Berlin-based Günter Schickert has made a lasting contribution to the art of metric multiplication through masterful control of rhythm and pitch patterns on his echoing devices.
Trained as a trumpetist, Schickert’s opted for electric guitar as his main instrument. Whereas academic and downtown artists resorted to mathematical sources of inspiration (e.g. Fibonacci series), Schickert remained an intuitionist – layering coherent scales by playing several tracks at the same time. His results are to mathematics what Möbius strip may be to visual art.
Schickert avoided the pitfalls of sequencer automatism, which reigned supreme in the mid-1970s. Although other German musicians eventually attained similar results, Schickert single-handedly created and destroyed an entire musical genre. Few of his followers ever matched the uncanny precision of his concatenated rhythms and pitches.
He was joined by Axel Struck and Michael Leske to form GAM in the second half of 1970s. It is not clear if Schickert has been musically active since the early 1990s. His recordings have remained undeservedly obscure.
Like an amalgam of hypnagogic visions, “Apricot Brandy” relies on an unlikely combination of molecular meters, bubbled up by Schickert’s guitar and the maestro’s pickled, ineffectual voice. The spiderweb of his guitar-generated waves gradually fills up with masses of sluggish echoes and counter-echoes. Some accelerate into a short-lived dash and eject like bolides. Others slither leisurely and ferment into mucus of inexorable retardation. From this incessant vortex emerge self-reflecting voices and an increasingly rectilinear, almost staccato guitar reverb. Schickert’s voice is multilayered – warm, close and incomprehensible, but more distinctive in the background. The blurred images submerge the spellbound listener until the 6-note theme recurs shortly before the recess. It rounds off this magical moment of rock avant-garde and raises the question whether later artists who strayed into similar territory (DDAA, Trembling Strain, Gilles Rieder, Frajerman) were cognizant of Schickert’s groundbreaking statement here.
Kriegsmaschinen, fahrt zur Hölle.
This 16-minute composition begins with a faint shadow of rotating blades – a rotor, or maybe flywheels. Two or three high pitch sounds flicker indifferent to inconsequential sonic effects that leak and ebb away without follow-up – an occasional guitar chord, an anemic tinkle, a paltry subterfuge. Such sonic incommunicados are finally conquered by Schickert’s trademark – a resonating cascade built from a multiplication of legible, carefully defined pitches. On this foundation, the “rotor” reverb constructs a quilt for a sequenced “melody”. Schickert’s manipulation of echoes will cause fantasmic auditory misperceptions. It sounds as if as many as 3 or 4 guitars were playing together – either in unison or in some redefined harmonic arrangement. The prevailing beat is crowded with additive fill-ins, leading to an illusion increased tempo – a mere illusion only, as in a 16-bar Indian tintal. Most of time, Schickert’s vowels resound without any apparent semantic content, but when the dynamic slumps, he repeats heavily sequenced slogans directed against “war machines”. The dominant pattern is of abrupt dynamic swells and a more measured de-emphasis. These shifts in dynamics are coupled with intra-meter echoing, generating pleasantly disorienting, almost hallucinogenic sensations. The sheer avalanche of helical superposition makes it impossible to build expectations on when the next cascade will materialize. If there is a broadly linear trend, it lies in the guitar assaults, which multiply and increase the pitch range at each return.
“The Forest” is a more meditative piece, organized around a mysterious, bionic call-and-response, drenched in inimitable echo. In this tender, almost pastoral setting, the undulating effects are glassy, endowed with sleek resonance. Somewhere behind, lurks the now familiar “propeller”, but it does not (yet) disturb the arborescent, cheery aura. After several iterations a bass line ominously surges underneath. A fast alternating tremolo of high notes steps in, then vanishes only to return without resonance. The proceeding is at the antipodes of the woolly, comfy notes that cradled the first several minutes of “Wald”. The track gains in impetus and sonorousness. Low-end “rotor” sound whipsaws, alternating with higher pitched notes, but without dissonance. Throughout, Schickert sticks to his picking style – eschewing the automatism of analogue sequencer that dominated much of Berlin music at that time.
“Samtvogel” left over a primacy effect that was difficult to overcome. Still, the formula retained its attractiveness on the other recordings as well.
Günter SCHICKERT: “Samtvogel” (1974)
GAM: “1976“ (1976)
GAM: “Eiszeit“ (1978)
Günter SCHICKERT: “Überfällig” (1979)
Günter SCHICKERT: “In den Zeichen von Sabine Franek-Koch“ (SP) (1981)
Günter SCHICKERT: “Kinder in der Wildinis” (1983)
Günter SCHICKERT: “Somnambul“ (1980-1994)
Schickert participated in other obscure bands in Berlin – Ziguri Ego Zoo and UFOrchestra, the former of which mutated into No Zen Orchestra, leaving over one, highly recommended experimental rock record:
NO ZEN ORCHESTRA: “Invisible College“ (1987)