‘The Secret Lives’ is a kosmische and electronic amalgam resulting from a couple of septuagenarians jamming with a love of jazz acting as their common base.
It is the long awaited creative union of Mani Neumeier and Zeus B Held, two veterans of German music who over the decades have each established notable careers in their chosen fields.
Neumeier has been the drum captain of GURU GURU for 50 years now with over 30 albums to his name including side-projects with notable contemporaries such as Conny Plank and Dieter Moebius plus he was the fourth member of HARMONIA on their second album ‘Deluxe’.
Held first made his name as the keyboard player of BIRTH CONTROL and before becoming an electronic pop trailblazer as part of GINA X PERFORMANCE with ‘No GDM’; In recognition of this, he is to be jointly awarded the Holger Czukay Prize with Gina Kikoine by the city of Cologne for their work together. He went on to become a renowned producer and remixer on hit singles by artists as varied as DEAD OR ALIVE, ALPHAVILLE, SPEAR OF DESTINY and TRANSVISION VAMP.
Zeus B Held and Mani Neumeier took time out to speak to The Electricity Club from Stuttgart about the making of ‘The Secret Lives’.
You both first met in 1973 when GURU GURU and BIRTH CONTROL were performing at a festival in Frankfurt; what were your first impressions of each other?
Zeus: I thought, now there’s a drummer with a jazzy spirit and a very funky sense of humour.
Mani: I’d like to play with this guy one day!
Why did it take so long for you to come together as an artistic collaboration? Did you stay in contact and follow each other’s careers or was that more far too difficult in those pre-internet days of carrier pigeon messaging?
Mani: I was totally involved with GURU GURU, so there was no time for other projects
Zeus: During my BIRTH CONTROL C times, I stayed a few times at the GURU GURU country quarters – but we’ve both been too busy to actually create something… and from 1981, I was out of the country. In summer 2018 when I visited Mani, Etsuko, his wife and took a photo of us in the garden. We both posted that on Facebook and it was our mutual friend Jürgen Engler from DIE KRUPPS who commented something along the lines “it’s about time you guys do an album”. In a way, we both thought, he’s right. So a year later we started at SynxxS Studio.
From your back catalogues, The Electricity Club loves ‘Speed Display’ from ‘Zero Set’ and ‘Misty Circles’ by DEAD OR ALIVE, what is your favourite work by the other?
Mani: I did enjoy listening to ‘Misty Circles’.
Zeus: Thanks for pointing out ‘Zero Set’, Chi, I just listened to ‘Speed Display’ for the first time and love it! I always enjoyed Mani doing ‘Der Elektrolurch’ with his various Guru incarnations. That song’s got a key element of the early 70s youth philosophy. And I really enjoy witnessing how Mani takes it further, showing that it sill fits into (t)his world.
The start of the process was quite technological at the SynxsS-Studio in Offenbach with its impressive collection of equipment. Please tell us about what is was like to use the Haken Continuum Fingerboard, various synthesizers and other equipment there to shape some of the tracks… which were the ones you enjoyed playing the most?
Zeus: I met Bernie aka Bernd-Michael Land when we played at the same concert bill at Bochum’s Planetarium when I was performing with DREAM CONTROL. We stayed in contact and I always wanted to check out his studio with the analogue gear. So to start the ball rolling on a creative exchange with Mani, I saw this constellation as a chance to do something new. Mani initially said to me ”it feels like ‘das Pferd von hinten aufzäumen’”, that’s to put the cart before the horse – and as it turned out, that this is exactly what made it a real inspired start. Especially Mani’s first time, meeting and playing with the Haken Continuum.
We did all the basic recordings in a couple of days. Obviously this meant that many things from a production, synchronisation and overdub point of view, were rough and ready. No major changes possible, no quantisation, no safety net. Just twisting and turning it like a loose imperfect recording of the underground 70s. I think this made the essence of the album and kept it fresh,
Mani: I LOVED TO PLAY THE CONTINUUM, IT WAS LIKE MADE FOR ME…
The album is an eclectic mix of live and sequenced elements, was that always the intention?
Zeus: I think the intention was, let’s have a mutual musical journey without too much rules and guidelines – and we knew from the beginning that we didn’t want to copy or repeat any former stuff of our work…
It is interesting that the acoustic drums were last to go on as overdubs, what were the challenges in capturing this process without being too dictated by the precision that may have already been laid down?
Mani: NO PROBLEM FOR ME! I already did this with Moebius and Conny Plank on ‘Zero Set’ in 1981. And many times after that!
Zeus: That’s the twist; some tracks became a handmade non-quantized sequenced basis that we had to put the additional overdubs to – and this imperfection gave way to a human charm – which one finds in many great recordings in Rock and Jazz from the 50s to the early 70s.
Opener ‘Fox Nr. 7’ features a poem about foxes…warum?
Zeus: Somehow the atmosphere of the track reminded us of a short film from Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Dreams’ called ‘The Wedding Of The Foxes’ – and once we took the picture into our heads, it felt like we were “automatic writers” of The Beat Generation…
Mani, did you ever want to be Jaki Liebezeit?
Mani: No, but we were good friends and respected each other. I rather would be Elvin Jones, haha 😆
And Zeus, to be Chick Corea?
Zeus: well, I actually saw ‘Return to Forever’ around 1979 in Cologne and met Chick shortly after, on a Midem party in Cannes where he was jamming with Flora Purim and Lionel Hampton – he’s a real virtuoso, right up there with Herbie Jarrett and Keith Emerson – those guys have taken off in a very unique way and of course it would be great to see how this feels like…
‘Volcano Dance’ sees you really get into your love of jazz, it just needs a Miles Davis trumpet?
Mani: Or a Coltrane saxophone.
Zeus: ‘In A Silent Way’ and ‘Bitches Brew’ were great signposts for the jazz rock fusion – and Miles put them there … – so a bit of Miles wouldn’t hurt…
There are some amazing electronic sounds and treatments on ‘Sex Mit Siri’, how did you achieve these?
Mani: I got these man and woman voices out of a Kaossilator!
Zeus: This is how we imagined Siri would be speaking or giving emotional motivated noises.
‘Back 2 Nature’ is a bit like CLUSTER, any thoughts?
Zeus: For us it was more like a very dreamy memory of those carefree and innocent days in the early 70s.
It seems like you had a lot of fun making this album, which are your own favourite tracks and why?
Zeus: I like all the tracks – and it really depends on my mood – at the moment I like the mysterious mood of ‘Threesome Railway’ best
Mani: I love the jazzy craziness of ‘Volcano Dance’!
Obviously the situation makes things difficult but would you like to take this album out to a live audience? Would you throw in some GURU GURU and BIRTH CONTROL material as a bonus?
Zeus: we are working on a live set – the audience, which shouldn’t necessarily consist of only GURU GURU or BIRTH CONTROL fans, should be prepared for some surprises!
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Mani Neumeier and Zeus B Held
Additional thanks to Jochen Oberlack at Bellerophon Records
‘The Secret Lives’ is the overdue union of two German cult legends, Mani Neumeier and Zeus B Held.
The pair met in 1973 at a festival in Frankfurt; Mani Neumeier was there as the drummer and leader of kosmische trailblazers GURU GURU while Zeus B Held was a newcomer joining progressive rockers BIRTH CONTROL on keyboards. They each went on to establish notable careers.
Zeus B Held moved on to becoming a solo artist and producer, with his breakthrough coming from working with GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 when the single ‘No GDM’ became an underground club favourite.
As a result, he worked with the likes of FASHION, DEAD OR ALIVE, DIE KRUPPS, ALPHAVILLE, SIMPLE MINDS and TRANSVISION VAMP as well as John Foxx and Gary Numan. Later, Held moved into jazz and World Music while more recently, he formed DREAM CONTROL with Steve Schroyder, a former member of TANGERINE DREAM.
Mani Neumeier has maintained a 50 year career in GURU GURU with over 30 albums while working on various side-projects with his notable German contemporaries. He was the drummer on the second HARMONIA album ‘Deluxe’ while his popularity in Japan, which led to working with acts like psychedelic rock ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE, saw a figure of him being made for a Tokyo waxwork museum.
Up there with CAN’s Jaki Liebezeit in technique, his drumming was so tight on ‘Speed Display’, a collaboration with Conny Plank and Dieter Moebius for the one-off long player ‘Zero Set’ in 1983, that observers cited the mad hyperactive collage of drums, bubbling electronics and treated robotic vocals as an example of proto-techno!
Spontaneous, colourful, lively and oddball, much of the recording of ‘The Secret Lives’ was done at the SynxsS-Studio in Offenbach with its distinguished proprietor Bernd-Michael Land contributing analogue sequencing from the vast array of modular equipment within his complex.
Tracks began with Neumeier tapping percussive moods on the Haken Continuum Fingerboard or using electronic drum pads while Held built chord structures and sequences before Neumeier overdubbed his acoustic drum kit at Freiburg KG Beat Studio. Opener ‘Fox Nr. 7’ is a good example of this approach with stark electronic keys offset by freeform percussion, punctuated with jabs of organ and a hallucinogenic monologue about foxes…
Meanwhile with a deep sequence of synth, ‘Drei Tage Funk’ sees Neumeier go on rhythmic bender augmented by Luigi Archetti on sustained guitar while Held does his Chick Corea impression. With chattering rimshot and syncopated keys, ‘Pfeif Drau’ takes an unusual cosmic ska influence…
There are more abstract adventures too with the collage of mind bending discordant noise forming ’The Secret Lives of Der Lurch’ being more sound sculpture than song, while ‘Ghost Ritual’ is a gong experiment. Then ‘Back 2 Nature’ recalls CLUSTER in its Morgenspaziergang ambience although the klanky guitar dressing adds some menace to the journey.
‘Volcano Dance’ uses an improvised jazz approach with all manner of instruments hovering simultaneously… all that’s missing is a Miles Davis trumpet. The self-explanatory ‘Sex Mit Siri’ though utilises passages of treated percussion with some amazing electronic sounds with one particularly whirring away via a Kaossilator like a dysfunctional Stylophone!
‘Threesome Railway’ is more spacey with drums used as much for colour as well as structure, but a vocoder is dug out for the moody PINK FLOYD inspired closer ‘Wish I Was There’ which also throws in some exotic tablas before some beautiful E-bow to end.
This is the sound of two veterans having rather a lot of fun. At times indulgent, occasionally quirky but with musicianship that cannot be faulted, ‘The Secret Lives’ won’t be for everyone.
But if you are into the idea of a couple of German septuagenarians jamming with a bit of wild jazz thrown into a kosmische and electronic amalgam, then this might just be for you.
It was at Conny’s Studio just outside of Cologne that a number of landmark recordings were completed, notably KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’ and ULTRAVOX’s ‘Vienna’.
The studio was the operational centre of engineer and producer Konrad Plank whose innovative portfolio covered a wide spectrum of music.
An advocate in the possibilities of electronics, he said: “I like synthesizers when they sound like synthesizers and not like instruments. Using a drum machine for electronic music is okay, but not if you try to make it sound like a real drummer”
CONNY PLANK’s work with pioneering German experimental acts such as KRAFTWERK, CLUSTER and NEU! had a strong influence on David Bowie and Brian Eno, and thus ultimately every act that emerged from Synth Britannia.
Using a customised mixing desk, Plank favoured a dynamic production ethos that went against the grain of the compressed rock recording of the times. His influence was quite evident when ULTRAVOX worked with George Martin on the ‘Quartet’ album in 1982; compared to their Plank produced Cologne Trilogy of ‘Systems Of Romance’, ‘Vienna’ and ‘Rage In Eden’, ‘Quartet’ sounded thin and lacked density. But as history has shown, a producer can only achieve so much when the artists themselves are not delivering and even Plank’s involvement in ULTRAVOX’s lamentable ‘U-Vox’ album could not save it.
Plank’s key to getting the best out of his work was to enjoy the company of the acts he worked with. This was a particularly important requisite when trapped inside a countryside complex away from the social distractions of a city.
When Plank was booked by Daniel Miller for a four day session to record DAF’s first full-length album ‘Die Kleinen Und Die Bösen’, only the final day involved any actual recording as he had spent the first three days getting to know them; the relationship with DAF continued for a further three albums. However, legend has it that after being introduced to U2 by Brian Eno with the view to producing ‘The Joshua Tree’, Plank turned down the job declaring: “I cannot work with this singer!”
As well as studio work, Plank was also an active musician. It was while touring South America with CLUSTER’s Dieter Moebius that Plank fell ill; he sadly passed away in December 1987 at the age of 46.
CONNY PLANK leaves an important musical legacy. The Electricity Club looks back at twenty of his works, with a restriction of one track per album project…
ASH RA TEMPEL Traummaschine (1971)
ASH RA TEMPEL were a highly important Kosmiche band; it was the platform from which future electronic exponents Manuel Göttsching and Klaus Schulze emerged; they later found acclaim with their respective progressive opuses ‘E2-E4’ and ‘Mirage’. Plank engineered their very different debut album, seeded from sessions of free-form improvising. With just one track per side of vinyl, the building eerie atmospheres of ‘Traummaschine’ contrasted with the noisier rock of ‘Amboss’.
Having engineered KRAFTWERK’s first two albums and the earlier ORGANISATION ‘Tone Float’ long player, Conny Plank helped Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider’s shift towards synthesizers on their third long player. A Minimoog and an EMS AKS appeared, but a Farfisa electric piano and a preset rhythm unit were the dominant textures of ‘Tanzmusik’. Things were becoming more structured and with the abstract use of vocals, ‘Ralf & Florian’ were heading closer to the sound that would change popular music.
Originally on the KRAFTWERK album ‘Ralf & Florian’ via Philips Records, currently unavailable
Plank acted as mediator between the NEU! nucleus of Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger who each had quite different personalities and aspirations. Over a classic Motorik beat, ‘Für Immer’ featured carefully layered mini-cacophonies of sound. Indeed, so much studio time was spent on the track, the duo ran out of budget. In a fit of madness or genius, Dinger came up with the idea to fill the second half of the album with speeded up and slowed down versions of their previously released single ‘Super’!
Available on the NEU! album ‘Neu! 2’ via Grönland Records
Under Plank’s stewardship, ‘Autobahn’ was KRAFTWERK’s breakthrough release as their transition into electronic pop. Ralf Hütter’s octave shifting Minimoog formed the rhythm backbone alongside a futuristic electronic snap, while Florian Schneider’s ARP Odyssey took the melodic lead over a 22 minute car journey. But with Hütter and Schneider growing increasingly confident, the parent album was to be their last recording with Plank. The rest is history…
Available on the KRAFTWERK album ‘Autobahn’ via EMI Music
Unable to recreate NEU! live as a duo, Rother headed to Forst to meet with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius of CLUSTER to discuss the possibility of collaborating to augment their sound. While their debut ‘Musik Von Harmonia’ was recorded as a trio, for the follow-up ‘Deluxe’, they added vocals, a drummer in Mani Neumeier of GURU GURU and Plank to assist with production. The wonderful synth work on the title track signalled a melodic sensibility that was equal to that of KRAFTWERK.
Available on the album ‘Deluxe’ via Grönland Records
Plank’s long association with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius began in 1969 when he engineered their debut album ‘Klopfzeichen’ as KLUSTER. Their fourth album ‘Sowiesoso’ was CLUSTER’s first fully realised exploration into ambient electronics. With gentle melodic phrasing and unimposing rhythmical patterns, the title track was a wonderfully hypnotic adventure that welcomed the listener into the soothing world of the long player’s remaining aural delights.
Available on the CLUSTER album ‘Sowiesoso’ via Bureau B
The third NEU! album saw a two styled approach with the second side featuring a frustrated Klaus Dinger looking to seek the limelight. He finally got what he wanted in LA DÜSSELDORF. With his brother Thomas and Hans Lampe as percussionists, he headed down a more aggressive direction on their debut self-titled LP produced by Plank. There was a lot of Düsseldorf as the frantic tracks ‘Düsseldorf ’and ‘La Düsseldorf’ proved, but ‘Time’ was the epic lengthy album closer that built to a brooding climax.
Rother’s first three solo albums ‘Flammende Herzen’, ‘Sterntaler’ and ‘Katzenmusik’, were produced by Plank and featured CAN’s Jaki Liebezeit on drums. “It would be unfair really to have a favourite album” said Rother when TEC asked if he had a preference, “Of course, I try to highlight Conny Plank’s contribution, he was so valuable… we wouldn’t have been able to record NEU! or the second HARMONIA album or my solo albums without Conny, so he’s all over the place in my music… thank you Conny”.
Originating from his sessions with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius in Forst for HARMONIA 76, Eno produced this beautiful piano and synth ballad at Conny’s Studio with Plank at the engineering controls for inclusion on his fourth pop solo album ‘Before & After Science’. The warmth extracted from the Yamaha CS80 used was one of the key stand-out elements of ‘By This River’, which was later covered by DEPECHE MODE’s Martin Gore for his ‘Counterfeit 2’ solo album.
With the success of their earlier ‘Eno & Cluster’ ambient opus, the artful threesome gathered together again, but added voices and more experimentation for its follow-up ‘After The Heat’. With Plank again behind the desk, the textures on the unorthodox ‘Broken Head’ recalled some of Eno’s work with Bowie on ‘Heroes’ in particular, while the deep monotone vocals were a offset by some oddly noted piano accompaniment and an unorthodox rhythmic template.
The first phase of ULTRAVOX! was dominated by the songwriting of John Foxx, but ‘Slow Motion’ was a group effort. Decamping to Conny’s Studio, the intro and theme were composed by bassist Chris Cross on his newly acquired EMS AKS. The quintet locked together as never before, with Billy Currie’s ARP Odyssey playing off Robin Simon’s treated guitars almost as one behind Warren Cann’s powerful, syncopating drums. Sadly, this breakthrough was not to last…
Dieter Moebius and Conny Plank released their first collaborative effort, the reggae influenced ‘Rastakraut Pasta’ in 1979. For the second album ‘Material’, a more rigid beat was applied, as well as driving synthesizer rhythms. ‘Tollkühn’ was a mightily pulsing electronic workout that more than suited the title’s English translation of ‘Daredevil’. Full of phasing effects with the odd cymbal interjection, it now stands out as ahead of its time in the context of 1981. Moebius sadly passed away in 2015.
Available on the MOEBIUS & PLANK album ‘Material’ via Bureau B
By 1981, Holger Czukay was at the zenith of his Dali-inspired surrealist sound painting, having released ‘Movies’ in 1979. Following their LES VAMPYRETTES collaboration in 1980, Plank contributed ‘Witches’ Multiplication Table’ to ‘On the Way To The Peak of Normal’, the second solo album by the CAN bassist. With Czukay providing an oddball monologue over a dub backbone, Plank added cemetry synthesizer violin alongside bursts of French horn; “Craziness is something holy” he later said.
PHEW! was formally a member of psychedelic rock combo AUNT SALLY and her first solo single ‘Shukyoku’ was produced Ryuichi Sakamoto in 1980. Produced by Plank, Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit, ‘Signal’ was the experimental Japanese singer’s take on Neue Deutsche Welle with distant echoes of Berlin noise merchants MALARIA! looming. Driven by hypnotic bass synths and punky guitar, it was unsurprisingly tense and darkly rhythmic.
Available on the PHEW! album ‘Phew!’ via Pass Records
With blue eyed soul hits like ‘Would I Lie To You?’, ‘Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves’ and ‘Thorn In My Side’, it’s unusual in hindsight to understand that Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were actually interested in rhythmic electronic music from Europe, hence their name. When the pair left THE TOURISTS, one of the first to lend support for their new aspirations was Conny Plank. ‘Never Gonna Cry Again’ with its doubled synth and flute solo was the first song released from their production partnership.
So happy was Plank with working with Warren Cann, Chris Cross and Billy Currie on ‘Systems On Romance’ that when Midge Ure joined following the departure of John Foxx, he offered to finance the recording of a new ULTRAVOX album. The reconfigured quartet signed to Chrysalis and delivered the hit album ‘Vienna’. Produced in Conny’s Studio for the follow-up ‘Rage In Eden’, ‘The Thin Wall’ densely merged synthesizers, guitar, piano, violin and Linn Drum for a formidable yet under rated hit single.
Gabi Delgado-López and Robert Görl had worked with Plank since 1979 and with his assistance, DAF had reduced to a minimal electro body core of Görl’s tight drumming and synth programming driven by a Korg SQ-10 analogue sequencer to accompany Delgado-López’s shouty, aggressive vocals. As with a previous Plank production ‘Der Mussolini’, DAF again courted controversy on ‘Kebab Träume’ with the provocative line “Deutschland! Deutschland! Alles ist vorbei!”
Available on the DAF album ‘Für Immer’ via Mute Records
Mani Neumeier was best known as the percussionist and singer of GURU GURU, the psychedelic jazz combo from Heidelberg who recorded three albums with Plank. Joining him and Moebius for a one-off long player ‘Zero Set’, Neumeier’s presence was felt heavily on ‘Speed Display’, a mad hyperactive collage of drums, bubbling electronics and treated robotic vocals that did exactly what it said on the tin! The drumming was so tight that some have highlighted it as an example of proto-techno!
Available on the MOEBIUS PLANK NEUMEIER album ‘Zero Set’ via Bureau B
‘Marcia Baïla’ was LES RITA MITSOUKO’s tribute to their late friend, Argentinian dancer Marcia Moretto. With Plank at the production helm, a squelchy backing track with enough space for Catherine Ringer’s strident theatrics was honed for a wonderful celebration of life. It was subsequently covered by Ricky Martin in 1998. LES RITA MITSOUKO went on to become very popular in France, collaborating with SPARKS in 1990. Fred Chichin, the other half of the duo, sadly passed away in 2007.
Available on the LES RITA MITSOUKO album ‘Rita Mitsouko’ via Sony Music
The Italian singer / songwriter unusually had something in common with NITZER EBB’s Douglas J McCarthy in that she too had a relative who was a F1 driver; in her case it was her brother, one-time Grand Prix winner Alessandro. Plank started working with Nannini in 1982 at a time when he was still regarded as a more artistically minded producer, rather than one who delivered pop hits. ‘Bello E Impossibile’ was a huge hit in her homeland, but also in Switzerland, Austria and West Germany.
Available on the GIANNA NANNINI album ‘Profumo’ via Dischi Ricordi