Notes from genre author Stephen Palmer

Tag: Schulze

The Paths Of Artists

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.

RIP Klaus Schulze

I vividly remember buying my first Klaus Schulze LP. It was 1980 and I was a first year student at university, my mind opened at school a couple of years earlier to Tangerine Dream, Yes, Genesis and ELP. It was Tangerine Dream who drew me most though, and when I realised Schulze was making the same kind of music I sensed good omens. A friend of mine at uni who had attended the same 1980 Tangerine Dream gig in London that I was at spoke of music so repetitive and mesmeric you could see its patterns in the grooves. I was hooked! Already a fan of Steve Reich and Tangerine Dream, I knew Schulze had to be investigated.

One day in 1980 I walked down to my local record shop in Egham and spotted a blue LP called Dig It. I bought it, and was amazed at what I heard. This was music the like of which I had never heard before: ice cold, hypnotic, trailblazing. I loved it. Some weeks later I made one of my regular trips to Virgin Records in Oxford Street and there spotted an LP called Moondawn. This, even more than Dig It, was the album which told me Schulze was a rare genius indeed. To this day the track Floating in particular is a jaw-dropping listen, which has lost none of its power in the forty-six years since Schulze made it.

But an even more gobsmacking discovery lay in wait. One of the albums I bought next was Schulze’s magnum opus “X”, which surely must be in the running for greatest electronic music album ever made. And there was more! Between 1976 and 1982 Schulze released a series of albums each extraordinary in their scope, vision, musicality, originality and trailblazing qualities. It matches Tangerine Dream’s run of albums between those same years – music the like of which we’ll never hear again.

Those were ground-breaking days, when musicians of brilliance in the right place at the right time could make incredible music. Schulze was one of those. He followed his own unique vision, taking his fans with him wherever he went. Rightly is he called the Godfather of EM. Part of his brilliance came from his experience as a drummer, allowing him to bring the physicality of drumming into his music, a physicality which all his works of genius exhibit – even the relatively ambient Mirage, which at the end of side one freezes the listener’s body. Schulze said that he thought every electronic musician should drum for a while, that the strictures and compositional benefits be felt.

After 1982 and the extraordinary Audentity, there did not seem to be quite the same level of invention and progression in his music however. The music was good, often very good, but it lacked the magic touch. A brief resurgence at the end of 1980s suggested good things, but actually those two albums have not worn terribly well, and what followed through the 1990s – insipid collaborations and far too much sampling – turned me off his music. There was a return to form for Moonlake and in particular on the marvellous Kontinuum, but little else of note.

His death leaves electronic music mourning one of its true greats. Yes, he was the right man at the right time, and he was lucky, but there was nobody else like him, and they say the cream always rises to the top. Schulze was unique, remarkable, visionary, and the legacy of music he leaves, especially from that eight year run, will never be matched. I can listen to Trancefer today and still have my breath taken away by its sheer beauty. I still feel the hairs rise on the back of my neck when the opening notes of Friedrich Nietzsche hove into view, and I still adore the magic of his winter Mirage. That’s the mark of genius. It won’t be forgotten.

“X” – six musical biographies…