Yesterday’s news of the death of Klaus Schulze has made me think on why he was so different to his peers. Really, only Edgar Froese equalled him for trailblazing imagination. That series of albums from 1976 to 1982 is matched only by the equivalent series by Tangerine Dream.
I think the reason those two stand out and have remained beloved and inspirational is their ability to explore. Both were lucky: in the right place at the right time. But luck isn’t everything; you have to have protean talent also. Yet there is a third ingredient necessary to understand the importance of Schulze to the world of music. He was exploring music through the ’70s and early ’80s, delighting in it, fearless and fascinated, and as a consequence creating an extraordinary catalogue of recordings. When listening to Moondawn, Mirage, “X,” Dune, Dig It, Trancefer and Audentity we are hearing a man forging a path through unknown territory, delighting in his own creativity and delighting us too.
Part of the reason those albums are so remarkable is that they weren’t easy to make. Froese and Schulze had to struggle to do what they did. They fought their way through that unknown territory, they demanded the energy and vision of themselves, and as a consequence they created music which still resonates today, fifty years later.
I recognise true artists by this ability to explore and progress. You see it in Schulze and Froese, but also in Kate Bush, David Bowie and Bjork. These are creative people who cannot sit on their laurels, who have to be progressing into new territory. It is a mark of greatness. In literature, I see it in Gene Wolfe and Kim Stanley Robinson, both of whom cut a broad swathe through the norms of their time. In art, I see it in Ernst, Picasso and Turner.
True artists don’t need a pre-existing path; they make their own. They are artistic explorers, pioneers, blazing trails and breaking new ground. Schulze was the perfect example of this: compelled to explore, always wanting to move on, taking his fans with him. It did not last forever, of course, for by the mid-1980s he had lost a lot of his strength and nerve. I think the advent of digital synthesisers made everything a bit too easy; certainly that was true for Tangerine Dream. But a work of musical brilliance like “X” remains brilliant for all time. Once set, it endures, because it says something of universal relevance and importance.
Never stand still. Always seek new ground. Make music for your listeners, not for your fans. Write novels for your readers, not for your fans. True artists only move forwards. A true artist leads.