King Crimson, Klaus Schulze
Reports on recent appearances by two widely revered names in electro-music, Klaus Schulze and King Crimson.
Hammersmith Palais, 12th September 1982
The name King Crimson has been known to the music world for well over a decade. During this time the line up has undergone many changes, but has always boasted fine musicians and specialised in the intelligent use of electronic music. The original King Crimson was at the vanguard of the progressive music movement of the late Sixties/early Seventies, and was one of the first rock bands to explore the possibilities offered by the Mellotron and VCS3 synthesiser.
The Hammersmith Palais concert was opened by percussionist Bill Bruford, who wove a complex pattern of African percussion like sounds using a small set of Simmons drums set up towards the front of the stage. He was joined by Adrian Belew, who then transferred to guitar and vocals as the pair were joined on stage by bassist Tony Levin and guitarist Robert Fripp.
Fripp remains the driving force of the band, and perched on his high stool on the left of the stage appears totally in control of the proceedings. His distinctive guitar style is less instantly recognisable now, being submerged in effects and treatments, but works equally well within the confines of this exceptionally polished and precise live band and on his more experimental, free-ranging solo albums.
On this occasion both Fripp and Belew were using Roland guitar synthesisers and a selection of other effects including Electro-Harmonix flanger. The range of guitar sounds obtained was enormous, from a heavy fuzz coupled with a slow attack to high-pitched 'seagull calls'. Tony Levin had chosen to complement his stick bass with a complete range of Yamaha PSE effects pedals, and on later numbers was able to produce slow legato cello-like notes which perfectly matched the mood of the more sombre tracks.
Bruford maintained the 'African' feel by accompanying one number entirely on a 'talking drum', which uses a flexible metal strip to alter the pitch and tone of the sound produced. Also at his disposal were an entire Simmons electronic drum kit, coupled with parts of a conventional kit including roto-toms and an additional bass drum mounted in mid-air as a tom-tom; as usual nowadays he does not use a hi-hat, preferring to rely on the wide range of electronic sounds available and using a footswitch to move from one sound to another.
Material was taken from their latest Polydor album 'Beat' and from previous releases, including 'Red', a particularly dramatic piece from the album of the same name, to make up a well balanced set. A high level of excitement was maintained throughout most of the evening, with the occasional slower number adding emphasis and contrast. Intense, rhythmic layers of sound, sudden changes of tempo (now funky, now moody) within the same song, forceful vocals and the careful and sparing use of vocal harmony held the audience's attention from start to finish.
Overall, the sound quality was unusual, although crystal clear, with the use of 32 channels in mixing and a back line of Ampeg and Roland amps. The predominantly glassy sound of the rhythm guitar (distinctively Fender despite all the effects devices) was overlaid by repeated short sequences, hypnotic offbeats and rondo or fugue-like forms to produce music which was rhythmic, if not always danceable!
The encores provided a showcase for the versatility both of the musicians and of their instruments. Guitars became flutes or saxophones, the bass produced slaps and twangs or slow string bass sounds with equal ease, the drum kit took on a metallic sound to produce machine-gun like effects, and Adrian Belew's 'rap' vocals pulled everything together. Finally, a descending series of chords pointed inevitably to a stock heavy metal ending which never came; Fripp was on his feet with his bow tie not a millimetre out of place, seemingly satisfied that King Crimson had successfully defied convention once again. Despite all the changes of line-up and style, the band are still in the forefront of progressive music, and still making innovations with electronics without rendering themselves inacessible or uncommercial.
The Venue, London, 22nd September 1982
When a cult figure who hasn't played in this country for five years decides at short notice to play a single concert at one on London's smallest name venues, there's a serious danger of over-estimating the quality of his performance and failing to apply the critical values that would be used for a more easily accessible musician.
Klaus Schulze fans can relax. Schulze is playing better than he has for the last three years, he's still in the technological vanguard of electro-music, and he's still coming up with new musical ideas which have the power to move and excite an audience. The first surprise of this concert was the dual keyboard set-up, which included a Yamaha Electric Grand piano, Roland Promars, Korg Vocoder, Emulator and Mini-Moog played by an unknown classical musician, Rainer Bloss, who will be accompanying Schulze in the immediate future.
Schulze's own set-up was a slightly scaled-down version of his usual concert equipment, and formed the usual square around the Persian carpet on which he sat throughout the concert. In front of him, two Mini-Moogs resting on a PPG Wave 2, which has replaced the faithful Polymoog; to the right, an ARP Odyssey and the onstage mixing desk, to the left a Yamaha CS80 polyphonic and the keyboard and terminal of the Crumar General Development Systems computer. The backdrop, as usual, was the huge modular system comprised of Moog, Roland and PPG equipment, with a PPG custom sequencer controller and keyboard, and almost as an afterthought a keyboardless AKS synth for sound effects.
Although there was no light or video showas such, those of a meditational frame of mind could while away the time watching the complex displays of indicator lights on the modular system, which often seemed to have more of a decorative than a practical function!
The opening was of massed string chords on the PPG, overlaid by fragments of melodies on the Yamaha piano reminiscent of 'Blanche' from the 'Body Love 1' album. As the piano became more staccato and rhythmic it was underpinned by synthesised drums and then hi-hat, building up to an almost funky rhythm which powered along beneath a succession of different melodies which finally emerged as 'Friedemann Bach' from the 'X' album. Schulze's distinctive Odyssey lead sound, with slowly opening filter and a sudden cut-off, turned into a morse code message - and then, with a great swoop of digital sound, The Venue became filled for the last twenty minutes with the drums of Harald Grosskopf and the orchestra of 'Ludwig II Von Bayern', again from 'X', all reproduced in exact detail by the GDS computer.
The second set opened with a fog-horn like drone on the AKS, followed by deeply bending chords on the PPG and a quick fade into the 1981 concert set, with insistent percussion and rapidly pulsing sequences overlaid by quick arpeggio fragments on the Promars. The Emulator locked onto chords suggesting a cross between human voices and strings, while the third MiniMoog was used for basslines. Towards the end of the set Schulze's MiniMoog solo became quite impassioned, with a liberal use of modulation and pitchbend and a degree of headbanging both on and off stage! As the sequences died away they were replaced by the detuned xylophone sound from 'Digit' over a backing of gentle strings playing expressive upward chord resolutions, and finally by the opening AKS drone which eventually rose upward and 'out of sight'.
The inevitable encore began with strong 'reversed piano' sounds on the PPG, and rapidly developed into 'A Few Minutes After Trancefer' from the current 'Trancefer' album. Again the GDS provided percussion and cello (originally by Mike Shrieve and Wolfgang Tiepold respectively) and it was left to the 'live' musicians to weave ornaments around the tinkling sequences and woodblock-like percussion sounds. A final sweep of white noise left only the PPG again, this time bending gracefully downwards to a sudden cutoff and enthusiastic applause.
The whole concert lasted a little under two hours. Half the audience had to sit on the floor, the bar was shut, there was no light show, the musicians acknowledged the audience gratefully but didn't speak a word all night. Nobody cared; the capacity audience could see that Klaus was back on form. Musically, technologically, he's still on top.