IRMIN SCHMIDT-FROM CAN TO THE THE SOLO YEARS.
Irmin Schmidt-From Can To The Solo Years.
After eleven years and eleven studio albums, Can called time on their career in 1979. By then, Can were rightly regarded as one of the most innovative bands of the Krautrock era. They had enjoyed an almost unrivalled longevity.
Can were formed in 1968, by Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt. Both had been students of Karlheinz Stockhausen and graduated in 1966. By then, Irmin Schmidt was twenty-nine. He born in Berlin on 29th May 1937, and grew up playing piano and organ. Soon, it was apparent that he was a talented musician. So it came as no surprise that Irmin headed to the conservatorium in Dortmund, to study music. This was just the start of Irmin’s studies.
From there, Irmin moved to Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, before moving to Austria, and the Mozarteum University of Salzburg. The final part of Irmin’s musical education took place in Cologne, where Irmin met Holger.
The two future founding members of Can were studying composition under Karlheinz Stockhausen at the Cologne Courses For New Music. Between 1962 and 1966, Irmin and Holger studied composition. However, after they graduated, their lives headed in different directions.
Holger Czukay became a music teacher, and began a career educating a new generation of young Germans. Meanwhile, Irmnin Scmidt headed to New York.
During his time in New York, Irmnin Scmidt spent time with avant-garde musicians like Steve Reich, Terry Riley and La Monte Young. Soon, Irmin Scmidt was aware of Andy Warhol and Velvet Underground. This inspired him to form his own band when he returned home to Cologne.
By the time Irmin Scmidt returned home, Holger Czukay what he described to me “as a life-changing moment…the music of the past and present came together.” At last, “here was music that made the connection between what I’d studied and I was striving towards” With the innovative use of bursts of radio and the experimental sound and structure, “I went in search of similar music.”
He found Velvet Underground. Holger remembers Velvet Underground when he first heard them. “They were different…and really influential.” They influenced the music I made. This would include the music Holger Czukay made with Can.
When Irmin Scmidt returned home, he decided to form a band with his old friend Holger Czukay. So in Cologne in 1968, Can was born.
Pianist and organist Irmin Scmidt formed Can with American avant garde 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. Two tracks, Father Cannot Yell and Outside My Door were already recorded. Unfortunately, record companies weren’t interested in Prepare To Meet Thy Pnoom. As a result, it wasn’t released until 1981, when it was released as Delay 1968. Undeterred, Can continued to record what became their debut album, Monster Movie.
Despite not being able to interest a record company in Prepare To Meet Thy Pnoom, Can were confident in their own ability. So Can continued recording what would become their debut album Monster Movies. However, soon, there was a problem.
David C. Johnson left Can at the end of 1968. He was disappointed at the change in musical direction. Little did he realise that he’d lost the chance to be part of one of the most groundbreaking band’s in musical history, Can.
Monster Movie had been 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. 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.
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 Czukay 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.
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 says “how Can always worked” After that, Holger edited the songs which became and the 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, it 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 their best album yet. Since then, 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 adverted 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,
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. Kenji Damo Suzuki left Can and married his German girlfriend. He then became a Jehovah’s Witness. Despite the lack of a vocalist, Can continued as a quartet. They released Soon Over Babaluma in November 1974.
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. It followed in the ambient footsteps of Future Days and 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 at Inner Space Studios. Just like previous albums, Can produced Landed. Holger and Tony Robinson mixed the first four tracks at Studio Dierks, Stommeln. The other two tracks were mixed by Holger at Inner Space Studios. These six tracks marked a change of direction from Can.
As well as a change in direction musically, Landed 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. How would the critics react?
Critics were divided about Landed. Some critics saw Landed as the next chapter in the Can story, while others praised the album as adventurous, eclectic and innovative. Others thought Can were conforming. Surely not?
Flow Motion was Can’s eight album. As usual, it was recorded at Inner Space Studios. Produced by Can, Flow Motion was an album that drew inspiration from everything from funk, reggae, rock and jazz. It was an eclectic, genre-melting album. It’s also one of Holger Czukay’s favourite Can albums.
Holger remembers Flow Motion as an “Innovative and eclectic” album. He calls it “one of Can’s underrated albums,” Flow Motion marked a another change in Can’s way of working.
Released in October 1976, Flow Motion featured lyrics written by Peter Gilmour. This was a first. Never before, had anyone outside the band had written for Can. It worked. Can enjoyed their first UK single I Want More. It would later be recorded 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 the new lineup of Can embracing world music.
Joining Can were bassist Rosko Gee and percussionist and vocalist Rebop Kwaku Baah. They’d previously been members of British rock band Traffic. Rosko Gee replaced Holger on bass. Holger decided 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. The result was one of the most ambitious albums can had released.
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. That was still to come. However, things weren’t well within the Can camp.
Out Of Reach.
Nine years after Can had released their debut album Monster Movie, they released their tenth album, Out Of Reach. It was released in July 1978. The title proved to be a prophetic. After all, commercial success always seemed to elude Can. Not only did Out Of Reach fail commercially, but the Out Of Reach proved to be Can’s most controversial album.
So much so, that they disowned Out Of Reach. On Out Of Reach Holger was left to add myriad of sound-effects. Bassist Rosko Gee and percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah of Traffic returned. They were part of the problem. Holger confirms this.
When I asked him what he meant by this, he said “During the recording of Out Of Reach, I felt an outsider in my own group. I was on the outside looking in. I was on the margins. All I was doing was add sound-effects.” For Holger, he felt his group had been hijacked by Rosko Gee and and Rebop Kwaku Baah. Things got so bad, that Holger quit Can.
Rosko Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah dominated Out Of Reach. Gone was the loose, free-flowing style of previous albums. Even Jaki Liebezeit’s play second fiddle to Baah’s overpowering percussive sounds. The only positive thing was a guitar masterclass from Michael Karoli. Apart from this, things weren’t looking good for Can. It was about to get worse though.
The critics rounded on Out Of Reach. They found very little merit in Out Of Reach. Gee and Baah were rightly blamed for the album’s failure. Even Can disliked Out Of Reach. They later disowned Out Of Reach. Despite this, Rosko Gee and and Rebop Kwaku Baah remained members of Can.
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.
Following the failure of Out Of Reach, the members of Can began recording what became Can. Remarkably, Rosko Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah were still part of Can. Sadly, Holger was not longer a member of Can. He’d left during the making of Out Of Reach. His only involvement was editing Can.
Can, which is sometimes referred to as Inner Space, was released in July 1979. Again, critics weren’t impressed by Can. It received mixed reviews. No longer were Can the critic’s darlings. The music on Can was a fusion of avant garde, electronica, experimental, psychedelia and rock. Add to that, a myriad of effects including distortion and feedback, and here was an album that divided the opinion of critics. The critics agreed, it was better than Out Of Reach. They agreed that Holger was sadly missed.
Even Holger’s renowned editing skills couldn’t save Can. Try as he may, he could only work with what he was given. He did his best with Can, which the eleventh album from the group he co-founded. By the time Can was released, Holger “had come to a realisation, that it was time to go his own way.” Holger describes this as “necessary.”
Can had split-up after the release of Can. That was their swan-song. However, even before that, Holger “felt marginalised, this had been the case since Rosko Gee and Rebop Kwaku Baah became part of Can. They’d hijacked Can.” This lead to the death of a great and innovative band.
With Can now part of musical history, Irmin Schmidt, Holger Czukay, Michael Karoli and Jaki Liebezeit set about reinventing themselves. Music critics wondered whether they would form new bands or embark upon solo careers? Irmin Schmidt, Holger Czukay and Michael Karoli all embarked upon solo careers. The most prolific of the trio was Irmin Schmidt.
Since Can disbanded in 1979, Irmin Schmidt has established a reputation as the most prolific former member of Can. Irmin has written the scores for over 100 films and television programs. Some of this music features in the recently released Irmin Schmidt box set Electro Violet. This twelve disc box set, which was recently released by Mute, features not just the five volumes of the Filmmusik Anthology, but a previously unreleased sixth volume. Then there’s Irmin Schmidt’s first four solo albums, 1981s Toy Planet, 1987s Musk At Dusk and 1991s Impossible Holidays. Then there’s Irmin Schmidt’s two collaborations with Kumo, 2001s Master Of Confusion and 2008s Axolotl Eyes. The final disc in the Electro Violet box set is opera Gormenghast, which was released in 2000, and was based on Mervyn Peake’s classic novel. Gormenghast shows the versatility of Irmin Schmidt, the classically trained musician who become part of Can, one of the most successful bands of the twentieth century. Sadly, by 1980, Can was history, and it was a brave new world for Irmin Schmidt.
Just a year after Can released their swan-song, Irmin Schmidt released the first volume in his Filmmusik series. This eight track compilation, was an introduction to the music Irmin had been writing for film and television. It would become a popular, and much anticipated series, which introduced many people to Irmin’s solo music. On the first volume of Filmmusik, Irmin was joined by old friends and some new names.
Among the old friends, was Can guitarist Michael Karoli. He featured on the eight minute, cinematic epic Im Herzen Des Hurrican (Verfolgung) and Im Herzen Des Hurrican (No. 5). Michael Karoli played his part in the success of Filmmusik. So did what was a new name to many Can fans was tenor saxophonist Bruno Spoerri.
He had been making electronic music since 1965, and by 1980, the forty-five year old, was running his own studio in Zurich. This was Studio Für Elektronische Musik Spoerri, where some of the Filmmusik sessions took place. Most of the recording of Filmmusik took place at Can’s Inner Space Studio, near Cologne. This had been where Can recorded some of the best music of their career. It would be no different for Irmin Scmidt.
While the cinematic sound of Filmmusik was very different to the music Can had been releasing, it showed just how versatile a composer and musician Irmin was. He had created eight tracks that were evocative, and had the ability to paint picture’s. This was important for anyone composing music for film and television. It looked like Irmin Schmidt had a big future ahead of him. He had stepped out of the shadow of Can and was about to enjoy his moment in the spotlight.
Filmmusik Volume 2.
So much so, that Irmin Schmidt released two albums during 1981. This included Filmmusik Volume 2. By then, Irmin was forging a reputation as the go-to-guy for anyone looking for a soundtrack to a film or television series in Germany. Eventually, Irmin would write over 100 scores. However, in 1981, his career was in its early days.
On Filmmusik Volume 2, it’s akin to Can reunion. Guitarist Michael Karoli and drummer Jaki Liebezeit feature on Endstation Freiheit-Titelmusik, Endstation Freiheit-Loony’s Walk and on Endstation Freiheit-Decision. So does bassist Rosko Gee. He’s replaced by Holger Czukay on Flächenbrand-Lurk and Flächenbrand-Titelmusik. Then on Die Heimsuchung Des Assistenten Jung-Man On Fire, Jaki Liebezeit added percussion. It seemed that the former bandmates were still friendly, and were happy to play on each other’s albums. Maybe, Can weren’t history after all?
That’s what some critics remarked when they saw the credits to Filmmusik Volume 2. With its all-star cast, it was a tantalising prospect. The critics weren’t disappointed when they heard Filmmusik Volume 2. It seemed Irmin Scmit was playing his part in reinventing what a soundtrack should sound like. He was just one of a new breed of composers determined to do so. However, Irmin wasn’t content to just write soundtracks. A solo career beckoned.
Irmin Schmidt also wanted to enjoy a solo career. This could run in parallel with his career composing soundtracks. For his debut solo album, Irmin Schmidt decided to collaborate with Bruno Spoerri, on what became Toy Planet.,
Zurich based Bruno Spoerri was two years older than Irmin. Bruno had been a pioneer of electronic music since 1965. Back then, Irmin was still studying under Karlheinz Stockhausen. However, within two years, he would be embracing new, experimental music in New York. That was sixteen years ago. Now Irmin Schmidt was regarded as a musical innovator and pioneer. His debut album would be much anticipated.
Critics and record buyers weren’t disappointed when Toy Story was released in 1981. It’s best described as a genre-melting opus. Everything from ambient, jazz and electronica, combines with rock and classical and psychedelia. There’s even a nod to the Berlin School, progressive rock and Phillip Glass, as a myriad of sounds assail you. Listening intently, instruments and sounds flit in and out. Sometimes, you question what you heard? Were there birds and a variety of animal noises on The Seven Game? Then on the title-track, futuristic and otherworldly describes what can be a haunting track. What follows is a minor musical masterpiece, which sadly, has been overlooked by the majority of music lovers since its release in 1981. Those that bought Toy Planet, eagerly awaited the followup.
It was a long time coming. Four years to be precise. To record buyers, it seemed that Irmin Schmidt was in no hurry to release the followup to Toy Planet. That wasn’t the case.
Instead, he was just incredibly busy. Irmin had been commissioned to compose the soundtrack to Rote Erde. It was released in 1983, and featured Michael Karoli and a former member of Can, David Johnson. Rote Erde, a journey through art rock and electronica, would give Irmin Schmidt’s fans something to listen to, while he continued to work on his burgeoning soundtrack career.
Filmmuzik Volumes 3 and 4.
Proof of this, was the release of Filmmuzik Volumes 3 and 4. This double album featured another twelve tracks Irmin Scmidt had written for film and television. On some of the tracks, Irmin was joined by Michael Karoli and Jaki Liebezeit. Only Holger Czukay was missing from what would’ve been a Can reunion.
On the twelve tracks on Filmmuzik Volumes 3 and 4, Irmin Schmidt shows his versatility, as stylistically, the music shifts between disparate genres. This includes everything from classical and experimental, to jazz and rock. With a tight, talented and hugely experienced band for company, Irmin provided the soundtrack German film and television. Again, for many younger viewers, this would be their first exposure with Irmin Schmidt’s music. Given the quality of music on Filmmuzik Volumes 3 and 4, it wouldn’t be their last.
Mostly, the reviews of Filmmuzik Volumes 3 and 4 were positive. That had been the case throughout Irmin Schmidt’s career. He hadn’t released a disappointing album. However, most of Irmin’s albums had either been compilations or soundtracks. They hadn’t sold in vast quantities. It seemed that Irmin Schmidt had a small, but loyal following. However, with every release, Irmin Schmidt’s music seemed to be finding a wider audience. Maybe the release of his sophomore solo album Musk At Dusk would result in Irmin Schmidt’s music reaching a much wider audience?
Musk At Dusk.
That should’ve been the case. Can had reunited in 1986. The first Can reunion had been a success. Now Irmin Scmidt was ready to begin work on his second solo album, Musk At Dusk, some familiar faces were present. This included Michael Karoli and Jaki Liebezeit.
Only Michael Karoli had released a solo album, Deluge, his 1984 collaboration with Polly Eltes. Jaki Liebezeit was content to work as a hired gun, playing on other artist’s albums. This included Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt’s albums. They were fortunate to have one of the top German drummers of Krautrock era providing the heartbeat to their albums.
That was the case on Musk At Dusk. It was another stylistically eclectic album. Elements of ambient, electronica, jazz, lounge and even progressive rock shawn through, on what was another ambitious, captivating and innovative solo album from Irmin Schmidt.
Critics agreed when Musk At Dusk was released. Irmin Scmidt seemed determined to reinvent himself on the long-awaited followup to Toy Planet. Six years after the release of Toy Planet, Musk At Dusk was released in 1987.
Sadly, Musk At Dusk wasn’t a huge commercial success. A small crumb of comfort was that gradually, word seemed to be spreading about Irmin Schmidt’s music. Meanwhile, Kraftwerk were enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim. They seemed unable to do no wrong. This must have been frustrating for Irmin, whose music was no nearer to reaching a wider audience. Aged fifty, he was still regarded as an underground artist. So, Irmin Schmidt returned to composing music for film and television.
Filmmuzik Volume 5.
Two years after the release of Musk At Dusk, Irmin Schmidt released Filmmuzik Volume 5. By then, the Filmmusik series was becoming a much anticipated and highly regarded series. It showcased Irmin’s music to many people who had neither seen the films nor television programs it featured in. Back in 1989, satellite television was in its infancy.
Filmmuzik Volume 5 featured another eight eclectic tracks. Again, the Can connection was strong. Drummer Jaki Liebezeit played on Zu Nah Dran. This was the only track to feature drums. Guitarost Michael Karoli featured on Mountain Way, Rita’s Tune, Bohemian Step, Geld and Geister and Zocker. These tracks featured on an album veered between cinematic, electronic and rocky. Just like the previous volumes in the Filmmuzik series, it caught the imagination of critics and record buyers.
It didn’t matter that many of the people buying Filmmuzik Volume 5 had neither seen the films, nor television programs they were taken from. The tracks worked as standalone pieces of music. Critics agreed. They felt Irmin Scmidt was maturing as a composer with each instalment in the Filmmuzik series. Those that bought Filmmuzik Volume 5 agreed, and eagerly awaited the next instalment in this popular series. Little did they know, they would have to wait twenty-six years.
By 1991, Can were back on the comeback trail. This was their second reunion. Can’s popularity had grown since their last reunion in 1986. Never before, had Can been as popular. They were somewhat belatedly receiving the plaudits they so richly deserved. The Can reunion was part of one of the busiest years of Irmin Schmidt’s recent career.
Still Irmin Schmidt was busy composing music for films and television programs. Four years had passed since Irmin had released a solo album. Critics and record buyers wondered when the followup to 1987s Musk At Dusk would be released?
Little did they realise that in studios in Nice, Paris, Berin and Cologne, Irmin Schmidt had been working on his long-awaited, and much-anticipated third solo album, Impossible Holidays.
For Impossible Holidays, Irmin Schmidt worked with lyricist Duncan Fallowell. Gradually, Irmin’s third solo album Impossible Holidays began to take shape. Once the lyrics and music were written, Impossible Holidays was recorded at various studios in France and Germany.
When work began on Impossible Holidays, two familiar faces were present. Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit and guitarist Michael Karoli. Bassist Franck Ema-Otu, a long term collaborator of Irmin Schmidt was present. He had also played on Michael Karoli’s 1984 debut solo album Deluge. Along with backing vocalists and session players, Irmin and co-producer Gareth Jones recorded Impossible Holidays. This they hoped would be Irmin’s breakthrough solo album.
Impossible Holidays was released in 1991, when Irmin Scmidt was fifty-five. He was approaching veteran status, and was regarded as one of the finest German composers of soundtracks for film and television programs. However, Irmin’s solo career had proved disappointing. He had released a two critically acclaimed solo albums. Sadly, neither Toy Planet nor Musk At Dusk had been sold in vast quantities. Maybe Impossible Holidays would be a game-changer for Irmin Schmidt?
When Impossible Holidays was released, reviews were positive. Irmin Schmidt was regarded as one of the grand old men of Germen music. However, he was still regarded as an innovator, and someone who was capable of releasing ambitious, groundbreaking music. Impossible Holidays was no different.
Elements of avant garde, electronica, Krautrock and rock could be heard on Impossible Holidays. So could something that no previous Irmin Schmidt solo album featured…lyrics. They came courtesy of Irmin, while Claudia Stülpner, Gitte Haenning and Özay Fecht added backing vocals. Despite these stylistic changes, Impossible Holidays didn’t sell in huge quantities. While more people had discovered Impossible Holidays, Irmin Schmidt was still one of music’s best kept secrets.
Masters Of Confusion.
Just a year after the release of Gormenghast, Irmin Schmidt returned with Masters Of Confusion, his first collaboration with Kuno. Irmin had met Kuno when recording Gormenghast.
Kuno was none other that Jono Podmore, who co-produced Gormenghast with Irmin. Just like Irmin, Jono was a musical adventurer. He had released two solo albums, 1997s Kaminari and 2000s 1+1=1. It was an album of drum ’n’ bass, which was released by Mute, the same label that Irmin was signed to. After the release of Gormenghast, Irmin and Kuno decided to collaborate. The result was Masters Of Confusion.
When Masters Of Confusion was released in 2001, critics were aghast. They couldn’t help but admire Irmin Schmidt’s ambition and bravery. Masters Of Confusion was totally unlike anything that Irmin Schmidt had released in a career spanning five decades. He had taken a huge leap of faith, which was rewarded when a new generation of music lovers embraced Masters Of Confusion, a journey through drum ’n’ bass, ambient and experimental music. Suddenly, Irmin Schmidt was the toast of dance-floors in clubs across Europe. So Irmin Schmidt and Kuno returned with the followup Axolotl Eyes. This however, took time.
Seven years passed before Irmin Schmidt and Kuno returned with the followup Axolotl Eyes. It was released in 2008, and just like Masters Of Confusion, was an eclectic album.
Irmin Schmidt and Kuno took listeners on a roller coaster journey through avant garde, cinematic, dark ambient, experimental and even Krautrock. This was a return to Irmin’s musical roots, and the glory days of Can. That was fitting
Since the release of Masters Of Confusion in 2001, Can guitarist Michael Karoli was dead. Irmin’s longtime collaborator and friend, had died on 17th November 2001 in Essen, Germany. It seemed fitting that Irmin Schmidt and Kuno revisited Krautrock on Axolotl Eyes.
When Axolotl Eyes was released in 2008, seven years had passed since Masters Of Confusion took dance-floors by storm. Seven years is a long time in dance music. During that period, genres came and went. Luckily, Axolotl Eyes wasn’t a remake of Masters Of Confusion. Far from it.
Axolotl Eyes was hailed an ambitious and groundbreaking album. It was released to critical acclaim. Partly, this was because Irmin Schmidt was never determined to stand still. Constantly, he was looking to reinvent his music. He had never released the same album twice, and wasn’t going to start after five decades.
Filmmusik Volume 6.
Since the release of Axolotl Eyes in 2008, Irmin Schmidt has been busy. He provided the soundtrack to Wim Wenders’ film Palermo Shooting. It as released in 2008. Then in 2009, Irmin collaborated with Inner Space Production on Kamasutra-Vollendung Der Liebe. Since then, Irmin Schmidt has been kept busy.
He continues to write music for film, theatre and television. As of 2015, Irmin Schmidt had written over 100 film and television soundtracks. This meant there was plenty of material for at least another volume in the Filmmusik series.
Twenty-six years had passed since Irmin Schmidt had released Filmmusik Volume 5 in 1989. Since then, nothing. That was until recently, when Mute announced the release of the twelve disc Electro Violet box set. The good news was, that included in this luxurious and lovingly compiled box set was Filmmusik Volume 6. This brought the story of Irmin Schmidt’s soundtrack career up to date. The seventy-eight year old hasn’t lost his magic touch, and is still able to create music that evocative, emotive and most importantly, cinematic. It helps tell the story. However, the music on Filmmusik Volume 6 works as standalone pieces of music. They feature the same quality that one expects from Irmin Schmidt. That’s not surprising.
Throughout a career that’s spanned five decades, Irmin Schmidt has been regarded as a musical innovator. While that’s an oft-overused word, in the case of Irmin Schmidt, innovator describes one of the greatest musicians of his generation.
He returned in 2018 with a new album 5 Klavierstücke (5 Piano Pieces). The new album saw Irmin Schmidt play two grand pianos, one of which is prepared, the other unprepared. This was something that was taught by another pioneer, John Cage. 5 Klavierstücke welcomed the return of musical pioneer with another album of ambitious and innovative music.
Ambitious and innovative music us what Irmin Schmidt’s has been recording from his days with Can, right through to his solo years and the various collaborations he’s been involved with. Much of Irmin Schmidt’s post-Can career has been spent composing soundtracks for film, theatre and television. A tantalising taste of this can be found on the six volumes of Filmmuzik. That’s not forgetting Irmin’s first three solo albums, 1981s Toy Planet, 1987s Musk At Dusk and 1991s Impossible Holidays. Then the opera Gormenghast, which was released in 2000. It lead to Irmin Schmidt’s two collaborations with Kumo, 2001s Master Of Confusion and 2008s Axolotl Eyes which show different sides to a musical chameleon who has a long and illustrious career.
Through his career Irmin Schmidt has released music that’s ambitious, innovative, inspiring and influential, and Irmin Schmidt is a musical visionary, who as a member of Can, and as a solo artist, has released groundbreaking music that was often, way ahead of the curve.
Irmin Schmidt-From Can To The Solo Years.
- Posted in: Ambient ♦ Avant Garde ♦ Classical ♦ Experimental ♦ Krautrock ♦ Rock
- Tagged: Can, Ege Bamyasi, Electro Violet, Filmmusik, Filmmusik Volume 2, Filmmusik Volume 6, Filmmuzik Volume 5, Filmmuzik Volumes 3 and 4, Future Days, Impossible Holidays, Irmin Schmidt, Monster Movie, Musk At Dusk, Soon Over Babaluma, Soundtracks, Tago Mago, Toy Planet