In 1969, Berlin’s vibrant musical scene was thriving. At the heart of Berlin’s music scene was the Zodiak Free Arts Lab. It was the cultural centre of the city. This was where some of Germany’s top bands took their tentative steps towards greatness. However, the Zodiak Free Arts Lab was also a meeting place for musicians and artists.
Members of Can and Agitation Free rubbed shoulders with future members of Ash Ra Tempel and Neu! It was also at the Zodiak Free Arts Lab where Klaus Schulze, who was still the drummer of Psy Free, first met Edgar Froese from Tangerine Dream. Soon, Edgar Froese invited Klaus Schulze to join an early lineup of Tangerine Dream.
Tangerine Dream quickly became the nearest thing that the Zodiak Free Arts Lab had to a house band. They were a familiar face, playing night after night. This was good practice for when Tangerine Dream recorded their debut album Electronic Meditation.
Rather than hiring one of Berlin’s recording studios, Tangerine Dream decamped to a factory that the band had rented. This allowed Tangerine Dream to set up their array of traditional instruments and custom made instruments.
Klaus Schulze’s setup was fairly traditional, including drums, percussion and metal stick. Edgar Froese mixed traditional and custom made instruments, bring various guitars, piano, organ, piano, tape recorder and a variety of effects along. Conrad Schnitzer did likewise, bringing a cello, violin and an adapter. They were joined by various found instruments; including broken glass and dried peas which were shaken in a sieve were just two found sounds. The sound of burnt parchment was also used. So were backwards vocals. It was a truly innovative and inventive approach to music, which was produced by Tangerine Dream.
Once Electronic Meditation was complete, eight months passed before the Ohr label released the album in June 1970. When Electronic Meditation was released, it divided the opinion of critics. While some critics didn’t seem to ‘get’ Electronic Meditation, others realised that it was a groundbreaking, genre-melting album. Everything from ambient, avant-garde, electronic, experimental, free jazz, Krautrock, musique concrète and psychedelia can be heard on Electronic Meditation. Each of these influences shine through on what was a truly innovative album. Despite this, the album sold in relatively small quantities. It certainly wasn’t a huge commercial success. Just like a lot of albums released during the Krautrock era, it was only much later that critics recognised how important albums like Electronic Meditation were.
Despite the commercial failure of Electronic Meditation, Tangerine Dream continued. However, it would be without Klaus Schulze. He left Tangerine Dream to join a new group Ash Ra Tempel.
Ash Ra Tempel.
Just like Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel had frequented and played at the Zodiak Free Arts Lab. They were founded in 1970 by guitarist Manuel Göttsching, drummer bassist Hartmut Enke and Klaus Schulze. Their music was a fusion of space rock, psychedelia, Krautrock and ambient music. This sound they refined playing live, especially at the Zodiak Free Arts Lab where they were a familiar face. Over the next few months, Ash Ra Tempel’s sound evolved, and by March 1971 they were ready to record their eponymous debut album.
Recording of Ash Ra Tempel took place on 11th March 1971. By then, Ash Ra Tempel were incorporating electronics into their sound. Especially when Manuel Göttsching delivered his improvised guitar solos. He used effects in the same way as Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Hazel. Meanwhile, Klaus Schulze played with a ferocity on Amboss, a twenty minute epic. Then on Traummaschine which features on side two, it’s a much more laid-back, sedate track, where drones and electronics play their part. Klaus Schulze gives a shaman-like performance as he switches bongos and adds shimmering, glistening cymbals. This was very different to Amboss. Ash Ra Tempel was definitely an album of two sides, that was the perfect showcase for Klaus’ versatility.
Just three months later, Ash Ra Tempel was released on the Ohr label in June 1971. It was only the label’s thirteenth release, Ash Ra Tempel was well received by critics, who noted that the two lengthy tracks were quite different. The first side which featured Amboss,
had a much heavier sound, while Traummaschine had a much more sedate sound. Again, the album was a fusion of disparate genres. Elements of ambient, free jazz, Krautrock, psychedelia and space rock can be heard on Ash Ra Tempel. It should’ve been an album that appealed to all types of record buyers.
That however, wasn’t to be. Instead, Ash Ra Tempel wasn’t a huge seller. It sold in relatively small quantities. This was the case with many of the Krautrock albums that were released between 1969 and 1977. By then, Klaus Schulze would be a solo artist. He decided to leave Ash Ra Tempel after their eponymous debut album and embark upon a solo career.
Being in a band didn’t seem suit Klaus Schulze. He found that the endless discussions got in the way of the important thing, making music. He wanted to make music, not talk about it. Klaus’ approach was to let the music flow through him. Other musicians seemed to want to discuss every aspect of the music. Meanwhile, Klaus wanted to improvise. It was frustrating, and stifling Klaus’ creativity. As a solo artist, he wouldn’t have to put up with the endless pointless discussions. That’s how in April 1972, Klaus found himself preparing to record to his debut album Irrlicht., which was recently released by MIG.
Having left Ash Ra Tempel, Klaus Schulze wanted to make music that was unique. He couldn’t point at an artist, and say: “that’s the type of music I want to make.” While Klaus was aware of minimalist composers Terry Riley and Steve Reich, but this wasn’t the type of music he was considering making. They did share some things in common, the concepts of repetition, phrasing and sequencing. Apart from that, Klaus was heading in a different direction.
This was perfect, as Klaus was never going to be accused of following in someone’s footsteps. Musically, he had a blank canvas to work with. His palette of sounds were unlike other musicians. He had an amplifier that wasn’t working, an organ, a cheap microphone and a cassette recorder. The cassette recorder and microphone he used to tape the famous Freie Universitat Berlin orchestra. This recording Klaus would alter with filters. Then he would modify some of his equipment.
Klaus set about modifying the broken amplifier. He modified it, so that when he turned the volume up it caused feedback, tremolo and chirping sounds. The organ was modified by Klaus so that it no longer sounded like an organ. Along with his microphone and cassette recorder, Klaus set about recording his debut album, Irrlicht.
Recording of Irelicht took place in Berlin, during April 1972. To the studio, Klaus took his guitar, percussion and zither. They joined Klaus’ array of modified instruments. Another of Klaus’ secret weapons were recordings of the Colloquium Musica Orchestra.
Before the recording of Irrlicht, Klaus had gone along to watch the Colloquium Musica Orchestra rehearse. As he stood and watched, he told the conductor “I like what you are doing, but could you do something different for me for half an hour?” With that, the bemused conductor asked “what would you like to have?” Klaus responded, with: “I don’t care, just play anything. I just want the sound. I’m going to play the tape backwards.” When Klaus returned half an hour later, his tape was ready and an integral part of Irrlicht was complete. Now, it was a case of bringing everything together.
With his bruised, battered and modified equipment, Klaus got to work, and the recording studio became a place where he could experiment. Using his modified organ and amplifier, plus percussion, zither and guitar, Klaus got to work. The backdrop for what was one of the most ambitious and experimental albums of 1972, was the tape played backwards.
Incredibly, Klaus didn’t even a synth. While other artists owned banks of expensive synths, Klaus created an album that sounds as if it’s made entirely by an array of synths. Instead, Irrlicht, with its cosmic sound and ambient drones was a synth free zone. Instead, Irrlicht was more like an album of musique concrète. Klaus manipulated tapes, adding filters, delay, echo and an array of effects. The result was a trio of cinematic tracks that sounded like the soundtrack to an early seventies sci-fi film.
The three tracks on Irrlicht were very different. Satz: Ebene the album opener, deserves to be described as an epic. Understated, stark and desolate, with a moody, broody and dramatic sound, it would’ve been the perfect backdrop for a sci-fi film. It’s the musical equivalent of shifting sands, with ambient drones rumbling almost menacingly. Meanwhile, what sounds like elegiac strings play. Less is more, as the stripped down arrangement reveals its secrets. Later, a heavily modified gothic sounding organ adds what could easily be the backdrop to a scene in a remake of Dracula. By then, Klaus is a musical shape-shifter, as he combines disparate musical genres. This includes ambient, avant-garde, drone and musique concrète. They’re combined to create what sounds like a timeless space symphony. It may have been recorded in 1972, but has aged like a fine wine. So has the rest of Irrlicht.
At just over five minutes, Satz: Gewitte is easily the shortest track. Again the arrangement is understated, but chilling. The arrangement sweeps, crawls and meanders along exuding an air of menace. Especially as various found sound emerge from the arrangement. It becomes like a fire breathing dragon. Meanwhile, drones begin to make their presence felt, sweeping in and adding to the chilling cinematic sound.
Satz Exil Sils Maria closes Irrlicht, and was recorded backwards. The track has a dark, ruminative sound. Slowly and gradually, the arrangement begins to reveal its deepest secrets. Just like the two preceding tracks, the arrangement is understated, but captivating. Klaus’ less is more approach means the listener hangs on every note, just in case they miss a nuance or subtly. Later, the arrangement is like a vortex, discharging otherworldly sounds. They whirr, whoosh and grind, as the drone is like a siren, sending out a warning. Other times, there’s a much more melodic sound. Mostly, though, dark and ruminative describes this compelling soundscape. Just like the rest of Irrlicht, it’s part of a timeless album that launched Klaus Schulze’s solo career.
While Irrlicht was well received by some critics, many critics failed to realise how important an influence Klaus Schulze would have on German music. He would become one of the most important and influential artists in the Berlin School. That was still to come.
Irrlicht was a synth free zone, and owed more to musique concrète than the Berlin School. Klaus Schulze would release several classic Berlin School albums, including 1973s Cyborg, 1975s Timewind and 1976s Moondawn. However, just like many German artists of the late sixties and seventies, Klaus Schulze neither received the critical acclaim nor commercial success they deserved.
When Ohr released Irrlicht in August 1972, it followed in the footsteps of Tangerine Dream’s Electronic Meditation and Ash Ra Tempel, and didn’t sell in vast quantities, Instead, it was more of an underground album, that was more popular in France and Britain than in Germany. It would only be much later that Germany began to realise that they had produced some of the most talented musicians of the late sixties and seventies, including Klaus Schulze.
His debut album Irrlicht was recently remastered and rereleased by MIG. It’s part of an ongoing reissue of Klaus Schulze’s extensive back-catalogue. On the reissue of Irrlicht is the bonus track, Dungeon. At twenty-four minutes long, it’s another epic track. This is a welcome addition to Irrlicht, the album that was the first of over sixty solo albums from Klaus Schulze, who nowadays, is regarded as one of the pioneers of German music. His solo career began in 1972 with Irrlicht.
And what an album for Klaus Schulze to begin his solo career with. Quite simply, Irrlicht was one the most innovative albums of 1972. The music on Irrlicht was understated, broody, moody, dark, dramatic and gothic. It was also chilling, eerie, meditative and ruminative. Constantly, Irrlicht has a cinematic sound. It’s like a 21st Century space symphony from a true musical pioneer, Klaus Schulze. He was making tentative steps in what would be a long and illustrious solo career. That career has lasted six decades and sixty albums, including Irrlicht, Klaus Schulze’s groundbreaking debut album.