Cult Classic: Galactic Explorers-Epitaph For Venus.

A great deal of mystery, speculation, and even cynicism surrounds the recording and belated release of  Galactic Explorers’ debut album Epitaph For Venus. Nobody seems to know what year the album was recorded and it’s thought that the album was released between 1972 and 1976 which was when Robin Page’s Pyramid Records was in existence. However, just like any album that was recorded by Pyramid Records, the album is sure to provoke debate within Krautrock circles.

The story began just over twenty years ago with the rediscovery of the Pyramid Records’ tapes. These newly discovered taps had been missing for the best part of twenty years. This should’ve  been an exciting musical discovery, and one that was welcomed by all Krautrock connoisseurs. Instead, the discovery of the  Pyramid Records’ tapes was the start of a debate that still rages over twenty years later.

When the Pyramid Records’ tapes first resurfaced just over twenty years ago, this was an exciting discovery. After all, it wasn’t every day that a hitherto small, unknown private record label’s back-catalogue was discovered? This was what Cologne based Pyramid Records had been. 

Pyramid Records was founded by British expat Robin Page, in 1972. By then, Robin Page was forty and one of the leading lights  in the Fluxus arts movement. He had moved from London, England to Cologne, in Germany in 1969 which had been his home ever since. However, Robin Page wasn’t the only expat living in Cologne. 

So was Tony Robinson, a South African, who had travelled from Cape Town, to Germany to work with the legendary Karlheinz Stockhausen, the Godfather of modern German electronic music at the WDR Studio. This was akin to serving an engineering apprenticeship, and would serve Tony Robinson well. When he left Karlheinz Stockhausen’s employ, Tony Robinson went to work at Dierks Studio in Cologne. That was where the future Genius P. Orridge would meet Robin Page.

By then, Robin Page was a successful and established artist. He was a leading light in the Fluxus movement, and was regarded as a groundbreaking artist. Robin Page used humour within his work, which sought to challenge what was regarded as good taste within the art establishment. Before long, Robin Page’s painting found an audience, and became particularly sought after. This was what Robin Page had dreamt of and worked towards since ‘leaving’ art college in Vancouver. His new-found success and financial security allowed Robin Page to work towards fulfilling another of his dreams, making music.

Robin Page was serious about making music and even had a recording studio in the basement to what looked like to anyone passing by, a derelict building. Deep within its bowels, was Robin Page’s recording studio where Pyramid Records first album was recorded. It was then pressed by a Turkish entrepreneur, who just happened to keep his cutting lathe within the same building. Although was more used to producing bootlegs, but was able to cut what became PYR 001, Pyramid Records’ first release. It came wrapped in a cover designed by a local student. History had just made with the release of Pyramid Records’ first release.

Soon, Robin Page’s nascent label had established a reputation for releasing ambitious and innovative albums. However, Pyramid Records was only in existence until 1976. During that four-year period, Pyramid Records only ever released fifteen albums. These albums were pressed in small quantities. Usually, no more than 50-100 copies of each album was pressed. 

Once the albums were ready for release, founder Robin Page gave away many of the copies to his friends, while the remainder were sold in Cologne’s clubs or art galleries. None of the Pyramid Records’ releases found their way into Cologne’s many record shops. To some extent, that explains why nobody seemed to have heard of Pyramid Records, which was an underground label.

One person who was presented with a copy of PYR 001, was Toby Robinson who by 1972, had become friends with Robin Page. He was persuaded to provide the material for Pyramid Records second release, which bore the serial number PYR 002. 

Essentially, Tony Robinson’s album comprised a recording of sounds bounced from one tape recorder to another. When the recording was complete, Robin Page went to visit his had a master cut, and  between 50-100 copies were either given away to Robin Page’s friends, or sold in Cologne’s art galleries and clubs. No copies of  PYR 001 nor PYR 002 seem to have survived. It’s a similar story with the label’s next two releases.

Neither the master tapes nor copies of PYR 003 and PYR 004 seem to have survived the passage of time. Instead, the first Pyramid Records release to survive is believed to be PYR 005. It’s one of just eleven Pyramid Records’ recordings that remain  in the vaults. These recordings were made between 1974 and 1976. This contradicts the claims in 1996 that the Galactic Explorers’ album Epitaph For Venus took place in 1972 and 1973.

Many of the bands released albums on Robin Page’s Pyramid Records were part of the Krautrock scene. That was apart from The Nazgul and the Galactic Explorers. Their music was very different and had a much more avant-garde sound. Other noticeable influences include that of Karlheinz Stockhausen who had influenced many of the leading lights of the German music scene, and even the Fluxus movement. All this had influenced the three Galactic Explorers.

Very little is known about the members of the Galactic Explorers. It’s believed that Johannes Lutz, Holst Seisert and Reinhard Karwatky are all aliases. One claim was the some of the musicians who played on the Pyramid Records’ sessions were well-known musicians, who were members of top Krautrock bands. They played in the Pyramid Records’ sessions after they had finished playing with their respective bands. As a result, they had to dawn aliases when the albums were released. It may be that other musicians featured on the Galactic Explorers’ album Epitaph For Venus.

Only three musicians are credited as playing on Epitaph For Venus, which was produced by Tony Robinson. Johannes Lutz played Minimoog and Hammond organ, Holst Seisert played Fender Rhodes and synths and Reinhard Karwatky added electric organ, percussion and synths. However, snatches of guitar and bass can be heard on Epitaph For Venus. However, who played them is a mystery. So is when the sessions took place.

When Epitaph For Venus was originally released in 1996, it was claimed that the album was recorded during 1972 and 1973. This contradicts the claim that the eleven Pyramid Records’ tapes that survived were recorded between 1974 and 1976.This makes it more likely that Epitaph For Venus was recorded between 1974 and 1976. By then, the group that inspired the Galactic Explorers’ name had released their trio of albums.

Inspiration for the name Galactic Explorers most likely came from The Cosmic Jokers, whose lineup featured top German musicians including Dieter Dierks, Harald Großkopf, Jürgen Dollase, Klaus Schulze, and Manuel Göttsching. They spent the three-month period between February to May of 1973 taking part in psychedelic jam sessions. The musicians drinks had been spiked with LSD, and as they played at Studio Dierks, which was owner Dieter Dierks and where Tony Robinson once worked, The Cosmic Jokers noticed that the sessions were being surreptitiously recorded. These sessions resulted in three albums The Cosmic Jokers and Sternenmädchen’s Planeten Sit-In, The Cosmic Jokers and Galactic Supermarket.

If the Galactic Explorers were indeed inspired by The Cosmic Jokers, then this would suggest that the album was recorded at least after May 1973 when the recording sessions ended. It may be that the Galactic Explorers recorded their album after 1974, when The Cosmic Joker released their debut album? However, playing Devil’s Advocate, it could be that the group was named the Galactic Explorers at a later date by someone involved in the sessions? After all, not everyone was convinced by the Pyramid Records’ story.

Pyramid Records closed its door for the final time in 1976. Not long after that, Robin Page decided to emigrate to Canada. With him, he took Pyramid Records’ master tapes and the remaining albums. Almost nothing was left of Pyramid Records. It was as if the label had never existed.  

That was until nearly twenty years later, when Tony Robinson approached Virgin Records with some of Pyramid Records’ master tapes. This resulted in the release of Unknown Deutschland-The Krautrock Archive Volume 1 in 1996. Later that year, two further volumes were released. This further fuelled the mythology and speculation that built up around Pyramid Records. 

Since then, the Pyramid Records’ story has been debated ad infinitum. Sadly, far too many people have become bogged down by the controversy and speculation that surrounds the Pyramid Records’ story. It’s as if they’re determined to disprove that the music was recorded between 1972 and 1976. In doing so, all they’re doing is adding fuel to the fire, and fuelling the debate and speculation. That is a great shame, because for too long, people have become caught up in the Pyramid Records’ mythology. In doing so, they lose sight of the important thing, the music. 

This includes the fifteen albums Pyramid Records released between 1972 and 1976, albums that have still to be released and albums that made their belated debut twenty years after Pyramid Records closed its doors for the final time. This includes the Galactic Explorers album Epitaph For Venus, which was made its debut  in 1996 and showed a different side to the music that Pyramid Records’ released.

Lunarscape is an eighteen-minute epic that opens Epitaph For Venus. It drones and whines as otherworldly and futuristic sounds emerge from the soundscape. Soon, bubbling sounds cascade melodically and urgently. Meanwhile, subtle sounds glisten, bubble and shimmer as this captivating soundscape becomes mesmeric, as it continues to reveal its secrets. Before long, the mix is an ethereal vortex that draws the listener in. By then, an electric guitar can be heard deep in the mix amongst washes of synths and a Fender Rhodes. Constantly, sounds flit in and out, with some making only the briefest of appearances. Later, darkness emerges from the hypnotic mix. Especially when an electric organ drones and feedback howls briefly. Still, there’s an elegiac and futuristic sound as washes of synths emerge from the mix. So do a myriad of ominous, droning, sci-fi and cascading sounds. They’re part of a lysergic, cinematic soundscape that paints pictures, continues to captivate and captures the listener’s imagination. All the listener is left to do, is provide the script to this captivating and futuristic cinematic soundscape.

Understated describes Ethereal Jazz as it unfolds and sounds are emitted from the soundscape. Bubbling synths, hissing hi-hats, a chanted vocal and bursts of Fender Rhodes combine. Sometimes, there’s an Eastern influence as the genre-melting arrangement grows in power and cascades along. Avant-garde is combined with electronica, experimental and improv in a soundscape where synths are to the fore. They’re joined by a Fender Rhodes, shimmering  cymbals and various beeps, squeaks and otherworldly sounds. Sometimes, cymbals crash, adding an element of drama. They joined the Fender Rhodes, while effects are used heavily to manipulate sounds. Meanwhile, the soundscape continues to bubble and meander hypnotically along. Gradually, though, the tempo rises and there’s an urgency, before the music become eerie, dramatic and spacious. It’s a case of less is more, as the sound storm blowing is replicated and is accompanied by a slow, shimmering Fender Rhodes and synths. They combine to create a moody, dramatic and ruminative ending to this sixteen minute opus.

Venus Rising closes Epitaph For Venus, where a dark, dramatic sound bubbles ominously. Soon, a droning synth is added and adds to the drama as the soundscape reverberates and eerie and futuristic sounds are emitted. By then, it sounds as if the Galactic Explorers have been asked to provide the soundtrack to a short sci-fi film. They take the listener on a trip on a spacecraft which soars high into the night sky. Always though, there’s a degree of drama which continues to build as this journey to a distant planet continues. Just like the two previous soundscapes, there’s a cinematic quality which sets the imagination racing as the Galactic Explorers take the listeners to infinity and beyond.

Sadly, Pyramid Records  only released fifteen albums during the four years it was in existence, and Epitaph For Venus spent over twenty years in the Pyramid Records vaults. For whatever reason, Robin Page’s Pyramid Records never got round to releasing Epitaph For Venus. It was the one that got away for the Cologne based label.

It seems strange that Epitaph For Venus was never released by Pyramid Records? Here was a cinematic opus that was variously dark, dramatic, eerie, futuristic,  hypnotic, melodic and mesmeric. Other times, sci-fi and otherworldly sounds are added as the Galactic Explorers take the listener on a captivating and genre-melting journey during this carefully sculpted album.

Using just synths, a Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ, electric organ and percussion the Galactic Explorers create what was a cinematic epic. It marries elements of avant-garde with elements of ambient, Berlin School, experimental music, Musique concrète and rock. Although there’s a Krautrock influence on Epitaph For Venus, it’s not as apparent as other albums that bore the Pyramid Records’ name. Just like The Nazgul’s album, the Galactic Explorers’ album Epitaph For Venus showcases a much purer Kominische avant-garde sound that shows a very different sound to the Pyramid Records’ sound. This is a move away from the Krautrock that can be heard on the majority of albums Pyramid Records recorded and released.

Epitaph For Venus is also one of the hidden gems in the Pyramid Records back-catalogue. Sadly, the music that Pyramid Records released and recorded doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves. That is despite producing albums of groundbreaking and innovative music. This includes the Galactic Explorers’ debut album Epitaph For Venus. If it had been released on Brain or Ohr, it would received critical acclaim. Sadly, that isn’t the case. 

Instead, a small cabal of so-called, self-important musical experts are hellbent on disproving the Pyramid Records’ story. What they forget, is that during the seventies, there were many small labels that operated under the radar in cities across Europe. They released albums in small quantities, including albums that were later reissued. When these albums were reissued they weren’t subject to the same scrutiny as the albums recorded and released by Robin Page’s Pyramid Records. 

Maybe that will start to change as a new generation of record buyers discover the music Pyramid Records recorded and releases between 1972 and 1976? Hopefully, these record buyers will concentrate on the music Robin Page’s label released, rather than the rumour, speculation and myth that surrounds Pyramid Records. If they do, they will discover some groundbreaking and innovative music, including the Cozmic Corridors’ eponymous debut album, and one of Pyramid Records’ finest moments, the Galactic Explorers’ debut album Epitaph For Venus.

Cult Classic: Galactic Explorers-Epitaph For Venus.

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