|Conrad's self-released 6 90 minute tapes|
put out in 1982
|An article on his collaborations is|
in the works.
The LPs of Schnitzler's that I love (9 of which are listed below) don't really delve into his forays into almost conventional NDW. I mean Neue Deutsche Welle (er..that's German Post-punk-new-wave-schtick) was hardly chart pop fare Scorpion's stylee but all the same NDW did become generic. This usually happens when a bunch of loosely affiliated like minded arty individuals set themselves apart from the mainstream to try and create some kind of musical environment where strange and uncompromising music can develop and thrive. This usually in turn, if successful, creates a scene where the music if not particularly sonically similar often prides itself on its reluctance to be categorised. Once someone, usually a journalist (well in the old days anyway, now it could be anyone on social media etc.) identifies this loose bunch of outcasts doing something artistically different the Utopian dream starts to go pear shaped. These disparate artists all end up thrown into a category and become co-opted by corporations and major labels and cracks start to appear. Then as a flow on effect a second of wave of groups who are usually less innovative and less talented begin to homogenise the sound palettes used by the original milieu of artists. This then creates a dwindling affect where a conventional set of rules regarding sounds, production styles, art, fashion, performances etc. are set up. Subsequent waves of artists following in this wake then begin the 'revival spiral' of further diminishing returns.
Getting back to Conrad. It's pretty weird to hear him singing and perhaps not being as outre as usual. Disc 8 & 8.5 are the ones on Container I'm struggling with. It might very well be good, perhaps great, interesting and even innovative. I do also have the Auf Dem Schwarzal Kanal EP from 1980 but I'm not sure I'm ready for Schnitzler's forays into NDW after years of knowing him as my favorite German experimental sonic guru from the 20th century. It's a bit like if Elvis started doing avant-garde classical midway through his career perhaps. Lets forget about all that for now.
Lets backtrack a little now and discuss the great man. I think I first read about Schnitzler in the early 90s as he played on that rather crappy first Tangerine Dream LP. He was also a footnote in the history of the terrific duo Cluster. But this guy ain't no bloody footnote. He's a genuine innovator and one of the best sound artists period. Is this where I mention West Berlin's The Zodiak Free Arts Lab? This was a melting pot of musical activity where many future legends of Krautrock and experimental synth music congregated in the late 60s/early 70s. Schnitzler co-founded with Hans Roedelius and some other chap. Anyway I can't understand why a handful of Schniztlers's solo LPs didn't make it into Julian Cope's Krautrocksampler top 50. He could have got rid of a few records from the likes of Cosmic joke(ers) and Amon Duul II post Yeti don't you think? Next I encountered Schnitzler in that brilliant book from 1996 on German rock, experimental, electronic, Kosmische and progressive music titled The Crack In The Cosmic Egg written by Steven & Alan Freeman. I was into the usual suspects back then...er still am actually... such as Can, Neu, Harmonia, Faust, Cluster, Kraftwerk, Amon Duul II and more, but Conrad Schnitzler I noticed had the most absurdly lengthy discography in the entire book. The Freemans wrote good things about him as well so his name stuck in my brain. He was originally in Kluster with a K in the late 60s with future members of Cluster with a C not a K, Moebius and the aforementioned Roedelius. Cluster went on to critical and cult success while Conrad remained an outsider pretty much for the rest of his life. I did used to see the occasional Kluster cd around in Melbourne record shops in the 90s & 00s but never bothered to check them out. Now living in the desert city I wish I'd bought them. I'm finally getting around to them now though. I got into Cluster with a C in the 90s in a big way though (more on them another time perhaps).
The first record I found by Conrad Schnitzler solo though was Con released in 1978. This is an absolute fucking classic record, one of my favorites of all time and a great place to start if you're not ofee with Conrad. On Con he travels a great path with no cheese and nothing too similar to what other (un)popular electronic German acts were doing at the time. This is electronic art that's not too academic therefore quite listenable. The amount of space in the music on Con is incredible and by that I don't mean outer space. I mean room like in King Tubby's 70s dub reggae. This is a beautifully recorded all electronic album with great attention to detail. It was produced by Tangerine Dream's Peter Baumann. Some of the sounds here were so far ahead of their time that similar timbres were not heard until the mid 90s in dance music genres such as techno, jungle, doomcore, darkside and tech-step. Upon hearing Con Schnitzler rapidly became one of my favorite electronic artists of all time, up there with The Primitive Calculators, Suicide, Severed Heads, Ilitch, Cabaret Voltaire, John Foxx, Kraftwerk, Cluster and er....Depeche Mode.
The next one I came across was Rot which was released in 1972 and was his 2nd solo outing. Man this LP was good too. Rot was no Switched On Moog record, which were all the rage at the time. Rot is the antitheses to that sub-genre. This LP was full of thick synthesiser textures that wouldn't be out of place on like a PCP or Cold Rush release from the 90s. Germans know a thing or two about getting voluminous squalls of sound from their electronic machines. I wouldn't say this was particularly melodic, its more like a mental cacophony that's intensely visceral. Sometimes it ends up in a dark abyss but always remains riveting as the music continuously mutates into other spheres. Rot is a fine otherworldly noise that must have alienated most people that came across back in 1972. It would have been great fun to play this to a James Taylor or Jackson Brown fan back in the day wouldn't it? Actually it'd be good to do that today.
1981's Control was reissued in the mid 90s and contained the T5 tracks from the aforementioned Container as bonus tracks. This was the first time I was alerted to the legendary 6 tape pack The Container. Anyway Control was the first Conrad Schnitzler album from the 80s I'd heard. It starts off in kind of a nice melodic almost conventional musical manner but by track 5 we're into his idiosyncratic synthesiser darkness. Untitled 5 is one of his most incredible tracks, with its clusters of doomy modulations comparable to no one. Untitled 6 wouldn't be out of place on say a hauntological or strange ambient LP from the last 20 years or so. Untitled 7 & 8 contain soundtracky vibes but in a Schnitzler universe of course. The remaining tunes (yes tunes! previously I couldn't really have used that term) are wonderfully mysterious and surreptitious.
I think the next one I got into was Conal which I must have found on a sharity blog back in the day when they were still a big thing. This one was recorded in 78 but not issued till 1981. This is more classic electronic transmissions from the mind of a genius. On side one's track N1 Schnitzler creates great atmospheres and synth swirls that despite not really being tunes as such or conventional ambient electronics are a very enjoyable listen and almost relaxing. Conal's second side N2 is like a delirious yet subtle 70s urban update of Forbidden Planet's OST with the sounds of rocket exhaust vapour trails mixing with dipping electronic lines that become siren-like at times making it slightly ominous in places. It feels like there's trouble afoot in the nerve centre of a future metropolis. A gentle rhythm flows in and out of the sound of rocket ships and spacecraft coming and going. Then there's little electro motorik pulses, like the baby sized aliens have landed and are driving around in mini toy vehicles. But it's like you're looking down at this future precinct from the safety of a mountain range a long way away. So it never becomes too intense and is quite unreal and mirage like. Splendid stuff.
Blau was my next discovery and was originally released in 1973 or 74 depending on who you believe (Discogs or The Freemans) making it perhaps his 4th album. Side one's Die Rebellen haben sich in den Bergen versteckt is all gentle cyclic electronic rhythms that become incredibly hypnotic. This is way before hypnotic was commonplace in music and I suppose is now a cliche. I think there's even a guitar towards the end of side one. Blau isn't a hundred miles away from Cluster or Harmonia on a superficial level but Schnitzler has such an individual way with synths and home made electronics that this record could only have come from him. Side 2 Jupiter is more intense than side 1 but this is still the gentler side of experimental 70s German music and I think its time is still yet to come. Fucking amazing when you think about it, as it was recorded 40 years ago. While Neu and Can have a thousand and one imitators Schnitzler has such a specific sound he's not such an obvious influence. All I can say is try imitating him suckers and you'll come off worse for wear.
Gelb was formerly known as the Black Cassette and originally released privately in 1974. Then in the 80s it got renamed as Gelb? Conrad's convoluted catalogue can get irritating at times so lets just go with this one as Gelb that is sometimes subtitled 12 pieces From 1974. This 2006 Captain Trip reissue has three bonus tracks from god knows where? Anyway this was his first foray into shorter pieces instead of side long odysseys and it suits him immensely. On the LP we've got proto-industrial, embryonic techno, gloomcore sounds 20 years early, stuff David Lynch and John Carpenter would like, evocative atmospheres and even the occasional piece of enchanting melodic synth goodness similar to 90s idylltronica. Schnitzler's electronic music is really charming and enjoyable as opposed to difficult electronic academic music. The twats who made that music may have been innovative but they didn't seem to have a clue about the aesthetics of music and were more interested in doing it just to be pioneers. You didn't necessarily want to listen to their music more than once or, lets face it, even once, which kind of defeats the purpose of making music in the first place doesn't it? Conrad made groundbreaking music that wasn't tedious, which I suspect was a much harder thing to achieve than what his scholarly contemporaries were doing. Making such alluring music that was also trailblazing was a hell of a feat from Mr Schnitzler, not that it was particularly popular but hey that's like a marketing/business thing innit?
Silber contains previously unreleased material from Schnitzler's prime era of 1974/75 that didn't see light of day until 2009 and this Bureau B version came out in 2013 adding a further 3 tracks. I'm known for my dislike of bonus trax but these are great. Silber made my best reissues list of that year. We've got some primo pioneering proto-techno here and gear that would later be known as electronica. This was way ahead of its it time once again by like 20+ years. I mean this sounds like a record I would have bought in the mid 90s like Mouse On Mars, Lithops or something but way fucking better. He heads off into pitch black zones on some tracks, dark ambient eat your heart out. I'm sure on track 7 he even uses a guitar or a very good electronic facsimile. If you told me some of these tracks were Ekoplekz, The Mover or Coil without me knowing I'd believe you. Schnitzler remains relevant 20, 30 and 40 years later and still sounds futuristic. What a man!
Now Grun is a cracker. If Cluster or Harmonia ever made a record with modern beats this is what it would have been like, on this first side anyway (don't get me wrong Cluster & Harmonia are 2 of my all time favorite groups, fucking love them!). Again this was so far ahead of the game it was absurd. Grun was released originally in 1981 and contained material from 72-73 and once again got reissued by Captain Trip and later Bureau B in late 2014 thus missing my end of year reissue round up. Side 1's Der Riese Und Seine Frau is pretty much 32 minutes of amazing ambient techno that predates the likes of Basic Channel by many, many years. It's minimal, hypnotic, beautiful and some of the greatest art of the 20th century. Conrad Schnitzler makes every other cool German musician, sound artist and composer seem just not up to scratch. I've got Stockhausen records but they lay dormant and unplayed most of the time whereas I could put on a Conrad record at any time and in any kind of mood. In my mind he is the king, THE innovator. Side B starts with the first version of Bis Die Blaue Blume Blüht, this is only a short one at 20 minutes. More happens in the first 2 minutes of this tune than in the entire previous track. This has its own kind of internal logic. Improvised Synths splatter, chirp, swirl, throw weird shapes and splash added colour and texture, a bass of the synthetic variety throbs along in its own world, a drum machine beat quite low in the mix tries to get the momentum going but the rest of the instruments seem quite content to meander in their own time. They might get a move on or they might take a different path for a while. The other part of the tune I guess is the part which is a composed repetitive keyboard melody which is probably looped or Conrad would have had severe RSI after this session. Nobody else is as good as this with regard to accessible experimental electronic music from the 70s. Oh... I nearly forgot the bonus track which is the second version of Bis Die... Musically nothing has changed its just played at 45 rpm instead of 33/3. Maybe someone said 'hey mate this would be awesome if it was a bit faster!' and yeah if you thought the first version meandered a little this version tightens it up and makes it nice and compact. This was a trick that Neu also used on their 1973 LP Neu 2 but that was more out of economic concerns not artistic endeavour. Neu went one better though and sped two tunes up to 78 rpm. Now that would be interesting to hear Bis Die... at that speed. It would possibly have invented speedcore or gabba 20 years early. Anyway just a thought I suppose.