I recently found myself in line at an airport Starbucks, earbuds pumping the second and standout track on Giuseppe “Baffo” Banfi’s excellent 1979 album, Ma, Dolce Vita. The scene was transformed. I watched as headset-clad baristas twirled in a choreographed dance of whipped cream and chocolate sauce, gleeful panache emerging in their faces. Glowing QR codes passed under holstered laserbeam scanners. Boxes of soy milk changed hands in time with symphonic Moog crescendos, and petulant children spun on Samsonite between rounds of stereophonic cabasas. Such is the power of great music: to transform the ordinary into the sublime. I’m no expert in prog, Berlin School, Italian Library, or anything that qualifies me to write about this record. I just like it.
Banfi was a member of the hallowed Biglietto per l’Inferno (“Ticket to Hell”). As the story goes, Klaus Schulze took an interest, but when Trident folded in 1975, leaving their second album in limbo, the group disbanded. Banfi went on to release several solo albums on Schulze’s Innovative Communication label. Ma, Dolce Vita, the entirety of which is reprised on the compilation Sound of Southern Sunsets, is his second, and I’ve been able to find out very little about it. The cover suggests an Archizoom kiosk, half a Joe Colombo or perhaps something made by the German artist Rebecca Horn. (Apparently it’s a photo by Ezio Geneletti.) It is an album that very quickly outstrips its hazy psychedelic trappings.
Dolce Vita opens slowly with “Oye Cosmos Va,” which, like much electronic music of its era, would not feel out of place in a Carl Sagan special. Its plodding, trippy synthesizer loops quickly give way to the more expansive and exuberant sound of “Sweet Summer on Planet Venus.” A driving beat propels this airy, probing melody through multiple sonic landscapes. It’s a jubilant effusion of interleaved percussive elements that resolves quickly as the gas runs out on each layer. It will always leave me wanting more. “Vino, Donne E Una Tastiera” picks up with a syrupy, rattlesnake swagger, suggesting the dim saloon of a spaghetti western. “Astralunato” employs a contrapuntal bassoon-like sound that I’ve only heard used to such great effect by the British armchair duo Woo. It gives the song a sort of self-satisfied, delirious schmaltz that ambles along at its own pace. The album’s final track, loosely, “Fantasy of an Unknown Planet,” is a dark, arpeggiated voyage, accompanied by tentative high-hat and ersatz flute. 18 minutes in length, it builds steadily to a climactic bass line dropout and melodic redoubling.
If last year’s Blade Runner sequel is a testament to the enduring sound of the synthesizer, then Ma, Dolce Vita, like the original film, reminds us that the 1970s still sound like the future.
Weightless, shimmering ambient; sometimes dark and sometimes cosmic. A Steve Roach-esque floatiness, but stringier and more pastoral.
This was re-released by Sandpiper Records in 2003, but the label seems to no longer be active and has put all its releases up for free download on archive.org — there are a few other Carl Matthews releases available there if you’re interested.
Classic. Michael Shrieve is a drummer who was one of the founding members of the original Santana band and is featured on their first eight records. I haven’t spent enough time with his other work to have a sense for it, but Klaus Schulze feels like the dominant force behind Transfer Station Blue–it sounds squarely like guitary Berlin school, using Shrieve’s insistent percussion as a vessel with which to drive Schulze’s pulsing, icy synth work (as well as guitar from Kevin Shrieve, who may or may not be Michael’s brother). The two long tracks (“Communique – ”Approach Spiral'” and the title track) are the centerpieces, both using long, tense build-ups and ominous arpeggiations to propel to a particularly anthemic release on the title track. The two shorter tracks, “Nucleotide” and “View From the Window,” explore more kosmische and new age territory, though they’re still plenty sinister. Good for fans of Double Fantasy (guys, that record is so good, go listen to it), and anything slick and shivery and German.
This is in honor of the life of the German musician Dieter Moebius, who passed away yesterday at the age of 71. He was most famous for co-founding Cluster and Harmonia, and for his longtime collaboration with Connie Plank.
Sowiesoso (“always the same”) is Cluster’s fourth full-length, recorded over a period of just two days in Forst, Germany, and mixed in Connie Plank’s studio. Compared to their other albums, Sowiesoso is gentler and more melodic, alternately wading through a dense jungle inhabited by robotic synth-chirp birds and picnicking in the countryside. It’s shimmering, warm, and surprisingly nostalgic, as far as Cluster goes, with track titles that translate to “For Eternity,” “The Wanderer” (fretless bass!), and “Once Upon A Time.” Outlier “Halwa,” replete with middle Eastern kitsch, is a reminder that Cluster still deals in the scronky sense of humor innate to so many krautrockers. Closer “In Ewigkeit” (“For Eternity”) is an opiated smoke drift, ghostly and sensual, a soundtrack to leaving the party at five am wide awake but with heavy eyelids.
Safe travels, Moebius, and thank you for everything!
For those who don’t mind a healthy smear of cosmic cheese. Molten guitar streaks, shivery synth grooves, and unhurried drum machines. Very sick and very slick. Makes me want to throw on some mirrored sunglasses and drive a silver convertible along winding cliffside vistas smoking an e-cig in front of a photoshopped sunset. Alternately meditative and searingly emotive, this thing is a few pan flutes shy of Pure Moods (a very high compliment). There’s not much decisive information about Double Fantasy available online, but it seems to have been the project of Klaus Schulze disciple Robert Schröder, who was only allowed to release two records under the Double Fantasy moniker because of legal clashes with his label, Innovative Communication. He went on to release many more records under a slew of different aliases, but both this and the other Double Fantasy release, 1994’s Food For Fantasy, are worth tracking down.
In over twenty years of record collecting, there are only a few albums I’ve bought, sold, then repurchased at a later date. Of those albums, Zeit is the only album I bought twice because I’d had a complete change of heart about the music. As a teenager, the promise of Zeit (translated simply as “Time”) seemed on paper to be a godsend. Its associations with German kosmische favorites Faust and Neu! and its lineage of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works II and Oval’s Systemisch sent me on a mission to track down a copy. Only thing was, I found myself completely unsatisfied with the record once I’d heard it.
Saw-toothed synth patches, 8-bit samplers, and reverb-drenched guitars made sense to my 18-year-old brain. but cellos? The opening moments of the album, “Birth of Liquid Plejades”—conjured from dramatic, legato strings—were too classical, too 20th century for me to find a link to the techno-futurist ambient artists of Warp and Thrill Jockey. And I certainly wasn’t given much latitude by the record’s length: well over an hour of long-form, rhythmless space is a lot to ask of even the most patient and adventurous listener, and after about 20 minutes I simply couldn’t make my way through composition in its entirety. For years, Zeit sat on the shelf until my senior year of college, when I sold it in a big stack of records.
I think I found a used copy of Phaedra 7 or 8 years later, giving me cause to ask whether my initial assessment of Zeit had been hasty. Upon second consideration, I was astounded. Had I changed, or had the record? Had the earth shifted under my feet? Today, in those cellos of “Plejades,” I now hear tragedy, and surprise, and sadness. Subsequent album tracks which I’d once glossed over—perhaps due to their increasing atonality—unfold slowly, a nascent universe, patient yet hostile. I look at that stark record cover—is it an eclipse? a black hole?—and I see the infinite promise of the world swallowed by the inevitability of death. It’s all there: the origin and the collapse, in one amazing record.
I spent this last weekend listening to Zeit after reading about Edgar Froese’s passing, and have found it difficult not to hear a funeral dirge, a tacit acknowledgement by Froese some forty odd years before the fact that he will be gone someday, that we’ll all be gone someday, that all the planets and the stars and space and music and possibility, it’ll all be gone. But I’m still here. And though I’m not sure that it was impossible for me to recognize and relate to the themes contained in Zeit as younger man, I certainly understand them better now. It only took me a little time to figure it out.
The beginnings of kosmische, a term coined by Edgar Froese himself. Tangerine Dream’s second record, and their first with synthesizers (Froese on an EMS VCS 3), though organ and flute take center stage. Hints of early new age, though it seems as if Tangerine Dream wasn’t content to make pretty music, perpetually undermining their melodic moments with shrill, razor-sharp edges. Sixteen year old Chris Franke on percussion. Froese also plays the coffee machine on the title track, though I can’t quite figure out where. Rather than describe this to death, I’ll leave you with some liner notes:
The music material of this album was felt by Tangerine Dream
This album is dedicated to all people who feel obliged to space
Legendary synth pioneer and driving force behind German experimental band Tangerine Dream has passed away this week. In addition to Tangerine Dream, Froese recorded a number of solo records reaching across many different genres and sounds. Stuntman is a standout, as it incorporates several of these styles simultaneously. It has the beat oriented jammers, the classical bits, the ambient head trips, and of course, impeccably executed swirling synths. There are fun references too! In the track below it sounds as if he’s playing indigenous Andean flute melodies. Moods vary from light, playful, and warm to dark, brooding, and chilly.
In honor of this Kraut / Berlin-school maestro and his massive body of work (Tangerine Dream has over 100 releases alone) we’ll be posting Edgar Froese stuff all week. Stay tuned!
The soundtrack to a non-existent Bollywood movie. This was supposed to be a collaboration between Hosono and illustrator Tadanori Yokoo, but the story goes that during the trip to India that spawned the record, Yokoo had a prolonged and incapacitating bout of digestive woes and the project ended up as solo Hosono, with Yokoo illustrating a killer album cover. Interestingly, this came out the same year as YMO’s debut, but Hosono had already been making music for over a decade. Not only was he already a seasoned musician, but he had long been interested in musical subversion, in ways both flagrant and covert.
This is his first all-electronic album, and is one of his most progressive and expansive works. In 43 minutes he moves through swirling cosmic synth meditations, sputtering swamp glitch, and a krauty synth raga, and closes with a nine minute long proto-acid track, all bound up with the sounds of fountain bubbles, insect fizz, and harp swirls. A fair warning: a lot of this record, especially long stretches of the first three “Hotel Malabar” tracks, sound like meandering synth whine and bird screech, but listening through headphones is a gamechanger. This isn’t background music–give it at an attentive listen, loudly, on good speakers. It’s worth your time.
PS: We’re gonna try really hard not to turn this blog into a YMO fanblog, but it might turn into a YMO fanblog.
Unearthed from their studio is a tape reel of perhaps the greatest jam of all time by Michael Hoenig and Manuel Göttsching. Highly recommended visual and meditative 48 minute improv by the cosmic masters. Take a dip and enjoy!