The first in a total of 8 solo albums by Tim Blake. An influential synthesist and composer, Blake worked on all three albums in the Gong trilogy. He had a critical role in the formation of another formative space rock band, Hawkwind. Blake is also credited with being one of the first musicians to bring the synthesizer out of the studio and on to the stage on his 1972 tour with Gong. Interestingly, when he began touring as Crystal Machine with the release of this album, he became the first artist to introduce the use of lasers to live entertainment.
Named after the moniker he assumed when playing live, Crystal Machine is a synthesizer tour de force. Newly emancipated from the collaborative confines of Gong at the time of this partially live recording, you can hear Blake’s youthful energy as he blasts off into space. Give a listen and if you close your eyes, he’ll take you along.
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!
One of the early electronic masterpieces from the wizard himself, Giorgio Moroder. Einzelgänger (roughly “lone wolf”) was a one-off experiment. Moroder says that about a year after its release he realized that he didn’t like the record at all, and personally bought all the remaining LPs to prevent anyone from hearing it. He seems to be warming up to it these days, in light of “some of his friends liking it very much” and “a fan once telling him that it was very futuristic and way ahead of its time” (that Moroder needed a fan to tell him this is very sweet; thank you facebook). Einzelgänger is sonically unrecognizable from the disco that made Moroder famous–the record lovingly riffs on German electronica, and unsurprisingly could easily pass for early, slightly rough Kraftwerk, replete with wandering synth noodles, sputtering vocoder, hazy cabbagescapes, and schnitzeling aqua beats. (“Ich bin der Einzelgänger/Habe keine Fans/es macht mir aber Spaß, Spaß, Spaß…”, roughly “I’m the lonewolf/having no fans/but I’m having fun, fun, fun…” is presumably a play on Kraftwerk’s 1974 “fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn,” oft misheard as “fun fun fun on the autobahn” and probably a Beach Boys reference, so there you have it.) Only Moroder could pull off an experimental joke this skillfully. Make sure to bump this on your skateboard during your next underwater pastoral road trip, smoggy sunset viewing, automaton-themed biergarten, or post-dystopian wasteland picnic.
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 only solo record from Dorothea Raukes, ex-singer of krautrock band Streetmark. Really tasteful and meditative synth textures, and melodies that feel oddly familiar even on first-listen. “Auf Engelsflügeln” is a narrative high point; “Der Grosse Atem” is a shimmering cosmic closer. Definitely an on-repeat record.