Originally from Düsseldorf, Conrad Schnitzler debuted as a sound artist around 1967. After studying with Joseph Beuys he moved to Berlin, when he was often associated with the local school of electronic rock even though his soundscapes were never “rock” and his aesthetic was always too idiosyncratic to be pigeonholed.
In his most successful recordings, Schnitzler showed predilection for range compression that was unusual in the early days of analog synthesizers. It is as if he had done a careful scoping study before each session, imposing restraints on the adopted textures and energy levels. Nor did he seem to be tempted by excessive multi-layering of additive effects. His strength lied in poised tone colorings and controlled mood explorations. His forays into illustration were quickly abandoned and throughout most of his career his music remained subconceptual and non-ascriptive.
Schnitzler’s creations went through several stages. Beginning with Berlin-based trios Kluster (with Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius) and Eruption (with Wolfgang Seidel and Klaus Freudigmann), his spacious, psychotropic work relied as much on musical instruments as on amplifiers and echoes. He then moved on to explore in depth the modulatory capabilities of analog synthesizers, achieving much more groundbreaking and lasting results than many of his compatriots. An artistic hiatus befell him in the second half of the 1970s, when several misguided attempts at electronic rock introduced him to accidental audiences in Germany and abroad. But unlike the synthesized disciples of the Berlin school, he returned triumphantly in the early 1980s, penning some of the most intriguing and abstract oeuvres yet. Ever open to experimentation, he engaged in collaborations with new generations of German musicians and then moved onto the digital age, still occasionally leaving recordings which testified his undying tonal curiosity and penchant for deft sound organization.
Each side of the original LP is divided into several, untitled sections. Schnitzler welcomes the listener with atonal kernels of creamy, electronic vibrato, bleeping at varying dynamic levels. The only order in this disorder is that higher frequency chords are louder, leaving the muddier, brown frequency sounds partly concealed. At least three layers of these independently originated, expressionist tides collate, but never coagulate.
In the second fragment, foggy synthesizer folds are sustained and then slowly pitch-modulated. Unlike in the previous track, the very act of modulation generates melodic expectations. At some subliminal level, there does seem to lurk a barely tangible theme, but it fails to appear de iure; it remains ill-defined and then re-defined by its own shadows – the multiple variations. Each of the variation ends with longer notes, leaving behind the mood of a desolate, cloudy, open space.
Electric clangs fall like raindrops hitting window panes curiously intent on rejecting the liquid particles at various frequencies. This evanescent texture is sparse and the pitches are arranged to accentuate the mutual contrast. Still, the overall timbral effect is almost childlike.
Another exercise in modulation and phase shifting. The leading middle layer individuates both the bass line and the crisply sibilant accompaniment, each germinating with a different delay.
A more “industrial”-sounding track based on blender glissandos with controlled sustain. Tone colors permutate between the illusions of take-off, landing and taxing. Although the context harks back to the ideas first developed on LP “Con”, the selection of effects is more balanced. Discrete pitch bending occurs around the usually avoided parts of the frequency spectrum.
Rotating flywheels send out waveforms which recur in epicycles. A less prominent sub-theme explores a frail, rounded melodic theme, as if clutching at wavecrest.
Fast ‘grasshopper’ tremolo is drowned out by an alternating dynamics in doomed quest of nebulous, dormant realm. The dominant velocity would outpace any other track on the record, but the gesticulation is imperfectly robotic. Another stratum of glissandos brings a dose of painfully sullied nostalgia.
This is an even more atmospheric exploration of chalky textures. Sheaths of organ give rise to a rare moment of loose harmonic consonance.
Another electronic landscape for stagnating sheets of lengthy notes, modulated in mid-flight. They all fade away, substituted instantly by clones whose energy dissipates in like manner. Simultaneous sizzling and rumbling epitomizes the hypnotic character of procyclical, compressed electronics.
Echoey, glassy clocking and pianistic electro-chords flow through a dialogue which explores attention, dis-habituation, expectation, clearing of remorse and doubt about it all. This is a rare, modal achievement, particularly impressive given the limited toolkit involved in its creation.
An essing, oscillatory web is delicately overlaid above the leading theme-building. The focus is on an eventless space, wide open terrain and visibility constrained only by atmospheric phenomena.
The record closes as it opened – with abstract, a-melodic clusters, collected almost sequentially in search of the right nocturnal mood. A vague sense of solitude permeates the departures towards to the top of the staff, into ever shorter notes. Mid-range synthesizer provides some harmonic solution, but the track is cut abruptly. Did the Revox reel run out or is it another attempt to leave us pensive?
The discography below encompasses Schnitzler’s output from the first 15 (analog) years of his career and does not list numerous cassettes, the material from which was later reissued on LP or CD. Positions 1, 2, 5, 10 and 11 remain my favorites.
1. Konrad SCHNITZLER: “Schwarz“ (1971)
2. Konrad SCHNITZLER: “Rot“ (1972)
3. Conrad SCHNITZLER: “Con’72“ (1972)
4. Conrad SCHNITZLER: “Zug“ (1973)
5. Konrad SCHNITZLER: “Blau“ (1973)
6. Konrad SCHNITZLER: “Gelb“ (1974)
7. Conrad SCHNITZLER: “Live Action 1977“ (1977)
8. Conrad SCHNITZLER: “Con“ (1978)
9. Conrad SCHNITZLER: “Grün“ (1976, 1980)
10. Conrad SCHNITZLER: “Control“ (1978-81)
11. Conrad SCHNITZLER: “Conal“ (1981)
12. Conrad SCHNITZLER: “Conrad & Sohn“ (1981)
13. Conrad SCHNITZLER: “Contempora“ (1981)
14. Conrad SCHNITZLER: “Con 3“ (1981)
15. Conrad SCHNITZLER: “Consequenz“ (1982)
16. Conrad SCHNITZLER: “Context“ (1982)
17. Conrad SCHNITZLER: “Convex“ (1982)
18. Conrad SCHNITZLER: “3.3.83“ (1983)
19. Conrad SCHNITZLER: “1.7.84“ (1984)
His recordings can also be found on several compilations, such as “Three Minute Symphony“ and “Hayfever“ (in the 1990s). There are countless other cassette, film and gallery materials from the era.
Conrad Schnitzler’s early (1970-72) recordings overlap with his activity in bands Kluster and Eruption. Indeed, his first “solo” album can be considered a Kluster/Eruption record. The recordings of these bands are highly recommended for all the fans of vintage kraut electronics. His appearance on Tangerine Dream’s best LP was the only time Schnitzler played someone else’s music. Although the recently unearthed positions 5 and 6 are credited to Kluster, they are actually Eruption’s recordings.
1. TANGERINE DREAM: “Electronic Meditation” (1970)
2. KLUSTER: “Klopfzeichen” (1970)
3. KLUSTER: “Zwei Osterei” (1970)
4. ERUPTION: “Eruption” (1970)
5. KLUSTER: “Vulcano” (1971)
6. KLUSTER: “Admira” (1971)
7. ERUPTION: “Live Action 1972. Wuppertal” (1972)