Conrad SCHNITZLER: “Control” *****

Recorded 1978-81

 

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. 

 

 

Control A

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. 

 

Control B

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)

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Günter SCHICKERT: “Samtvogel“ ******

Recorded 1974

 

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. 

 

 

 

Apricot Brandy

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. 

 

Wald

“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)

Published in: on July 21, 2008 at 8:22 pm  Comments (4)  
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