Simon Electric Ape guides us through an extra-curricular 5:5:5: via the seminal West Berlin scene.
Overlooked Berlin School 70s* Gems: Part One
Once you’ve exhausted Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze top tens where else do you go for your hit of “Berlin school” electronica? Try this little lot...
says Electric Ape
1. Michael Hoenig “Departure from the Northern Wasteland” (1978, Warner Bros)
Michael Hoenig toured with TD during their Australian leg in 1975 and also played with the boys at the Royal Albert Hall. So he’s got the chops, but can he deliver the goods? Oh yes. The eponymous title track has everything: loads of multi-tracked sequencer patterns, synths, strings. The other tracks follow in a similar Berlin vein except ‘Voices of Where’ which is a tape-looped Mellotron piece owing a huge debt to Terry Riley. A great album.
2. Tim Blake “Crystal Machine” (1977, Egg)
The main synthesist from Gong before going solo (prior to joining Hawkwind, cue more spacey noises). His debut album contains sounds his fans had grown to love, combined with some basic sequencer loops and delays, and an ear for a melody. ‘Synthese Intemporel’ (the longest track on the album) is an extract from a largely improvised piece perform in Paris, and is the highlight of the album. Tim’s a big fan of EMS Synthis and his early performances stressed a strong visual accompaniment, usually laser-driven for that ‘futuristic’ look. Subsequent albums went a bit too conceptual and vocal-driven so stick with this one for your ‘proper’ electronic space music.
3. Ashra “New Age of Earth” (1976, Virgin)
Another pioneer, Manuel Göttsching played with Klaus in Ash Ra Tempel before branching out into solo work in the mid-70s. Predominantly a guitar player (check his looping “Inventions for Electric Guitar”) he was also a pioneer, releasing “E2-E4” onto an unsuspecting and largely ignorant world in 1984. NAOE, although more uplifting than TD work of the same era, still ticks all the boxes. All tracks follow a similar structure: start with some pads, bring in a sequencer pattern or two, then a light bit of guitar riffing. ‘Nightdust’ is the longest and probably my favourite track but the whole album should be played through in one sitting. Maybe the first use of the term ‘New Age’ which later became synonymous with floatation tanks, alternative medicine and whale song.
4. Edgar Froese “Epsilon In Malaysian Pale” (1975, Virgin)
Well, I couldn’t resist one direct TD strand; Edgar’s early solo albums were arguably as significant as his band material during the fertile period of the mid-70s. This is the album David Bowie cited as the main reason for turning him on to the emerging Berlin sound and eventually moving there: fact^^. We’re talking Mellotron overload here which Froese plays sympathetically and evocatively. Berlin sequencer patterns subtly underpin the flute and strings but it’s all about the mood and dynamics on this brilliant album. Apparently inspired by the sights and sounds of SE Asia and Australia during the TD tour. Whatever, turn down the lights, light up or crack open something suitable, and submerge yourself in this beauty.
[Note: do hunt out the original and not the bastardised version which was credited to Edgar W Froese – a honking overdubbed effort which completely destroys the original.]
5. Robert Schröder “Galaxie Cygnus A” (1982, Innovative Communication)
Robert was a protégé of Klaus Schulze and signed to Klaus’s overlooked but pioneering Innovative Communication (IC) label. (Klaus described Robert’s style as naïve which is a bit rude IMO but there you go.) His first four albums are definitely worth seeking out as his later output drifted away from Berlin/experimental into a more synth-pop 80s direction. This fourth album is suitably space-themed and was put together for a live event at ARS Electronica 1982. A nice minimal but still very accessible album.
[Note: that a version of this album was released in ‘remixed’ form in 2011 where Robert overlaid a little more noodling which, unlike Mr Froese’s attempts at copyright extension, were very sympathetic and don’t really detract from the original more minimal masterpiece.]
*And one from the 80s. ^^Although he slightly misremembered the title.