My Schulze Month

by stephenpalmersf

Following the sad news that Klaus Schulze had died, I decided that, since I hadn’t revisited his music for a few years, it was time to assess the great man’s work – and in chronological order of my CD collection. This numbers getting on for a couple of dozen disks, so I was looking forward to an enjoyable time.

I began with Irrlicht, which I played with some trepidation given that all I could remember of the album was its abstract, “primitive” sound. The first piece still does little for me, and is basically the sound of an inspired, resourceful man experimenting. The second piece however really grabbed me, with its wonderfully eerie atmosphere. Cyborg I still found to be remarkable, especially the rhythmic quality of the synths and the overall atmosphere of cybernetics. However I had forgotten how comparatively poor Picture Music is, with its simplistic, laboured style and poor soloing. Blackdance was better than I remembered, a cleverly composed set with much to recommend it. This album is perhaps the first indication of what Schulze would go on to do.

Timewind is generally thought to be one of his greatest achievements, and it is pretty good, but I suspect a lot of its legend rests upon how well it was received at the time. The sequenced side is okay, the other side pleasant enough, verging on interesting. But it is with Moondawn that Schulze’s works of brilliance begin – a leap from being good to stunning, and groundbreaking with it. Moondawn was the second Schulze LP that I bought as a university student, some time around 1981, and it blew my mind. It still does – an exceptional work.

I’m no great fan of the two Body Love soundtracks, which stand on interesting but well-trodden ground, so after them I played one of his all-time classics, Mirage. This really is a visionary album, its intense musicality matching its originality of concept; another stunner which stands up to its legend, 45 years after being released. Yet the album which followed, “X”, is in my view his masterpiece, an extraordinary melding of synths, orchestra, drumming and percussion, with the lead track still a breathless, head-spinning tour de force.

Dune followed. I can’t listen to the vocal side, but the cello side is really lovely. I used to have the 1980 live album on vinyl, but haven’t got it on CD, yet I remember well the terrific opening track, with its oscillating, fast-paced sequences.

1980 proved for Schulze to be something of a crossing into new territory – digital territory. Dig It was the first Schulze LP I bought, not long after it was released, and it stands up to scrutiny more than ever. The first side especially is another run through amazing sounds and textures, given their futuristic sheen by Schulze’s new digital mode. I still love this album, but I love Trancefer even more – another work of genius, I feel. The beauty of the compositions is matched by the playing and the gorgeous synths, especially the strings. This is in fact the Schulze album I’ve played most often; I never get tired of it. Afterwards, I played his last truly great work, Audentity, which still sounds fantastic; all four wonderful sides of it.

1983 for me began a Schulze decline. Angst is not bad, but replaying it now, it does sound somewhat empty, even for film music. I like Inter*Face a lot however. This is a really good album, with much to enjoy, especially on the first side.

Next up in my collection is En=Trance. I don’t think this has aged well, though the first track is a bit of an earworm, for which respect is due! The rest of it however is forgettable. Miditerranean Pads though is better than I remembered, its sound world uniquely Schulze.

Back in the 1990s I did have other Schulze LPs and CDs, but not any more. Beyond Recall in particular was a message to me that Schulze had gone somewhere I didn’t want to follow. I really disliked that album, which to my ears sounded trite and lazy. Nor did I bother with any of the collaborations, what I heard of them lacking originality and style.

So the next CD in my collection is Moonlake from 2005. This was a superb return to form, which playing for the first time in years I much enjoyed. I think though that Kontinuum is his late period highlight, all three tracks beautifully composed, played and arranged. This is an album I could play a lot, like Trancefer. I have to say though that Shadowlands is very much a work of two halves, the sprawling first track dull and pointless after ten minutes, the latter two tracks, especially the third, beautifully composed.

I have heard excerpts from Deus Arrakis, and they sound pretty good, so I will be buying the album. This trip down Schulze memory lane has really made me think about the great man’s approach to music. I think several factors made him brilliant and unique, the first being that he was a drummer; he once said all electronic musicians should spend some time with drums and percussion. But he undoubtedly had that special, unique quality which often can’t be analysed in the truly great musicians – his style, his ability to blaze trails with the rapidly evolving world of synths, his commitment to progression and exploration. He was a vital part of my youth and my own musical development, and he will be much missed… but what a legacy!