Remembering a Pioneer of Kosmische Muzik

German electronic great Klaus Schulze gone at 74

RIP Klaus Schulze (Image: Facebook)

German composer, musician, and visionary Klaus Schulze passed away on Tuesday, April 26th, 2022 at 74 years old after suffering a lengthy illness.

The pioneering artist’s death was announced on his official Facebook page and on his website; he is survived by his wife, two sons, and four grandchildren.

Schulze is considered to be one of the godfathers of contemporary “space music,” experimenting with electronic tones, synthesized music, and ambient sounds while Brian Eno was still a glam-rock star. Pundits didn’t even a have a name for what Schulze was doing with his 1970s-era recordings, which he called “Kosmische Muzik” (translated as “cosmic music”). Schulze was part of a free-wheeling late ‘60s creative movement that included German-based musical pioneers like Kraftwerk, Popul Vuh, Cluster, Edgar Froese and Tangerine Dream, collectively (and unfairly) known as “Krautrock” in rockcrit shorthand.

 

AUDIO: Ash Ra Tempel Ash Ra Tempel (1971)

Born in Berlin in 1947, Schulze began his career in 1969 as drummer for a band named Psy Free. A chance meeting with Tangerine Dream founder Edgar Froese saw Schulze enlisted to join that young band, and Schulze appeared on Tangerine Dream’s 1970 debut album, Electronic Meditation. Schulze left Tangerine Dream after only one album to form the avant-garde psychedelic outfit Ash Ra Tempel with musicians Manuel Göttsching and Hartmut Enke, contributing percussion and keyboards to the band’s self-titled 1971 debut album. Schulze’s wandering muse would have him leave Ash Ra Tempel after a year, however, to launch his solo career. Schulze released his solo debut, Irrlicht, in 1972 and quickly followed it up with the albums Cyborg (1973), Blackdance (1974), and Picture Music (1975), all of which earned him a cult following interested in electronic-based music. 

The ground-breaking Moondawn (1976) was his first album to feature the Moog™ synthesizer, but unlike contemporary German musicians, Schulze pursued a more organic sound, occasionally adding vocals, cello, or guitar to the mix. He also began scoring films in the 1970s, including horror and thrillers like Barracuda and Next of Kin, an exercise he would continue throughout his career. To say that Schulze was “prolific” would be an understatement – he released an amazing fourteen albums over the first decade of his solo career, and over 60 albums total since breaking from his early bands, each one a significant work of original composition and style. Schulze also compiled numerous box sets comprised of recordings from his archives. 

 

 

Aside from his innovative solo career, Schulze continued to collaborate with like-minded musicians. In 1976, he was asked by Japanese percussionist and composer Stomu Yamashta to join his group Go, which also included rock stars like Steve Winwood (Traffic) and Michael Shrieve (Santana) as well as jazz guitar legend Al Di Meola (Return To Forever). The band released two studio albums – 1976’s Go and 1977’s Go Too – and a live recording before the members returned to their previous careers. Schulze performed with Krautrock band the Cosmic Jokers (with his former As Ra Tempel bandmate Göttsching), contributing his talents to five albums; as well as with German pop band Alphaville (“Forever Young”).

 

AUDIO: Stomu Yamashta Go (1976)

Schulze’s primary focus remained his solo career, however, and he continued his frenetic pace of recordings throughout the 1980s and ‘90s. He began using digital instruments in the 1980s alongside his usual analog synthesizers, which softened his sound somewhat, making it more commercially accessible and informed the birth and evolution of “New Age Music,” a genre he steadfastly denied any connection to. Among the albums he released during the decade, 1983’s Audentity and 1988’s En=Trance stood out for their artistry and uniqueness. Schulze discovered “sampling” in the 1990s and, beginning with 1991’s Beyond Recall, the artist would augment his electronic compositions with various sampled natural sounds. He returned to his trademark “Berlin school” sound to critical acclaim with 1995’s In Blue album.

Schulze released a number of live recordings during the 1990s and early 2000s alongside still-innovative albums like 2005’s Moonlake, 2007’s Kontinuum, and 2013’s Shadowlands, as well as several albums recorded with Australian singer Lisa Gerrard. Schulze also recorded seven albums under the pseudonym “Richard Wahnfried” (later shorted to just “Wahnfried”) between 1979 and 1997. Named in tribute to German composer Richard Wagner, who had named his Bavarian villa “Wahnfried” (“peace from madness”), Schulze used the alter-ego to pursue more mainstream sounds in the rock, techno, and trance genres, often using uncredited guest musicians. Schulze also collaborated with musician Pete Namlook (the pair later joined by Bill Laswell) on the twelve-volume The Dark Side of the Moog series of albums.    

 

 

Although Schulze retired from performing in 2013, he continued his consistently-impressive slate of recordings, releasing six albums over the past ten years, most recently with 2019’s Next of Kin. Prior to his death, Schulze had recorded his final work, titled Deus Arrakis, which is scheduled for June 2022 release. Over the course of his lengthy and prolific career, Schulze influenced several generations of musicians, most notably the British “space rock” band Hawkwind, singer/songwriter Julian Cope, and even David Bowie, whose Station To Station album was a literal love letter to the German music that Schulze helped pioneer. 

As much as any other musician and composer, Klaus Schulze continued to share the sounds in his head and heart with an appreciative audience over the span of five decades. Schulze’s individual albums come and go out-of-print with alarming regularity, but are frequently reissued and continue to find new listeners awed by the artist’s immense artistic vision and expression.

Find out more about Klaus Schulze at https://www.klaus-schulze.com.

 

VIDEO: Klaus Schulze Live 1977

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Rev. Keith A. Gordon

RockandRollGlobe contributor Rev. Gordon is an award-winning music critic with 40+ years experience writing for publications like Blues Music magazine and Blurt. Follow him on Twitter @reverendgordon.

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