In 1978, Schroeder named his second son after Klaus Schulze and this event, which featured some self-composed music used at the christening placed him on the cosmic synth maestro’s radar, eventually resulting in him being signed to Schulze’s Innovative Communication label later that year.
What differentiated Schroeder from some of the artists of his era was his willingness to build custom-built electronic instruments including his own step sequencer and a less experimental more pastoral melodic approach with guitar textures as well as synthetic ones.
2021 sees the emergence of a new album ‘Pyroclast’ by Schroeder who has constantly released new works as well as revisiting some of his older pieces since his imperial phase. Album opener ‘Pressure’ is a hypnotic piece with analogue drum machine and guitar loops modulating up and down in key through its ten minute length; reversed guitar textures and a 4/4 kick are interspersed with Mellotron choirs and sporadic bursts of live percussion throughout.
‘Plasma’ starts off as a far more ambient proposition, almost like THE ORB with snippets of distant voices and phased strings; at the five minute mark analogue-generated kick, snares and open hats fade in with added Mellotron choir textures.
‘Tephra’ is a delicate piano piece with a time-stretched child’s voice and subtle underpinning strings. Shorter in conception than most of the tracks on ‘Pyroclast’, it features more classic era pad sounds but suffers due to the over repetitive piano figure which is repeated all the way through.
‘Eruption’ is more string-based in nature with pulsing cello and skittering acoustic tambourine loops; the track is pleasant enough and functions well as switch-off chill-out fare. ‘Fertile Soil’ with its monk choral samples recalls a more ambient-sounding ENIGMA; a Minimoog-style solo, live-sounding drums and triplet delayed percussion sample provide an intriguing mix of textures throughout.
‘Exothermic Energy’ is less ambient then the preceding tracks on ‘Pyroclast’ and this upping of pace is welcome. The first five minutes are centred around a two chord sequencer part and laid-back 4/4 drum part with interspersed drum flourishes, whilst the conclusion of the track takes it into ‘Oxygène’ territory with lush pads and echoed synth parts. Closer ‘Pyroclastic Flows’ is arguably one of the strongest pieces on ‘Pyroclast’, again very hypnotic with vocal samples, guitar soloing and a Mellotron choir outro which ends the album in the mood that fits in with much of the ambient aesthetic of the album.
A pyroclast and a tephra are elements of volcanic material which are spewed out by volcanic activity and those approaching this album expecting a similarly ‘wild’ and untamed musical direction will find something which is almost the polar opposite.
If ‘Pyroclast’ has its place, then it is definitely as music for zoning out to and aiding relaxation; fans of THE ORB and the ambient genre will certainly enjoy much of the works here; but those seeking tracks which function as stand-alone listening will probably struggle with the ‘background’ nature of the album.
‘Pyroclast’ suits its demographic perfectly and from that perspective is a success, but just lacks that ‘X Factor’ which would convince new listeners to delve into repeated listening.
Harald Grosskopf is the German drummer who entered the world of electronic music while still maintaining his percussive role behind the kit.
Grosskopf made his name in the rock band WALLENSTEIN, but legend has it that a hallucinogenic adventure led to a voice telling him to stop trying to sound like Billy Cobham or Ginger Baker, as he realised he had been imitating other musicians.
With his mind free from having to drum within a set role, he realised rock music was not the best medium for this mode of artistic expression. Two musicians who were members of the Berliner kosmische combo ASH RA TEMPEL Klaus Schulze and Manuel Göttsching were to become key in paving Harald Grosskopf’s path into the world of electronic music.
Schulze was a fellow drummer who had served an apprenticeship with TANGERINE DREAM and went on to wholly embrace the meditative synthesizer aesthetic; he invited Grosskopf to play drums on his 1976 masterpiece ‘Moondawn’.
Meanwhile Manuel Göttsching had developed a more transient guitar style to compliment his more electronically-based instrumental backdrop as showcased on the classic long player ‘New Age Of Earth’ as ASHRA. Looking to expand his vehicle to a more-band oriented format, the guitarist asked to Grosskopf to join him for the recording of what became 1979’s ‘Correlations’.
Harald Grosskopf took the plunge to go solo with the mind bending album ‘Synthesist’ which was released on the iconic Sky Records in 1980.
A work comprising of eight instrumentals that blended a sonic tapestry of synthesizer soundscapes with drumming that provided colour as opposed to dominance, it musically followed in the exquisite tradition of his Berlin electronic friends.
More recently, Grosskopf has been recording and performing live, both solo and with Eberhard Kranemann with whom he released the experimental cosmic rock album ‘Krautwerk’ in 2017.
For the 40th anniversary of ‘Synthesist’, Bureau B are reissuing the album as a deluxe edition with new remixes provided by the likes of Steve Baltes, Thorsten Quaeschning, Paul Frick and Stefan Lewin among others. From his home in Berlin, Harald Grosskopf kindly spoke about how his career was liberated by electronics.
You started as a drummer, so what got you interested in synthesizers and electronics?
That‘s a long story until I got there. When my friend and colleague Udo Hanten (of YOU who unfortunately died two years ago) asked me in August ’79 “Why don`t you produce solo albums?“… I was astonished and my first thought was “Who will be interested in an album with a line-up of tracks with solo drumming?”
He of course meant working with synthesizers, which I did not have in mind at all. I told him “I‘m a drummer, I don‘t own synthesizers. All I have is a drum kit, an 8-Track reel-to-reel tape recorder and part of the fee from my work on Klaus Schulze‘ ‘Bodylove‘ album”.
So Udo invited me to come to his home, using his equipment. In exchange, he asked for my 8-Track to record his own album.
I must point out that ASHRA never met regularly, like a rock band to rehearse or produce. We never said “We are a band now forever!“. ASHRA always was based on spontaneity in all concerns. There were quite some breaks in between touring and studio sessions. So I had lots of time and my desire for making music was killing me during 1979.
After a few days thinking about Udo‘s proposal, I decided to do it. To tell the truth, I had no clue how to record nor how to operate synthesizers, even though I had worked with Klaus Schulze, one of the godfathers of electronic music. During studio sessions I never had to, nor did I care about studio techniques. The only thing I occasionally operated was a volume fader during mixing.
In that entire era, I felt I was a drummer, nothing else. Even after ‘Synthesist‘ was done and out. Putting it live on stage seemed technically impossible in 1980. So my first album was kinda born out of an emergency situation; no band activities and left behind with a huge unsatisfied desire to making music.
The beginnings of those recording sessions were technically pretty rough. I had to learn all about recording from scratch while I was recording. But conversely, operating synths was an easy challenge. At the end I wasn`t even sure, almost very insecure whether an audience would share the joy and trouble I went through in the process. And what I emotionally and music wise had put into it. But the naivety and emotional innocence behind that album might be the main reason why it seems to have touched people right up to today.
Working with Klaus Schulze on ‘Moondawn’ must have been interesting, given he started as a drummer. What was your brief from him for the recording?
No briefing at all! After my time in the rock band WALLENSTEIN, it was a very unfamiliar experience. WALLENSTEIN, typically German, was very (!) structured and disciplined. We used to work extremely hard on details. Program music at its best! It never reached the satisfaction and joy I felt working with Klaus and Manuel Göttsching. Klaus gave no advice at all. Never ever! He liked my drumming I guess and he trusted me more than I did doing the right thing.
Other than from Klaus and Manuel, I was not used getting positive feedback from any of my colleagues in those rock ’n‘ roll times. After ‘Moondawn’, I decided to leave WALLENSTEIN and rock music.
The first ‘Moondawn’ take ended abruptly after 5 minutes, I somehow didn‘t feel well. Klaus and I started talking about what happened. After only one sentence Klaus spontaneously said: “I see you know where we going, let‘s do again!”
The second take led to what is heard on the ‘Moondawn’ A-side under the title ‘Floating‘, one long 25 minutes lasting improvisation. No emotional break or technical mistakes. Joy in the clearest mind. After the last note faded, we met in the control room and hugged each other.
‘Correlations’ saw Manuel Göttsching expand ASHRA into a band format, how did you come to be involved?
We first met at Dierks Studios around 1971 and I visited him occasionally when WALLENSTEIN had a Berlin performance. There was ASH RA TEMPEL, TANGERINE DREAM, POPOHL VUH and some other important formations who were on the same record label (Ohr and Pilz) as well as WALLENSTEIN.
Compared to my experience in the German rock business, these Berliners had an extraordinary self-confidence, friendly and relaxed dudes.
My drumming style and emotional presence seemed to have impressed them. Klaus was the ASH RA TEMPEL drummer at the time, after he had left TANGERINE DREAM and he just had announced his split from ASH RA TEMPEL to start his solo career which didn‘t seem to shock anyone. So Manuel invited me to put my drums on ‘Starring Rosi‘. Rosi was his girlfriend and she´s been a New Yorker since 1982. I had a few gigs in New York and we met there after a 30 year break. When I left Klaus in 1975/76 to live in Berlin, my first activity was to visit Manuel. That was the beginning of my ASHRA involvement.
One thing that is quite interesting is that the tracks on ‘Correlations’ were generally shorter than other ASHRA works, had this been a conscientious decision?
We never talked about commercial intensions. Our main interest was having fun and producing something original. I liked the freedom of not thinking about whom we could reach or sell to what we had made. The combination of the three of us simply made it what it was. Everybody had ideas and had the chance to put them into the album. Manuel played a very melodic guitar. In those days. Maybe Carlos Santana was a bit of an influence on him. Lutz Ulbrich had another music background than electronics. He was and still is a brilliant rhythm guitarist and for a change, he liked playing with delays and was open to experiments, even though his main goal was traditional guitar music.
Lutz was in love with Nico of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND and they lived together in Paris, New York and Berlin. He was the only person among all her other famous friends (Bowie, Cale, Alain Delon) that brought her body to Berlin, after she had tragically passed away on Ibiza island, struck by an Aneurysm while riding on her bike. A doctor that was called just said: “I do not treat addicts!”…
The follow-up ‘Belle Alliance’ added vocals and was more aggressive, with your voice on ‘Kazoo’; how do you look back on the approach of that album now?
From my point of view for some reason the “good alliance“ wasn`t as powerful as on ‘Correlations‘. In retrospect, it lacked homogeneity in style. Maybe the reason behind that Virgin Records didn`t want to release ‘Belle Alliance‘ in the first place.
So the three of us went to south France to visit the MIDEM in Cannes, that huge music industry fair, to either sell it to another company or have a conversation again with Virgin Records. The Sony Walkman was just invented and everybody was able to listen to music wherever you were. The visit ended with a longer conversation with Richard Branson who owned the label at the time. Seemed we charmed him, resulting in the release. It‘s still a good album and I liked putting my intensions on ‘Kazoo‘.
As a drummer, how did you feel about the advent of programmable drum machines?
First, I was shocked that machines could replace and endanger my profession as drummer. I could not stand their artificial sounds either. Very unreal and artificial, especially the Roland TR808 that later became cult in techno and rap. More and more studio session drummers used Linn and Oberheim e-drums to stay in the business and make a living from fast productions, mostly pop productions. Linn and Oberheim used samples for their e-drums and those sounded quite real. It still took quite some time to programme a fill that a real drummer could do in a minute.
I never really got into programming drum machines until the first machines came up that could be played like an analog drum kit (Simmons and D-Drum). I could not afford a Simmons but bought three Simmons e-modules and built one myself by using old Bongo drums as trigger. You can hear them on ASHRA album ‘Tropical Heat‘. By discovering the fascination of techno music, I suddenly understood the magic machine drums can have like the Roland TR808. I bought a D-Drum but its dynamic and limitation on sound bored me after a while.
I started editing drums parallel to the invention of digital recording in the late 80s. The Atari 1040 was a first step in that direction. I was in my 40s when most people my generation could or would not cope with computers. A few years later, when digital recording of analog signals became a possibility, I felt a huge release. It freed me from dreaming about hiring expensive analog studios as the only possibility to get creative the way I wanted. I couldn´t have afforded such studios anyway. In the beginning, it was pretty complicated getting into controlling the recording software, but once I managed it, it was a revelation that continues today.
The artwork of ‘Synthesist’ sees you pictured with a Prophet 10, which were your favourite synths and keyboards to work with on this album?
The Prophet 10 was an investment of my manager (R.I.P. Peter) and was bought after ‘Synthesist’ was released. On ‘Synthesist’, you can hear a Korg PS3200 and a Minimoog. The Moog was triggered by an ARP 16-Step Sequencer or used for solo melodies. That was it!
The Moog permanently slipped out of tune and many times, it was more than a pain in the ass to get the bitch stabilized. I had to record the same sequences over and over again.
How did it come together in the studio?
All the basics were recorded during 6 weeks in August and September 1979 at Udo Hanten‘s home in Krefeld, an industrial town in Northern Westphalia, the River Rhine area. Additional tracks were laid at Panne Paulsen studio in Frankfurt, which I knew from the sessions with Klaus and ASHRA. It was perfect for recording my drums and the solo melodies. All on 16 tracks after the basic 8 tracks were transferred.
‘Transcendental Overdrive’ had some distinctive arpeggios but also those very frantic but understated drums?
I take that as a compliment. My intensions lay more on composition and creating magic sounds than drumming. I financially had a week to get it done. It took just 2 days to record all drum parts. There was not much time to think. It just happened.
How do you now look back on ‘Synthesist’ as a whole?
As I mentioned, I was very insecure about what I had done. A negative highlight was a visit to Edgar Froese‘s home where my manager and I asked Edgar to listened to ‘Synthesist‘ before it was released. Edgar listened patiently but did not say a word afterwards. Either he was stunningly shocked or could not stand it. I never found out and the situation led to a bunch of negative speculations.
Back home, I was devastated. The sales after 5 or 6 months also were not super, just around 10,000 vinyl copies. Today that would almost be a hit, but in 1980, it was a massive flop. I did not listen to the album for a very long time until I had several offers from different labels. Young people seemed to have discovered ‘Synthesist‘. DJs all over the world put it on and since I re-released it, they still do. I needed the distance in time to finally to understand and enjoy what I had done.
There is a 40th Anniversary double vinyl and CD package being released by Bureau B featuring remixes, so is remix culture something you embrace and what do you think of the end result here?
40 years flew by! Unbelievable! The remixes on that double album are great. I was surprised about the spontaneous involvement of young musicians. ‘Synthesist‘ had an influence on them and their own music.
I met Steve Baltes in 1994. He was 27 years old, a techno DJ, producer and fan of electronic music, whom I had invited to join in with ASHRA for our first Japan tour in 1997. He made a brilliant remix of ‘Earth’.
Thorsten Quaeschning who toured with Edgar Froese and TANGERINE DREAM for 15 years and is now head of the actual TD line-up did a fantastic remix of ‘So Weit, So Gut‘. Paul Frick remade ‘Synthesist‘, he is member of the well-known trio BRANDT BRAUER FRICK from Berlin which I am a great fan of.
Some famous old Krautrock colleagues who are also on Bureau B. label did a great job too. To mention here: PYROLATOR and KREIDLER. Stefan Lewin, an old friend, musician and quality analog synthesizer producer (ACL) worked on the ‘Synthesist‘ title track. Beside these, a few very young label musicians like TELLAVISION, LOVE SONGS and CAMERA also brought some interesting fresh air on their remix versions.
Your second solo album ‘Oceanheart’ didn’t appear until 1986, were there any reasons for this? How does this album stand up for you compared with ‘Synthesist’?
There was no pressure to put out one album after the other. Like others, I did not want to repeat myself over and over. I also had no equipment to experiment the way I needed. Remember it was the pre-computer time. In the meantime, I had a trio named LILLI BERLIN; I owned a Tascam 8-track reel to reel tape recorder and Manfred Opitz, the keyboarder had a Minimoog and a Roland JX-3P. I used those to lay basics. Drums and other sources were added at Christoph Franke‘s studio. The final mix and master was done there too. I think ‘Synthesist‘ has this first time innocence.
In 1997, you reunited with ASHRA to do some concerts in Japan. The live recordings became the ‘@shra’ album, ‘Twelve Samples’ was a particularly glorious track, how much of the performance was pre-prepared and was there much flexibility for improvisation?
We usually met a week before touring or for studio sessions to prepare some basics. In between, we played ‘Hype‘, a game that was based on the development of rock bands.
From putting a line up together, to low level touring and album recording. The player who first had a hit album won. The game was created by Virgin Records. Manuel and Lutz rehearsed some basic harmonies and melodies, mostly without even being amplified in Manuel’s flat (Studio Roma).
I had a pair of drumsticks, listened and hit on my knees. As I mentioned before had we long breaks in between such meetings. Sometimes for years. So I never knew what will happen next with ASHRA. But I was positively surprised to receive Manuel`s phone call, asking me to join in performing in Japan. A little tour including 4 gigs. Wow! Japan! Great! My second reaction was of technical concerns, which I did not speak out about.
You must know, touring in the 70s was technically quite basic. On stage, it could take Manuel more than 5 minutes in between the titles to tune his sequencer for the next piece, while I was getting nervous just sitting waiting and staring into the audience. That was the reason I wanted Steve Baltes to join in. I knew he was able to recreate all the basic ASHRA sequences and original keyboard sounds we needed with his skills about sampling and sound design.
After I had introduced Manuel and Steve, Manuel liked him from the first minute, so Steve started producing all the required bass and sequencer loops that enabled us to improvise on stage as we always did in the past, with the difference that Manuel was released from that tuning burden. Steve did a brilliant job. We even sounded much better than ever before. The Japanese audience really liked it. We performed twice in Tokyo and twice in Osaka.
You teamed up with Eberhard Kranemann for the 2017 album ‘Krautwerk’, how would you describe your dynamic with regards creating and performing ?
I met Eberhard Kranemann for the first time in 2016 on a local festival at a castle. We performed on different locations. I did not know him, not even that he was an original KRAFTWERK member.
I was very curious about what he did on stage and as we performed at different times, I was able to sneak into his gig. After one minute, I left the performance! Pure loud guitar noise and mumblings with his voice! I could not stand it!
Two weeks later he phoned me, obviously very excited by my performance. He asked me what I thought of a collaboration. Wow! My enthusiasm was not very high but I thought what the f*ck, let‘s try, if turns out bad, I can leave.
Eberhard recorded our session we made in his home, located around the corner where I live with my family. The session output was mainly poor, but in between had some great original parts. I took the session back home, dragged it into my Ableton recording software, extracted those parts I liked and produced loops. In a next step, I took it back to Eberhard where we added some material here and there. He really liked the way I had edited the material.
The result was the ‘Krautwerk‘ album released on Bureau B. We did live performances in England, Sweden and on a festival in China. A second album is ready to be released, but Eberhard preferred to concentrate on his solo work again. Meanwhile Ralf Hütter of KRAFTWERK ordered his lawyers to threaten me in case I would not withdraw my ‘Krautwerk‘ name ownership.
You have new works ready for release, how would you describe them? What musical direction are you heading in?
I work intensely on new material and will soon release an album in co-operation with my old friend and colleague on guitar Axel Heilhecker. Sequencer, guitar loops, melodies. Very atmospheric! The album will be named ‘Are You Psyched?‘. Parallel to that, I work on new solo material which I hope to release next year.
No rush as always. I do not think in terms how to style my music. It`s always spontaneous and unpredictable decisions. The main intention is that I must like it. Even that can change after a few hours, days or weeks and it is always possible to push a piece in another direction.
It’s very hard for me to finally decide when something is finished. I do not listen much to music from others. Mainly only when someone says to me “You got to listen to that!“ That does not mean I´m ignorant but I love most to work on my own stuff.
What are your own favourite tracks and memories from your career?
Definitely ‘Moondawn‘. All the tracks I ever recorded are like own children. You love them all but they are different!
When you entered this world of synthesizers back in the day, did you think that you and your contemporaries would have such a big impact in the popular culture of today?
Not at all. Compared to fast and massive internet activity today, we had very little feedback in those days. National and international. Just a few music magazines existed. And they mostly wrote about pop music or the stars. The only measure we had were sales or live performances. But other than KRAFTWERK, we had no hits.
Andy McCluskey from OMD two years ago shook my hands and said “Did you know how much your music changed my life!?“. I had no idea about that influence when I was sitting in my small Berlin flat trying to figure out how to finance the next week. Since I connected to the internet around twenty years ago, I receive wonderful daily feedback from all over the world. It is a great pleasure to specially get it from a younger generation.
Last year, I had my first DJ appearance in a well-known techno club in Berlin. Right now, all live performances are cancelled or postponed. But isolation is not unusual for me and most artists. That‘s the space where we enable output. I still miss to be on stage. Hopefully it will be soon possible again.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Harald Grosskopf
Additional thanks to Mark Reeder
‘Synthesist’ is reissued as a 40th Anniversary deluxe edition double CD and transparent sun yellow double vinyl LP by Bureau B on 5th June 2020
Ambient electronic music is a much misunderstood genre.
One is not talking about JEAN-MICHEL JARRE or VANGELIS who are far too comparatively lively to be truly considered ambient. And it is not ‘chill out’ that’s being talked about either, which seems to lump in any form of dance music that is under 112 beats per minute.
Modern ambient probably came to prominence with BRIAN ENO. While lying in a hospital room after a car accident in 1975, a friend visited him and put on a LP of harp music. However the volume had been set at an extremely low level and one of the stereo channels had failed. Unable to move to adjust this, Eno had a new way of listening to music forced onto him.
In recalling this story for the sleeve notes of his ‘Discreet Music’ album, Eno said the music now became “part of the ambience of the environment just as the colour of the light and the sound of rain were parts of the ambience.”
Eno may not have been the inventor of ambient, but he was almost certainly was its midwife. With its lengthy gradual processes and unpredictable changes, ambient can be listened to and yet ignored. Going against the Western tradition of music where vocals, melody and rhythm are essential components, ambient music is designed to accommodate many levels of listening without enforcing one in particular.
One of the other beauties of ambient music is that the pieces are often so progressive that it becomes quite difficult to remember individual sections.
Therefore on repeated plays, the music can still sound fresh and rewarding. It was an approach that fascinated many and while they may not have released whole works, artists such as DAVID BOWIE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, BLANCMANGE and RADIOHEAD recorded ambient pieces for album tracks or B-sides.
Comments about ambient music being “boring” are missing the point, because at points of the day where the state of near sleep looms, music with no vocals, no rhythms and not too much energetic melody is perfect.
Restricted to one album per moniker or collaborative partnership, here are the twenty long players presented in chronological and then alphabetical order which form The Electronic Legacy of Ambient. Acting as a straightforward introduction to the genre, it refers to many artists whose comparatively mainstream works may already be familiar.
KLAUS SCHULZE Timewind (1974)
A one-time member of TANGERINE DREAM and ASH RA TEMPLE, ‘Timewind’ was Schulze’s first solo album to use a sequencer, evolving as a longer variation on his former band’s ‘Phaedra’. Referencing 19th century composer Richard Wagner, Schulze transposed and manipulated the sequences in real time, providing shimmering and kaleidoscopic washes of electronic sound using equipment such as the EMS Synthi A, ARP 2600, ARP Odyssey, Elka string machine and Farfisa organ.
‘Phaedra’ was the breakthrough record for TANGERINE DREAM which saw them using sequencers for the first time. Featuring the classic line-up of Edgar Froese, Peter Baumann and Chris Franke, the hypnotic noodles of EMS VCS3s and Moogs dominated proceedings while Mellotrons sounding like orchestras trapped inside a transistor radio. Organic lines and flute added to trancey impressionism to produce a fine meditative electronic soundtrack.
The late Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius were CLUSTER. Having released their first long player together in 1969, 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 longer player’s remaining aural delights.
ASH RA TEMPLE’s Manuel Göttsching was looking to visit synthesized climes and explored more progressive voxless territory armed with an Eko Rhythm Computer, ARP Odyssey and what was to become his signature keyboard sound, a Farfisa Synthorchestra. An exponent of the more transient solo guitar style of PINK FLOYD’s David Gilmour, this template was particularly evident on New Age Of Earth’, a beautiful treasure trove of an album.
One-time member of GONG, solo artist and an in-house producer at Virgin Records, Steve Hillage had a love of German experimental music and ventured into ambient with long standing partner Miquette Giraudy. Recorded for the Rainbow Dome at the Festival for Mind-Body-Spirit at Olympia, these two lengthy Moog and ARP assisted tracks each had a beautifully spacey quality to induce total relaxation with a colourful sound spectrum.
HAROLD BUDD & BRIAN ENO The Plateaux Of Mirror (1980)
Mostly piano-oriented, its backdrop of shimmering synthesizer and tape loops of voices was conceived in a sound-world that Eno had created via his various instrument treatments. With Budd improvising live, Eno would occasionally add something but his producer tact was to step back if nothing extra was needed. ‘The Plateaux Of Mirror’ was a lovely work with resonating ivories of the acoustic and electric variety. A second collaboration came with ‘The Pearl’ in 1984.
BRIAN ENO Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983)
Recorded as a soundtrack to a documentary film about the Apollo Missions to the moon, one of the inspirations was to react against the uptempo, manner of space travel presented by most TV programmes and news reels of the day with its fast cuts and speeded up images. Eno wanted to convey the feelings of space travel and weightlessness. Although based around Eno’s Yamaha DX7, the album was quite varied instrumentally, featuring his brother Roger and Daniel Lanois.
The debut album from the younger Eno, ‘Voices’ captured a sustained mood of dreamy soundscapes and aural clusters with its beautiful piano template strongly reminiscent of Harold Budd’s work with brother Brian, who was also involved on this record via various electronic treatments although it was actually Daniel Lanois who produced.
By 1986, the former JAPAN front man wanted to get away from singing as reflected by the ‘Gone To Earth’ bonus album of instrumentals. Sylvian found a willing conspirator in CAN’s Holger Czukay who had developed several unconventional compositional techniques using devices such as short wave radios and Dictaphones. Through a series of improvisations, the duo came up with two companion long players that conveyed a sinister yet tranquil quality drifting along in complex spirals.
Unlike the comparatively optimistic air of his work with Eno, Harold Budd’s solo journeys often conveyed a more melancholic density, probably best represented by the haunting immersive atmospheres of ‘The White Arcades’. An elegiac combination of shimmering synthesizers and sporadic piano provided an austere depth that was both ghostly and otherworldly, it was partly inspired by his admiration of COCTEAU TWINS whom he collaborated with on the 1986 4AD album ‘The Moon & The Melodies’.
STEVE JANSEN & RICHARD BARBIERI Other Worlds In A Small Room (1996)
With ‘Other Worlds In A Small Room’, Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri created an atmospheric collection of electronic instrumentals that they considered “Ambient in the traditional sense”. Alongside the three new pieces, there was an appendix of four suitably complimentary tracks from their 1984 album ‘Worlds In A Small Room’ had originally been commissioned by JVC to accompany a documentary about the Space Shuttle Challenger and its various missions.
VINCENT CLARKE & MARTYN WARE Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle (2000)
‘Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle’ was composed by Vince Clarke and Martyn Ware as part of an Illustrious art installation at The Roundhouse in a circular, white clothed room where the colours referred to in the titles of the six lengthy pieces were “programmed to cross fade imperceptibly to create an infinite variation of hue”. Using binaural 3D mixing techniques, the sleeve notes recommended it was best heard using headphones while stating “This album is intended to promote profound relaxation”.
Trance enthusiasts who loved Ferry Corsten’s blinding remix of Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio For Strings’ will have been shocked if they had bought its virtually beatless parent long player. Orbit’s concept of adapting classical works was that he wanted to make a chill-out album that had some good tunes. In that respect, a collection featuring lovely electronic versions of Beethoven’s ‘Triple Concerto’ and John Cage’s ‘In A Landscape’ could not really miss.
Alva Noto is a German experimental artist based in Berlin and ‘Vrioon’ was his first collaborative adventure with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA trailblazer Ryuichi Sakamoto. A beautiful union of piano, synth shimmers and subtle glitch electronics proved to be an unexpectedly soothing and meditative experience that was gloriously minimal over six starkly constructed mood pieces.
Originally released as part of the 2CD version of ‘Hotel’ in 2005, Moby couldn’t find his copy and decided on an expanded re-release. Inspired by the nature of hotels, where humans spend often significant portions of their lives but have all traces of their tenancy removed for the next guests, the ambient companion progressively got quieter and quieter. The emotive ‘Homeward Angel’ and the solemn presence of ‘The Come Down’ were worth the purchase price alone.
ROBIN GUTHRIE & HAROLD BUDD After the Night Falls / Before The Day Breaks (2007)
Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd first collaborated on ‘The Moon & The Melodies’ album along with the other COCTEAU TWINS. ‘After the Night Falls’ and ‘Before the Day Breaks’ were beautiful experiments in duality but it would be unfair to separate these Siamese twins. Serene, relaxing, abstract and distant, Guthrie’s textural guitar and Budd’s signature piano were swathed in drifting synths and treatments that complimented each album’s self-explanatory titles.
JOHN FOXX & HAROLD BUDD Nighthawks / Translucence / Drift Music (2003 – 2011)
A sumptuous trilogy featuring two artists who had both worked with Brian Eno. ‘Nighthawks’ was John Foxx and Harold Budd’s most recent collaboration with the late minimalist composer Ruben Garcia and a soothing tranquil nocturnal work with tinkling ivories melting into the subtle layered soundscape with its Edward Hopper inspired title. Meanwhile, the earlier ‘Translucence’ from 2003 was a close relative and classic Budd, partnered with the more subdued overtures of ‘Drift Music’.
‘London Overgrown’ was John Foxx’s first wholly solo ambient release since the ‘Cathedral Oceans’ trilogy. With the visual narrative of a derelict London where vines and shrubbery are allowed to grow unhindered throughout the city, the conceptual opus was a glorious ethereal synthesizer soundtrack, smothered in a haze of aural sculptures and blurred soundscapes. With ‘The Beautiful Ghost’, as with William Orbit’s take on ‘Opus 132’ from ‘Pieces In A Modern Style’, this was Beethoven reimagined for the 23rd Century.
“I like the effects of calm and dissonance and subtle change” said Steve Jansen; not a remix album as such, the more ambient and orchestral elements of ‘Tender Extinction’ were segued and reinterpreted with new sections to create a suite of instrumentals presented as one beautiful hour long structured ambient record. A gentle blend of electronic and acoustic instrumentation including piano and woodwinds, ‘The Extinct Suite’ exuded a wonderful quality equal to Eno or Budd.
B-MOVIE guitarist and pop tunesmith Paul Statham began his experimental music account with ‘Ephemeral’ and ‘Installation Music 1’. ‘Asylum’ was a more ambitious proposition and featured in an audio visual installation created with painter Jonathan McCree in South London’s Asylum Chapel. The eight compositions together exuded a cinematic, ethereal quality with some darker auras and an eerie sound worthy of the ambient pioneers Statham was influenced by, especially on the gorgeous closer ‘Ascend’.
Last year’s ‘Close To The Noise Floor’ was a Cherry Red Records compilation which collected together many of the formative roots of UK electronic music, with recognised artists like THE HUMAN LEAGUE, BLANCMANGE, BEF, OMD and THROBBING GRISTLE side-by-side with those that didn’t get the same level of recognition and/or commercial success.
Now from the same label comes ‘Noise Reduction System’…
Subtitled ‘Formative European Electronica 1974-1984’, this 4CD set spreads a wider net and encompasses artists from countries which have an established heritage in electronic music (eg Germany and Belgium) through to those that don’t (eg Spain and Latvia).
DAF are represented here with their track ‘Ich Will’ which follows their usual template of bass sequencer driven music with live drums and guttural vocals.
The early YELLO song here ‘Glue Head’ is barely recognisable as the act that latterly went onto success with fully synthetic / sampled tracks such as ‘The Race’ and ‘Oh Yeah’. Full of dense live instrumentation including drums and guitars (and very little synth), it almost sounds like a completely different band.
One of the gems here is ‘Caramel’ by CLUSTER, a nifty monosynth and drum machine driven synthpop track from the 1974 album ‘Zuckerzeit’ which has an ending which sounds like a town hall meeting of The Clangers.
‘Krematorien’ by UNIVERSALANSCHLUSS has a rather wonderful minimalist early Mute Records aesthetic; pretty well mixed for its age and combining lo-fi drum machine, sequencer patterns and punky female vocals. The intro to the track also features a couple of Romanian flutes being bashed together to add to the rhythm of the piece, but mostly this is primitive electronics all the way.
The Swiss duo SCHALTKREIS WASSERMANN provide one of the better produced tracks here, utilising a Prophet 5, ARP 2600, Roland System 100M and an MC4 Sequencer, the track has a tightly programmed Giorgio Moroder feel to it.
Originally released in 1982, the track featured on the album ‘Psychotron’ which went Top 10 in the Melody Maker’s electronic chart.
Another worthy inclusion is ‘Multitrack Suggestion’ by VANGELIS, taken from the 1980 album ‘See You Later’, it sees a very different VANGELIS sound to the lush polysynth driven one we are familiar with. Almost KRAFTWERK-ish in conception with a Roland CR5000 drum machine, the overdubbing of live percussion sounds hints at the sound that was to come and features a vocal by Peter Marsh.
Unsurprisingly, much of the material here is pretty uncompromising, from the 21 minute plus ‘Geld’ by Berlin’s MALARIA, the 24 minute ‘Love You Generator’ by VAN KAYE & IGNIT and the 26 minute long ‘Zitternde Luft’ by GIANCARLO TONIUTTI; all of which vary very little over their running times.
On CD3, KLAUS SCHULZE’s ‘1984’ only just provides some light relief from a selection of tracks which mostly bear comparison with the darker experimental side of THROBBING GRISTLE.
‘1984’ is a beat-less pad-driven instrumental with Mellotron textures that recall some of the work of mid Virgin-era TANGERINE DREAM, Schulze’s former band.
On the final CD, ‘Principles’ by Belgium’s FRONT 242 recalls an early monosynth-driven DEPECHE MODE but with added speech samples and improvised electronics and ‘Shai Hulud’ by BERNARD SZAJNER adds some welcome melody with a trippy/sequenced instrumental piece.
‘Noise Reduction System’ is at times a daunting but ultimately fascinating curio which pulls together a quiet revolution which simultaneously took place across Europe at a time when electronic music equipment started to become affordable.
The artists featured here adopted the DIY ethos of punk but channelled it into a far more experimental direction. So for that reason, those seeking melodic synthpop should really look elsewhere.
However, for fans of uncompromising lo-fi electronic music, this compilation proves to be a treasure trove of hard to find and genuinely obscure tracks, which when researching certain pieces even Google failed to bring forth much in the way of information on some of the artists featured!
If you have an interest in the early roots of European electronic music, then ‘Noise Reduction System’ is worth seeking out. But for most synthpop fans, most of the material here will be a little too impenetrable…