Synth + Mad Drummer = Forgotten Genius

At the tail end of the 1970s, a small NME article alerted its readers to the fact that there were some great albums lurking in the 50p racks at a UK chain of downmarket electronics shops. Most of them were the usual tat (although the ‘Funky Junction Plays a Tribute to Deep Purple’ album, once a permanent resident of the unloved 50p rack, is now a collector’s piece in its own right).
The real gem, though, was an album by John Surman and Stu Martin, called ‘Live At Woodstock Village Hall’. John Surman is a well-known British jazz ‘reedsman’ (sax, clarinet) who had played with the likes of John McLaughlin and Dave Holland. Stu Martin (d. 1980) was a drummer who had played with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Sonny Rollins, Donald Byrd and Quincy Jones. He developed an interest in synthesisers in the 1970s, and integrated them into his wild playing. He had two EMS Synthi AKS synths which, according the album’s sleeve notes, are ‘paired in a special matrix that interfaces both machines into an enormous phalanx of sound’. Imagine the clattering headrush of a jazz drummer channeling Keith Moon. With some kick-ass analogue synths.
The album features titles like ‘Harry Lovett – Man Without A Country’, ‘Are You Positive’ You’re Negative?’, ‘Wrested In Mustard’ and ‘Professor Goodly’s Implosion Machine’, and is intended as the musical accompaniment for some potty half-baked six-part radio serial telling the story of Harry Lovett, a hapless chap who is controlled by the Masters of the Universe and turned in a superhero called Mr Everything.
While the synth-driven free improvisations of this album made jazz critics sniffy at the time, the album is better understood by fans of, say Silver Apples and today’s explorers of the esoteric. The album is well worth tracking down, but be warned; it might frighten the horses.
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Hot Chip New Video and Album

Hot Chip return with a new track lifted from their forthcoming album, ‘Why Make Sense?’, due in May on Domino. If you pre-order it, you’ll get an instant download of the excellent ‘Huarache Lights’. With its robot voices, wonky synths, and the insistent beat, it’s a hit in the Electronic Sound office.
The full track listing for the album is:
Huarache Lights
Love is the Future
Cry For You
Started Right
White Wine and Fried Chicken
Dark Night
Easy to Get
Need You Now
So Much Further to Go
Why Make Sense?
Here’s ‘Huarache Lights’
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And if that’s put you in a Hot Chip kind of mood, here’s an entire concert from 2013’s Pitchfork Festival.
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The Return of Moog's Monster

When dinosaurs walked the Earth, their equipment would be packed into a fleet of enormous trucks while the band themselves tucked into the booze and chang on their private jet. And if the dinosaurs in question happened to be Messrs Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, one of those trucks would be pretty much stuffed with Keith Emerson’s Moog modular system. His endorsement of the synthesiser system and extravagant keyboard skills were central to the synthesiser being accepted by the mainstream in the 1970s, albeit as yet another means for showing off classical virtuosity rather than exploring electronic music for its own sake.
The thing towered over Emerson when it was set up on stage, a henge of modular units, connected with a shocking mess of cables, capable of emitting tones that could turn any PA system of the day inside out with one sine wave. As a status symbol, it reeked of wealth and of a technological superiority unattainable by the common peasants who came to witness the mighty overlords of progressive rock be godlike on stage.
Keith Emerson
There were something like 70 units available in the modular system, and while you can now get most of it in Arturia’s software emulation Moog Modular V, there’s nothing like real thing. The appetite for modular has been proved by the emergence of dozens of boutique companies producing small, relatively inexpensive modular units for the Eurorack system, as used but he likes of Xeno & Oaklander, Scanner, and many more. The Eurorack modular revolution of the past decade didn’t go unnoticed by Moog, and they are now producing their classic Moog modular once again.
The System 55 will lighten your wallet by around $35,000, the System 35 is $22,000.For the budget conscious, you might want to investigate the bargain that is the Model 15, which is a mere $10,000. If you want a sequencer, that’s $8,500. The good news is that the 61-note duophonic keyboard in its handsome wood case is just £799. Oh, and the Emerson Moog Modular System? That’s 150,000 of your Earth dollars, please, sir.
Here’s the Model 15 being shown off.
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And here is the EMMS…
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Best start saving now…
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Insane Autobahn Cover Version

Insane Autobahn Cover Version

1970s cheapo compilation cash-in reverse engineers ‘Autobahn’ with remarkable results

In the 1970s, the cash-strapped youth of Great Britain (and there were many of them in that decade) and other cheapskates who wanted to own the latest chart sounds were often victim to the vinyl plague known as the Top Of The Pops compilation.
Each compilation featured a dozen or more cover versions of current hits, as recorded by a group of anonymous session musicians, the idea being that the version you got on your compo was as close to the original as they could manage.
This factory line of musical reverse-engineering took a turn for the electronic when, in 1975, our very own Kraftwerk hit the charts with the three minute edit of ‘Autobahn’. Undaunted, the session players dusted down the Minimoogs and Arp Odysseys, not to mention the WEM Copycats and flangers, and cranked out what is a pretty remarkable facsimile of one of the most important electronic recordings ever made.
You owe it to yourself to give it a listen…
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If you’d like to know a bit more about these strange compilations, have a read of this, from 1994, from the Info Freako page of Melody Maker, where readers would write in and ask about strange records and answers to intractable queries they had, before Google existed. It was researched and written by Electronic Sound editor Push.
The other day, I bought a 1972 compilation LP called “Top Of The Pops” from a junk shop on the strength of it featuring T-Rex’s “Telegram Sam”. But when I got home, I discovered that all the tracks are covers and they’re all appalling, especially the T-Rex track! Have you any idea what this LP might be? Is it worth more than the 25p I paid for it!?
Greg Shimmon, Coventry
If, as seems likely, this LP is on Pickwick Records, 25p is probably about the right. The Pickwick “Top Of The Pops” series was designed to give British pop fans a chance to obtain a dozen or so covers of current chart hits for not much more than the price of a single. In some ways, the records were cheap forerunners to the “Now! That’s What I Call Music” albums.
The idea was the brainchild of a Pickwick sales manager and a buyer at Woolworths. The first “Top Of The Pops” album came out in the summer of 1968, with fresh editions subsequently appearing roughly every six weeks. A total of no less than 92 volumes were issued, all of them with a half- undressed girl on the sleeve. Pickwick’s head honcho Monty Lewis came up with this trademark.
Sticking as close to the original tracks as possible, the covers were recorded by session musicians under the guidance of producer Bruce Baxter. Paul McCartney is said to have popped his head round the studio door when Baxter’s band were recording “Mull Of Kintyre” and said, “That’s how I did the demo!”. Of the various other covers collections of the 1970s, like Music For Pleasure’s “Hot Hits” LPs, only Baxter was bold enough to attempt a version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Suitably dreadful it was too.
At the height of their popularity, it was not unusual for a “Top Of The Pops” LP to sell getting on for half a million copies. For the most part, however, the covers compilations appeared in a budget records chart instead of the official UK national album chart. When they were allowed into the regular chart, during the second half of 1971, volumes 18, 19 and 20 each reached the Top Three. The special budget chart was hastily reintroduced in early 1972.
The “Top Of The Pops” series lasted until 1982, by which point companies like K-Tel were producing budget compilations featuring the original artists. Pickwick briefly resurrected the series in 1985, but “Volume 92″ was a huge flop. The concept was then permanently shelved.
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Three Hours of Kraftwerk…

In 2008, a documentary was released called ‘Kraftwerk And The Electronic Revolution’. At three hours, it is a pretty comprehensive overview of the German music scene that gave us Kraftwerk. What makes this epic doc all the more fascinating for us and readers of Electronic Sound, is that David Stubbs, a regular contributor to Electronic Sound, is featured, performing the role of contextualising Kraftwerk and the German music scene of the early 1970s and beyond, with considerable aplomb.
Here’s the film, you might want to bookmark this post and set aside some time…
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We asked the esteemed David Stubbs what he thought of the documentary.
“I enjoyed the resultant documentary, which I found useful as a resource for my book ‘Future Days’,” he told us. “It was good that they interviewed Conrad Schnitzler extensively – he died not long afterwards, before I got a chance to speak to him. He was one of the most obdurate and extreme figures in German music of that era, ploughing his own, self-taught arty/electronic anti-hippy furrow, a pertinent harbinger of the electro-pop future. As a general overview of the electronic stirrings in West Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s it worked pretty well, I thought, though as is sometimes the case in these overviews, Faust were a major omission, I recall. I’m not sure the programme makers knew about them – they didn’t appear to be on their tick-list. Obviously, this wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive Krautrock documentary and ultimately was about Kraftwerk, who in Düsseldorf were probably barely aware of Faust or influenced by them. All in all, it’s a professional documentary that in its length and depth went further than most, and it’s therefore valuable for more serious fans, who might find BBC4 treatments of these subjects ultimately a bit perfunctory.”
How did you feel about your own presence in the film, David?
“I wince at my own contributions mainly because of my slightly dishevelled state. That olive coloured shirt I’m wearing is an old Paul Smith item intended to exude a certain Teutonic cool. However, it’s already seem better days at this point and the collar has curled up slightly. Also, the little of my hair that’s left is dancing about atop my pate a la Billy Whizz.”
And what can you tell us about the film makers and what it was like working with them?
“They were called Prism films, who did a range of documentaries to which I contributed doing face-to-face interviews, usually filmed at a studio near Old Street, in London. Other subjects they covered included Radiohead, David Bowie and Pink Floyd. I was happy to work with them because they paid decently for contributions, rather than promise that this would be good for my profile and give me some much-needed exposure as is sadly too often the case today. This one, I believe, was made back in 2008. They were enjoyable people to work with, very professional.”
David’s excellent book, ‘Future Days: Krautrock And The Building Of Modern Germany’ is available here:
Stubbs Krautrock
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ARP Odyssey Free Book!

As anticipation builds for Korg’s ARP Odyssey launch, we had a quick chat with Korg’s Product Manager Ian Bradshaw about the recent announcement:
Are you relieved to have finally announced the ARP Odyssey?
“I wouldn’t say relieved as that implies we were under pressure. We have been very excited about Odyssey since the announcement last year and didn’t want to rush into bringing to market before the final product was absolutely ready. The timing of such products is very critical as we need to have the product absolutely right as well as production in place. Unlike digital products, the staff that work at the factories need different skill sets so we have to make sure that they have the right training. Fortunately our factories have experience with MS20 so we are not starting afresh.”
What was interest like at NAMM? Were there queues of people waiting to play with it?
“The KORG stand at NAMM was very busy all the time, the interest in Odyssey was huge with media and trade visitors alike. You only have to go online to see how many camera crews shot demos.”
Are there any plans for Korg to reboot any other classic synths?
“As usual, I’m sorry but we’re unable to discuss future product plans.”
Are you confident that there will enough supply in March/April to meet demand?
“Impossible to predict accurately, all I can say is that demand is very high and we will do our best to meet this demand.”
Learning Music With Synths
If you have already pre-ordered a ARP Odyssey from Korg, you might want to hit the ‘Add to Cart’ button below and get yourself a free download of the ultimate book about the legendary synth, written by David friend and Alan Pearlman, the people behind ARP itself. It’s a great primer for learning about creating sound with any traditional analogue synthesiser, and if that synth happens to be an ARP Odyssey, it’s unbeatable. We’ve bundled it up with the latest sampler of Electronic Sound, so that should give you plenty to read over the next week or so.
Add to Cart
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SPITFIRE AUDIO – SD01 Dust Bundle & REDCOLA Trailer Giant

British sampling powerhouse Spitfire kicks off their ‘Extended Family’ range of products.
The Extended Family series of libraries are third-party produced products, released under the Spitfire banner. Their first two releases are Trailer Giant, by US sound designers Redcola and Dust Bundle by British developers Sound Dust.
Downloading and via spitfire Audio Library Manager was relatively painless. As the combined file size for both packs exceeded 20 gigs, I left it overnight to find everything downloaded in the morning.
The first thing to note regarding installation is you have to direct Kontakt to the correct files using the file browser EVERY time you want to use these libraries, unlike Spitfire’s previous releases, in which libraries appear in the sidebar. Trailer Giant wouldn’t open in Kontakt 4 and would only work in demo mode on Kontakt 5 player, an issue I’m sure will likely be fixed in an update.
REDCOLA – Trailer Giant is a collection of drones, hits, impacts, riser and SFX sounds designed for film trailers, TV and game audio. The samples are powerful, dramatic and synthetic in nature and would fit well with any action, science fiction or horror theme. Likewise, electronic music producers could benefit from these sounds.
The Kontakt interface adds some modulation options including various pitch and filter ‘wobbles’, an oscillator mixer which mixes between the original sound and effected versions and a gated sequencer. The visual design is not to my taste, the garish black and red ‘hi-tech’ interface reminded me of a tacky Winamp skin from the Windows XP days, a far cry from the beautifully designed London Solos library reviewed in our last issue. Also many of the controls, like the ‘wobbles’, would often not have the desired result, sometimes refusing to work or just crashing the Kontakt player completely.
In summary, the sounds in Trailer Giant are certainly high quality and fill a particular niche, however the interface and general usability of the product let it down for me.
The SD01 Dust Bundle contains six different and unusual virtual instruments for Kontakt. Plastic Ghost Piano, Grand Thrift Autoharp, Dulcitone 1884, Dulcitone 1900, Ghost Dulcitone 1900 and Hammer+ are all excellent, piano-orientated instruments with various quirky twists and unique audio features, which really set these apart from your regular plug-ins.
In stark contrast to Trailer Giant, each of the 6 different instrument interfaces are beautifully designed and function how you expect, with nice design choices inspired by the sampled material contained within. The range of controls offered, are well thought out for sound design possibilities, without overloading you with features.
If you want a stack of interesting sounds, it’s excellent value at £99.
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Arise Sir Irmin of Can!

It’s been a good week for Irmin Schmidt. Not only does the new Hollywood adaption of Thomas Pynchon’s novel ‘Inherent Vice’ feature some Can music, Spoon Records and Mute have just announced that he has been awarded the Chevalier De L’Ordre Des Arts Et Des Lettres, the French equivalent of a knighthood. As a former inhabitant of Schloss Nörvenich, the castle where Can recorded some of their most important work (‘Monster Movie’, ‘Soundtracks’, Tago Mago’), it seems fitting that he should have a title to go along with that history.
The ceremony takes place in Berlin on February 10th (as is the convention for a German citizen receiving the honour). If you’d like to attend, you’ll be needing an invitation from the French Embassy.
To mark the occasion, here’s our interview we did with Irmin Schmidt in 2012 when the box set, ‘The Lost Tapes’, was released by Mute Records.


Castle Nörvenich, yesterday

In the wake of Can’s three-disc set of previously unreleased work, The Lost Tapes, Irmin Schmidt talks about the band’s early days, his 60s New York adventure and his own genesis as a purveyor of new music to the underground.
It’s a pat line these days, but there are few bands as influential as Can. This castle-dwelling German outfit of sonic futurists, thinkers and fearless musical activists produced a body of work out of an improvisational pop-art methodology that continues to define what it means to be a modern band. Their spontaneous compositions of the late 60s and early 70s remain as fresh-sounding and alive as they must have forty years ago.
Can’s albums were generally the result of prodigious editing from hefty sessions that spawned miles of tape. And so it’s a real delight to have in our hands The Lost Tapes, a triple CD package of highlights culled from some 50 hours of old tapes that had been mouldering away in storage, not really lost, but certainly largely forgotten.
Irmin Schmidt, Can’s keyboard maestro and, if you could ascribe the role to any one member, its main architect, is less sanguine about the filtering process he went through to deliver The Lost Tapes.
‘Look,’ he says, speaking from his home in France, ‘I did it quite hard and cold-blooded as if it was by someone else. You know, it’s not loaded with emotions about the good old times. I don’t have that. I just listened to it as if was by somebody else. Of course it made me happy when I found something nice or something worth releasing, something really beautiful.’
The first tantalising track to be released into the internet wild was Millionenspiel; a slice of prime Can that bursts into life at thrilling breakneck speed with that airy loose precision Can were so good at. Millionenspiel sounds like a kind of psychedelic free-jazz spaghetti western, replete with reverbed bongos, fuzz guitar and a sax solo. Captured at a time when the band was still known as Inner Space, before Malcolm Mooney had joined, Millionenspiel was recorded for a TV film (Das Millionenspiel), a gangster/sci-fi flick that sounds like a cross between The Running Man and Nicholas Roeg’s mid-altering gangster flick Performance.
And it turns out that there was plenty more where that came from. The German film and TV industries are key to this unreleased material; Can were in demand as soundtrack artists, and many of their contributions made it to the soundtracks they were intended for and no further, and while Can were more popular beyond their homeland, the films they made music for weren’t, more’s the pity.
‘I knew beforehand that there would be quite a lot of film music which was never released because it just never happened,’ Schmidt explains. He speaks slowly and and precisely, often (unsurprisingly) with German sentence constructions, a style which doesn’t invite casual chit-chat. For example, when I ask him if it’s true that only he would go and watch the film that Can had been retained to soundtrack, and then come back and describe it to the band before they would start work on the music, his response is, ‘Yes, it was exactly your description. That is what happened. I have nothing to add.’
You need a decent supplementary question to get more information out of him: So, was there, erm, a musical, compositional reason for that?
‘Yes that was it,’ he replies and, thankfully, elucidates: ‘If you sit in front of the screen and look at the film, you are always seduced to comment on what’s already there, a kind of doubling of the narration. Because I had this experience before Can, working a long time in theatre and film music, I felt it was important that the architecture of the music should add a new kind of narrative element which is not in the film. And this is only the case if you don’t all the time look at it and comment on it. Especially when you compose like we did; four or five musicians together who invent without a composer. If everybody looks, it gets confused, and so that’s why we did it like this.’
Prior to Can, Schmidt was a rising star of the classical music scene in Germany, much in demand as a conductor and composer of music for theatre. His pre-Can experience is an extensive CV of prestigious music schools, success in classical music competitions and a burgeoning interest in new music. He was already 29 by the time he started the band. He had a degree in composition and conducting and continued his studies in Salzburg, where he conducted the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, before winding up in Cologne to study, famously, under Stockhausen on his Kölner Kourse für Neue Musik (Cologne Courses for New Music) where he met future Can bass player Holger Czukay. Schmidt also studied with the Hungarian composer Ligeti, probably best known in popular culture for his music that was featured by Stanley Kubrick on the soundtrack to his film 2001: A Space Odyssey. In 1966, however, Irmin Schmidt travelled to New York to take part in the Mitropoulos competition, an international event organised in the name of the feted Greek conductor.
And that’s where everything changed.
‘I was sent to New York as a conductor to take part in this contest, a young conductors contest, but after a few days or weeks, I forgot about the bloody contest,’ he chuckles.
Instead, Schmidt found himself in the epicentre of the cultural and creative upheaval that New York was experiencing at the time. One particularly important experience was watching, or rather being a part of, an early performance of one of La Monte Young’s legendary Dream House pieces, lengthy performance art installations which involved music and lights and much freaking out in a thoroughgoing 60s stylee.
’It was four musicians in a kind of basement,’ remembers Schmidt, ‘one of them was John Cale. They played this one piece of La Monte’s which consists of one chord of four notes for days, 24 hours a day. They didn’t play three days without sleeping, so sometimes there were only two musicians, then there were three, sometimes four. We were lying around on mattresses or cushions. It was very, very loud. The thing was that after some time, in this chord you started to hear all these always changing overtones, and it was like you heard the angels sing in this chord.’
Also during his New York adventure, Schmidt met Steve Reich and played with Terry Riley, and went to see Warhol’s film Chelsea Girls and Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising ‘many times’. Schmidt was taken with the mix of attitudes and cultures in the scene he encountered, thousands of miles literally and figuratively from the more academic approach he was used to back in Cologne. The almost random juxtaposition of images from popular culture and music, especially evident in Anger’s Scorpio Rising, set Schmidt thinking about his own artistic ambitions.
‘I really kept on diving into this adventurous New York scene, and what fascinated me was that there was no separation from so-called serious classical music on one side and entertaining pop music on the other side. It was all one thing that could melt into each other. That was my idea when I came back to Germany, I wanted to melt all these phenomena of new music, like jazz and rock and pop, and the new classical music, into one group. And so this New York time where I spent two and half months or something, this had a big influence on me and made me even more sure that I should go this way.’
Despite the long hair and huge sideburns he was now sporting, Schmidt wasn’t turning on and dropping out, and rejects the idea that he was abandoning his serious music career.
‘I was not giving up classical,’ Schmidt asserts, ‘but making it richer as a composer working with Can, it was a new way to think about composition.’
Back in Cologne, Irmin invited Jaki Leibezeit on board, a breathtakingly fine drummer who had played with Chet Baker, lived in Spain for five years, and so was steeped in Latin rhythmic structures and even, he claimed, some secret voodoo rhythms which could result in the death of those who heard them. Michael Karoli, ‘a real young beat rock guitarist, ten years younger than us’ as Irmin describes him, was a young student of Holger Czukay’s and completed the mix.
‘Can came out of the constellation that was brought together by these musicians,’ says Irmin. ‘But of course it was so unique because it had this enormous broad and wide knowledge of music, and that was something new and unexpected. It turned out to be a rock group, but also not a rock group. That was the concept, what came out was an experiment, and experiment that, let me say, succeeded.’
Among the many pleasures to be found on The Lost Tapes are the handful of songs featuring the American singer Malcolm Mooney. Mooney recorded just the one album with the band, the 1969 debut Monster Movie, before exhaustion, homesickness, and an underlying instability led him to quit the band and scuttle back home.
‘It was a surprise that there was some material with Malcolm which we had totally forgotten, and that was good, I liked that surprise,’ says Schmidt.
Mooney (and his replacement, Damo Suzuki) played an unusually rhythmic role in Can’s sound, locking in with Jaki Leibezeit’s propulsive drumming. It’s very much in evidence on the the Lost Tapes tracks Waiting For The Streetcar and Desert. In both of them, Mooney repeats the same phrase over and over, until they lose their meanings and become embedded textured rhythms. In Desert, the phrase ‘it’s a soul desert’ gradually loses its original shape and is reduced and mutates into a series of sounds which he then alters again with the grain in of his voice. A lot has been said about the hypnotic nature of Can music, and Malcolm Mooney’s ability to trap himself in his own lyrical loops is legendary. There was the band’s first performance with Malcolm, for example, before they were called Can, at Castle Norvenich, at the launch of an art exhibition where he repeated the phrase ‘upstairs, downstairs’ for an entire hour, while walking up and down the staircase. Holger Czukay once said that Can wasn’t sure quite what direction it was going to head in, until Mooney ‘jumped to the microphone and pushed us into a rhythm.’ But Mooney didn’t come into Can’s orbit because of his talents as a vocalist.
‘We met him as an artist,’ explains Schmidt. ‘I was at home in the art gallery and museum scene, and I had co-curated exhibitions and wrote about art for several newspapers, and actually Malcolm came because he was an artist, and I wanted to introduce him to galleries. So when he came, since I spent most of the time in the studio, he came with me and he spontaneously just joined the music. It’s true he added a new element which above all clicked with Jaki. Jaki and Malcolm immediately were one rhythm group, one fantastic rhythm group. That brought in one element that led us more into rock music in a way. But still, even his approach to rock music was very… unusual.’
Mooney’s approach to being in a band was in tune with the pop art avant garde Irmin Schmidt had experienced in New York; the free mixing of high and ‘low’ or popular culture, the boundaries blurred between the meanings and expression of art and music. He was just as willing to use nursery rhymes or tell silly stories as he was to create more apparently profound lyrical ideas for Can. His sense of fun, Irmin remembers in the sleeve notes to The Lost Tapes, ‘had an incredibly liberating effect on me.’
‘What we did, with and without Malcolm,’ says Schmidt, ‘was always art. Can music is like pop art. We used very banal musical phrases from the surrounding culture and put them together in new unexpected ways, and the result was always surprising. That was also what Malcolm did. He did not do it because he was… sometimes people think he was in a strange mental state and a little bit crazy, and repeated. But that was not why he did that. This was his form, a constant repetition of a very banal phrase makes the banality of a phrase modern and sometimes even frightening, it makes it alien. Something which you are used to becomes strange and that’s something which happens in Can music very often. It was a very contemporary way of creating art.’
I suggest that they must have felt a great loss when Malcolm left.
‘Yes,’ agrees Schmidt, hesitatingly. ‘But you know we were not really dependent on having a singer with us, it was just lucky and very beautiful to have found Malcolm and because he was a wonderful person, he brought a real spirit into it, so when he left it was sad, but it was sad as a friend going away. From the musical aspect we felt just as able to go on making valuable music. We made for instance this wonderful Graublau after he left and before Damo came.’
Indeed, the 16-minute Graublau is one of the standouts on The Lost Tapes, showcasing the Can band in full flight. Recorded for the film Ein Grosser Graublauer Vogel, which sounds like another must-see of transgressive psychedelic German cinema (‘an obscure story with hippies, love and gangsters, the villains survey everything on monitors, a film within a film, but the surveillance is unreliable…’ Irmin explains in the liner notes), it’s an epic of sheer forceful drive, explosive drumming, abrupt cuts and shortwave radio interference that at one point starts to resemble New Order losing their minds.
Can’s ability to lose it live is legendary. They were prone to what they called Godzilla moments; great confrontational blocks of noise. There’s Godzilla Fragment on The Lost Tapes; two minutes of sonic chaos. The first show with Damo Suzuki was, by all accounts, a Godzilla of quite some proportions. The band was without a singer, but one afternoon Jaki and Holger saw Damo Suzuki busking in the town centre. They invited him to perform with them that night at a gig they didn’t want to play, booked by management they no longer trusted.
Irmin: ‘We made an absolute horror show, one of our most aggressive strange shows we ever did. We were so angry with the circumstances of management and the gig and everything, we made an incredibly strange show, and Damo fitted into it as if he had been with us for a long time. He was just screaming really frighteningly and I had put big brick on the keyboard, turned it to the utmost loudness and then sat down and was eating cake with Holger.’ The performance whittled down an audience of thousands to about 30. One startled audience member was, bizarrely, David Niven. However, the reaction was entirely different when Can arrived in the UK.
‘In the very first performances in Germany people were totally stunned, they didn’t know what to do with it because of course they were used to English groups that played in Germany, which by no means we tried to imitate. But the fact that we didn’t was a big success in England. The very first UK tour, in 1970, people went crazy about it, because they heard something totally surprising and new. The very first time we played Glasgow, people came onto the stage and they were out of their minds. They were so enthusiastic, somebody took me in his arms and told me how how much he liked it, and embraced me so hard that he broke a rib. I couldn’t be angry about it, but for the rest of the tour it was a little bit hard because it was hurting.’
In the end, which came in 1978 after the recording but before the release of their eleventh studio album Can, the intensity the was required of the musicians in order to create Can’s music couldn’t be maintained. Holger Czukay once said they had simply stopped listening to one another and indeed he was barely involved with making Can music from 1977. The band had transmuted into a different beast by the mid-70s, still improvisational but somehow less urgent.
‘The spirit and the working process changed,’ Schmidt says. ‘It needed such incredibly intense concentration that after 10 years it sort of loosened. Jaki compared it to a rubber band which gets floppy. The tension leaves and the concentration lapses and then you have to stop it. But still, the very last record we did when we regathered in the 80s [Rite Time, recorded in 1986 with Malcolm Mooney on vocals and released in 1989] worked really quite nicely.’
The revelation that The Lost Tapes was culled from a cache of 50 hours-worth begs the obvious question, are any more gems hidden away to be revealed in the future?
‘No!’ he asserts. ‘This extract is what we considered worthy of being released, and the rest goes. It will be totally forgotten, will be lost, definitely.’ He mentions that there is a large collection of live recordings which they might go through one day for potentially releasable material, but there is nothing planned yet.
It seems unlikely that those 50 hours of tapes will be truly lost and forgotten, One day they will be unearthed, in the same way that lost manuscripts of the great composers are discovered from time to time. Can’s historical significance is too great for their tapes to be left to rot. Scholars of the 22nd century will not thank us if that happens.
Can used two studios throughout their recording career. The first was little more than a room in Castle Norvenich kitted out with just a couple of two-track Revox tape machines. The space was donated by a wealthy patron of the arts of Irmin Schmidt’s acquaintance who used the castle for art exhibitions and happenings. Their next studio was built in a disused cinema in Weilerwist, a small hamlet outside Cologne. Called Inner Space, they recorded almost all their material there from 1972 on. It can now be found as kind of living museum piece at the Gronau Rock and Pop Museum in Germany. ‘Its nice,’ laughs Irmin Schmidt. ‘I don’t have big emotions about it. It was just a surprising idea of theirs. Since I didn’t want to live and to work in it any more anyway, why not? It’s a funny idea. In a way it’s honouring our history.’ According the the Rock and Pop Museum’s website, the facilities and atmosphere of the Can studio have survived virtually unchanged for nearly three decades: ‘It’s as if the band have just popped out for a cigarette,’ claims the marketing brochure. Museum spokesperson Inga Fransson tells us all about it.
How did the museum come to purchase Can’s studio?
One of the museum’s employees heard that the studio was for sale, this was in 2002. The project cost €270,000, which included the purchase and the rebuilding of the studio in Gronau. It was paid for grants from the federal government, the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen and the city of Gronau. It opened here in November 2007 with a ceremony that was attended by Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay and their old studio technician René Tinner.
How long did it take to dismantle and rebuild the studio?
It took four weeks to dismantle it in the old cinema in Weilerswist, because everything had to be packed. As well as the studio equipment, which included lots of vintage synthesisers, there was a Sarotti cinema ticket booth, several gold records, Can’s old PA system, a selection of Polaroid photos, a cable holder coat-rack and some garden furniture including a barbecue grill. It all went into storage for five years, and then it took another two weeks to rebuild it.
Was a great deal of restoration work needed on the studio equipment?
The biggest task was to restore the tape machine.
And now the studio is now available for bands to record in?
That’s right. We charge between €330 and €590 a day, depending on how long it’s booked for and the use of the studio instruments and the engineer.
Do you see a significant amount of visitors to the museum who have come expressly to see the studio?
The band Can was certainly not as popular in Germany as in other countries. However, there are die-hard fans of the band who come to the museum especially to see the studio.
Does the museum have any other pieces from musicians/producers of the same era, like Conny Plank, or Faust, Neu! or Kraftwerk? Popol Vuh, even?
We’ve got a part of the Conny Plank Studio in our archives, for example a part of the kitchen out of this studio and a vocoder.
If you’re interested in recording at the Can studio, contact Andreas Grotenhoff at
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Free Boys Noize Bundle

This year, Boys Noize (Alex Ridha) celebrates the success of his non-conformist DIY collective, Boysnoize Records (BNR). Alex founded BNR in 2005 to retain full artistic freedom under Boys Noize and his different monikers, while releasing the music of like-minded and genre-transcending artists including Spank Rock, SCNTST, Djedjotronic, Strip Steve, Peaches, PILO and many more. The celebration kicks off with an exclusive free BitTorrent bundle featuring unreleased music, live mixes and other BNR content, followed by a series of BNR10YR parties in countries around the world.
The free BitTorrent bundle consists of over five hours of music, including two new tracks from Boys Noize (“Brain Frequent” and “Dawnload”), a live Boys Noize set from Tokyo, a live Dog Blood set from Monegros Festival, an unreleased Boys Noize remix of Jackson and his Computerband’s track, “Arp #1,” two unreleased SCNTST tracks (“Punk01” and “Beat03”), and a curated selection of 25 songs, the best of BNR classics. Visual assets include a Dog Blood drawing, a collage of BNR album artwork from the past 10 years, and the BNR10YR logo designed by BNR’s long-time designer, Paul Snowden.

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Rod McKuen RIP

We were saddened to hear that Rod McKuen died last week, aged 81. The Californian singer, songwriter and poet led a hugely fascinating life. Tip of the iceberg is that Sinatra, Cash and Streisand covered his songs and he was the man who translated Jacques Brel songs into English, most famously ‘Le Moribond’, which became a worldwide hit for Terry Jacks as ‘Seasons In The Sun’.
Anyhoo… When we spoke to A Man Called Adam’s Sally Rodgers a few months back, we discovered the sample from ‘Barefoot In The Head’ was actually Rod McKuen…
“The sample is from a series of albums he made called ‘The Sea’, ‘The Earth’ and ‘The Sky’ and he’s talking about beaches in California,” she said. “He has an incredibly mellifluous voice. I always like that bit where he talks about the Kildear birds marching down to the sea and back. We did this thing with the sequencer… it does a perfect little abstract rendition of what the lyric is saying, I like that bit.”
You can read the whole interview in issue 8 of Electronic Sound, below, for free.
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