1977, and there was a move towards electronic music. This wasn’t new.
The Berlin School had been around since the early seventies. It was also a precursor of ambient music, and went on to influence future generations of ambient musicians. Among the founding fathers of The Berlin School were Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Manuel Göttsching. They began to pioneer electronic music in West Berlin. Over the next few years, they recorded not just some of the most important, influential and innovative electronic music of the seventies, but in the history of music. This included many classic Berlin School albums.
Tangerine Dream, were are at the forefront of The Berlin School sousnd. Lead byEdgar Froese and Christopher Franke, they released back to-back classics. The first was Phaedra in 1974, with Rubycon following in 1975. The same year, a former member of Tangerine Dream released another classic album.
Klaus Schulze released his fifth album Timewind in 1975. Timewind was hailed a groundbreaking, Berlin School classic, and influenced other artists. So did an album Manuel Göttsching released in 1976,
When New Age Of Earth was released in 1976, the album was credited to the band Ash Ra. However, there was no doubt about it, New Age of Earth was a Manuel Göttsching solo album. New Age Of Earth was very different to many albums being released in 1976. With its ambient sound, it would influence several generations of ambient musicians, and nowadays, is regarded as an ambient classic. It seemed with every year that passed, Berlin School classic was released.
1978 was no different. That year, Michael Hoenig released his critically acclaimed album Departure From The Northern Wasteland. It was a career-defining classic, that nowadays, is regarded as a landmark album. However, it wasn’t until much later that Departure From The Northern Wasteland began to receive the critical acclaim it deserved. This wasn’t new.
It had been a familiar story since the birth of The Berlin School. Some of the most important, influential and innovative Berlin School albums passed almost unnoticed. Even in Germany. That was the case with an album from two musicians from Kempten, Bavaria, Wolfgang Baumann and Ata Koek.
They recorded just one album Baumann Koek, which was recently reissued by on vinyl Bureau B. It’s a welcome reissue of an album that’s one of the hidden gems of The Berlin School. Baumann/Koek deserves to be heard by a much wider audience than heard their eponymous album in 1978. That couldn’t be helped. They were a victim of circumstances, and their story is a case of what if?
The Baumann/Koek began in Kempten, Bavaria in 1978. That was home to Wolfgang Baumann and Ata Koek, two musicians who dreamt of making an album. This wasn’t going to be a traditional rock album. Instead, twenty-eight year old Wolfgang Baumann and twenty-two year Ata Koek wanted to follow in the footsteps of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Manuel Göttsching. There was one problem though, they didn’t have the equipment necessary to record an album. So they headed to Bonn.
Back then, Bonn was the capital of West Germany. It was also a good place to buy the equipment they needed. One place especially, would have what Wolfgang and Ata needed to record an album, Synthesizerstudio Bonn. This was where German musical royalty came to buy electronic equipment. Knowing they were following in the footsteps of Kraftwerk, who were one of Germany’s most successful musical exports, meant their was an air of excitement as Wolfgang and Ata journeyed to Bonn. Eventually, they arrived and went shopping.
At Synthesizerstudio Bonn, Wolfgang and Ata bought a secondhand ARP 2600. This they hoped would allow them to record their album.
When Wolfgang and Ata returned home, they began experimenting with the ARP 2600, finding out what it could, and couldn’t do. It was with a heavy heart, that Wolfgang and Ata realised they needed more equipment. So they made another journey to Bonn.
This time, when Wolfgang and Ata they were determined to buy enough equipment to record their album. So in Synthesizerstudio Bonn they bought an ARP sequencer, a Solina String keyboard, and an EKO Computer rhythm drum computer. The final piece of the musical jigsaw was a four-track recorder, which allowed Wolfgang and Ata to record their album.
With this expensive array of equipment, a learning experience began for Wolfgang and Ata. They had to work out how to operate each piece of equipment. That was no mean feat. Especially since 1978 was the pre-MIDI age. There was no standardised interface that allowed equipment from different manufacturers to communicate. With Wolfgang and Ata owning equipment by ARP, Solina and EKO, this was problematic. However, patience, persistence and perseverance resulted in Wolfgang and Ata recording the five tracks that became Baumann/Koek. Now they needed someone to mix their album.
By 1978, there was no person better qualified for the job than the legendary Conny Plank. He had worked with the great and good of German music. However, Conny Plank was just as happy to mix Baumann/Koek. So Wolfgang and Ata booked Conny Plank’s studio for the mix, and watched as the master got to work. Conny Plank sprinkled his magic dust, and now Wolfgang and Ata began to plan for the release of Baumann/Koek.
Rather than take their album to one of Germany’s top labels, Wolfgang and Ata decided to release Baumann/Koek themselves. So they had 1,000 copies of Baumann/Koek pressed. Once the album was pressed, it was released later in 1978.
Reviews of Baumann/Koek were positive. The album was well received, and began to sell well in West Germany. It was then that the Swabian wholesaler Jaguar Records offered to distribute Baumann/Koek worldwide. This seemed like too good an offer to refuse. Sadly, it was.
Not long after Jaguar Records took over the worldwide distribution of Baumann/Koek, the company became insolvent. Soon, Jaguar Records was declared bankrupt. For Wolfgang and Ata, this was a huge blow.
Once they had time to digest how the bankruptcy of Jaguar Records would affect them, Wolfgang and Ata came to a decision. There would be no followup to Baumann/Koek. They weren’t willing to risk any more of their capital. This meant that Baumann/Koek was the one and only album from Baumann/Koek.
Sadly, for a while Baumann/Koek was overlooked by record buyers. It wasn’t until the dawn of the internet age, that a new generation of music lovers rediscovered Baumann/Koek. However, there was a degree of confusion over who played on the album.
When some people heard Baumann/Koek, they were convinced that the album featured Peter Bauman of Tangerine Dream. This was denied, but even today, the rumours persist. Other rumours were that Baumann/Koek featured Peter Bauman who sung on the MPS Records’ cover albums. This was also denied. Still, though, the rumours persist. Maybe Bureau B’s reissue of Baumann/Koek will finally put paid to these rumours, and ensure that Wolfgang Bauman and Ata Koek receive the credit they so richly deserve. Although they only released one album, Baumann/Koek is an album that will grace any self-respecting record or CD collection.
Opening Baumann/Koek, is Yarabbim, a twelve minute epic. The arrangement can be heard in the distance. It sounds like a train making its way down the line, ready to take listener on a musical journey aboard one of Deutsche Bahn’s futuristic looking trains. As the arrangement grows in power and drama, the train nears the station. When the listener climbs onboard, Baumann/Koek are ready to provide the soundtrack,
After a brief nod to Kraftwerk, the train leaves the station, and Baumann/Koek provide an irresistible soundtrack to the journey. As the kilometres go by, the arrangement pulsates, and veers between hypnotic and mesmeric, to elegiac and ethereal. Contrasts abound, as washes of synths join the pounding, hypnotic drums. By then, the listener is hooked, as they’re swept along atop swathes of synths strings. Dramatic, beautiful and full of subtle hooks, Yarabbim is a truly irresistible journey courtesy of musical master craftsmen, Baumann/Koek. One wonders if this is the music they dreamt of recording as they journeyed between Kempten to Bonn, to buy the instruments to record the album?
A myriad of beeps and squeaks are panned left to right on TD-Mem. Soon, urgent synths are added to the pulsating, mesmeric arrangement. It seems the journey that began on Yarabbim continues. Above the arrangement, what sounds like a light aircraft soars, as if surveying man and machine in perfect harmony. By then, swells of synth strings add en elegiac sound, which contrasts perfectly to urgency and mesmerism of the arrangement. Later, the tempo increases, and futuristic bursts of sci-fi synths are added. This adds to the cinematic nature of the track, as the tempo increases again. It’s as if Baumann/Koek are going through the gears as this captivating, cinematic journey continues apace.
Gamabol is another twelve minute epic. The introduction might sound understated and otherworldly. It’s not. Instead, it’s a radio is being tuned, and then a code being tapped out. Then the arrangement beeps, speaks and buzzes. Frantically, a code is tapped out, sounding like a desperate cry for help. Musical alchemists deploy their array of equipment and create an innovative cinematic soundscape. Later, washes of synths envelop the listener. The arrive from left and right, as hypnotic strings chug along. Again, Baumann/Koek are taking the listener on a journey. Melodic and dramatic, the arrangement flows along. After eight minutes, man and machine are in perfect harmony, creating an elegiac, graceful melodic, electronic symphony that sweeps the listener along as their journey continues.
A car races by, before pulsating bass synth dominates the arrangement of Where. It seems Baumann/Koek are taking the listener on a late night drive along the autobahn. Meanwhile, washes of synths sweep in and out. Sometimes, filters are used to transform the dry sound. This works well. Soon, the tempo increases and drums are added. So are synths strings. They add an ethereal backdrop. Filters continue to be used, and signal another increase in the tempo. However, Baumann/Koek don’t fall into the trap of overusing the filters. Instead, they use them sparingly, to compliment the arrangement to Where.
Sequencer Roll closes Baumann/Koek eponymous debut album, and is totally different to previous tracks. So much so, that one can’t help but wonder if I’ve strayed onto the wrong album? Baumann/Koek sound like Canned Heat or ZZ Top, as they boogie their way through this two minute track. It’s a truly irresistible track, and one that showcases Baumann/Koek’s versatility and talent. Not many people could create a track like Sequencer Roll, using the equipment they had available. However, the Kempten based poisoners managed to, and it’s a fitting finale to their one and only album, Baumann/Koek.
Sadly, there was no followup to Baumann/Koek, which was recently reissued by Bureau B. After Jaguar Records became insolvent and was declared bankrupt, Wolfgang Bauman and Ata Koek had to rethink their future plans. Eventually, they decided they couldn’t put more of their capital at risk. Releasing Baumann/Koek had proved expensive.
Wolfgang Bauman and Ata Koek had to buy the equipment to record the album. Then there was the production costs and hiring Conny Plank’s studio so the maestro could mix Baumann/Koek. After the album was mixed, 1,000 copies of Baumann/Koek were pressed. By then, the costs must have been escalating, and surely, Wolfgang Bauman and Ata Koek must have been rueing their decision to self release the album? If only they had taken Baumann/Koek to a record company.
Surely, there would’ve been no shortage of labels willing to release Baumann/Koek? After all, here was an album of innovative music that if promoted properly, could’ve and should’ve been a commercial success. It was an album that oozed quality.
The best way to describe Baumann/Koek was a musical journey. It lasts five tracks and thirty-nine magical minutes. The music veers between cinematic and dramatic, to elegiac and ethereal and even hypnotic and mesmeric. Other times the music is hook-laden, irresistible and melodic. Especially as the listener is swept along atop synth strings. Then as Baumann/Koek draws to a close, Wolfgang and Ata bowl a curveball. A slice of boogie unfolds and Baumann/Koek rock into the distance. Sadly, there was no encore.
Maybe things would’ve been different if a record company had released Baumann/Koek. They would’ve had the money and personnel to promote Baumann/Koek. However, Baumann/Koek valued their independence.
This would ultimately cost them the chance of a long and successful musical career. Neither Wolfgang Bauman nor Ata Koek released another album. Instead, they returned to where the dream began, in began in Kempten, Bavaria.
Thirty-seven years later, and Baumann/Koek has been reissued by vinyl Bureau B. This is a welcome reissue of one the hidden gems of The Berlin School. It’s been nicely mastered, and the sound quality is almost flawless. There’s a but though. Is it worth paying the extra for the vinyl version? Personally, I would say no. The CD version sound just as good. The important thing is that a new generation of music lovers embrace this timeless, cult classic which should’ve been the beginning a successful career for Baumann/Koek.