This famous German synthesist and ex-member of Tangerine Dream now has his own record company and our interview tells about his unique approach to music.
Klaus Schulze was born in Berlin in 1947 and coming from a non-musical background, his first associations with music were through four years of formal training on classical guitar. During this time he became bored with Bach etc and turned to electric guitar, much to his tutor's annoyance. Together with Alex Conte and Joachim Schumann he formed his first band, Psy Free in 1967; "...just improvising on stage for two hours or so..." says Klaus.
Berlin, at this time very much a political island, had large cultural grants available and this attracted many experimental composers and musicians. Agitation Free, Guru Guru, and of course Tangerine Dream are some of the bands formed in this environment, the latter being formed by Edgar Froese in 1967. Two years later Edgar met Klaus Schulze and, together with Konrad Schnitzler, they rented a factory floor and produced a tape of experimental music using a 2-track Revox. Klaus at this time was playing drums, Edgar played guitar and organ, and Konrad, cello, violin and flute; other "instruments" used were a cash register fitted with a contact mike and glasses that were smashed during the session! OHR Musik of Berlin listened to the tape and agreed to take the band on and in May 1970 they released "Electronic Meditation"; Tangerine Dream's first album, highly rated as one of the worst records ever to emerge from Germany. Klaus had been experimenting with placing microphones in drums and using tapes and electronic effects, his ideas were not received too well and he was asked to leave Tangerine Dream, which he did shortly before the album's release. He went on to work with Manuel Gottsching and Hartmut Enke in the band "Ashra Tempel", still playing drums. One album was released, called "Ash Ra Tempel".
In 1971 Klaus decided to embark on a solo career and also abandoned drums in favour of keyboards. The fact that he had no training on any keyboard instrument was, to him, an advantage; "...the day I felt the need to make some different sounds, I told myself the best way to build up my confidence was to play an instrument which I did not know — and above all, to let no-one teach me how. I began to play like an idiot who puts on a pair of glasses for the first time and can see...". Nevertheless, three weeks after putting himself at the keyboards Klaus had completed his first album, "Irrlicht".
In early 73, in France, at a concert arranged to bring together all the new German bands, Klaus Schulze gave his first live solo performance, using an electric organ he had bought only the day before. Since then he has toured annually and is still one of the few solo synthesists giving live concerts. He comments: "In the beginning it was for me quite easy to play live, because I made my records like I would play on stage. I had no multitrack, nothing. Just one Revox 2-track. So I had to play anyway, everything at the same time to make records." Klaus still does a lot of improvisation and when he goes on stage he has no "score" as such, just an outline of what he intends to do and then judges by the audience reactions, it is for that reason that he does his own mixing on stage. He explains: "It's like you start something and it goes really nice, so I stay one hour on it or you start something really nice and the audience doesn't like it, so I change it... immediately, but you can't tell a mixing engineer 'stop it, stop it, they don't like it...' — he's sitting 20 metres away!" Five albums were made using the Revox, although for one side of the fifth album, "Timewind", he obtained a cheap 8-track, and it was with this album that his career took an upturn, particularly in France where the "Academie Charles Gros" awarded "Timewind" the "Grand Prix International du Disque" in 1976.
At the time of the release of "Timewind", Klaus was also producing a Japanese group called "Far East Family Band" at the Manor studio in England. Here he received a telephone call from Stomu Y'amashta who was organising the staging of a series of concerts involving all the top names in their own fields, called simply "Go". Klaus was asked to participate on synthesisers and three concerts were given, one in New York, one in Paris and the other in London. Three albums were released featuring the "Go" line-up: two studio albums, one in New York and one in London and a live album of the Paris concert.
Looking back on it Klaus is very dissatisfied, implying that it was a case of "...too many cooks spoiling the broth". But it was while he was involved in "Go" that he met ex-Santana drummer Michael Schrieve, who has since become a close personal friend and changed Klaus's ideas about the use of percussion. On many of his solo albums, Klaus used drummer Harald Grosskopf, "...with Harald there was one thing; the drums supported the sequencers to make it even more rhythmical; but while working with Mike Schrieve and others, I saw that it is more rhythmical if the percussion works against my instruments. That makes music more alive and that for me today is much more interesting".
Thirteen solo albums have been released to date but he has been involved with many other projects, not least "Richard Wahnfried", a pseudonym used by him when working with other artists. Richard Wahnfried is, in fact, the name of Klaus's two-year-old son, a picture of whom was sent to the press when they requested a photograph of the "new band". On the last album released under that name: "Tonwelle", "Richard Wahnfried" consisted of Klaus, Manuel Gottsching, Michael Schrieve, Michael Garvens (from the band "Lorry") and a mystery guitarist who appears under the name Karl Wahnfried, not his real name, which cannot be given for contractual reasons.
In 1980 Klaus met the head of organisations for the International Bruckner Festival being held in Linz, Austria. He was invited to perform the opening concert for ARS Electronica and in September Klaus staged one of the most adventurous concerts ever performed. He had for a long time wanted to use the sounds of heavy machinery in his music and this provided him with the perfect opportunity. Microphones were placed in strategic positions within the nearby Voest-Alpine steel works and the sounds were transmitted by radio link to the Brucknerhaus where the concert was taking place. The sounds were sent to speakers mounted in life-size puppets of steel-workers and also to Klaus's mixing desk from where they were used as another sound source, either to be modified or used to trigger the synthesisers.
TV pictures were transmitted live from the steel works to the Austrian TV studios where they were mixed by Klaus' own video technician, Klaus Cordes with prepared graphics, some of which had been made by Cordes himself. The pictures were then transmitted to the Brucknerhaus where they were shown on a huge screen using the eidophor system, and also on a monitor so that Klaus could play according to the images. A percussionist was used at this concert, Tommy Betzler from the band P'Cock, who, unlike Klaus who was on the stage, was situated in the balcony, the audience being totally unaware of his presence until he struck one of the 20 specially prepared gongs. The whole concert was broadcast live on radio and on the Eurovision TV network two weeks later. Unfortunately it was not shown in this country.
Klaus's battery of synthesisers and effects has built up over the years. With him on stage at Linz were his old EMS Synthi A, ARP 2600, two Minimoogs, Korg Polysynth, Yamaha CS80 and a PolyMoog. Klaus particularly likes the Yamaha for its rich sound and the PolyMoog for its versatility on stage and its good solo voice. Last, but by no means least, he had with him what he affectionately calls his "Big Moog".
Bought from Florian Fricke of Popol Vuh fame, it has since had much work done on it by Robert Moog, who has become a good friend of Klaus. What is claimed to be the world's largest live performance synthesiser, Klaus's "Big Moog" may not be seen on stage again. Now, rarely used, it takes pride of place in his private home studio. He refers to it as a relic from the 70's, but he uses it on the new Richard Wahnfried album; and on his new solo album "...because I like the high sound, you know..." he says and then proceeds to demonstrate by gritting his teeth and hissing!
Other equipment on stage included an AKG BX20 reverb unit, two Dynachord DRS 78 echo units, two Dynachord TAM 19's for flanging and a Korg Vocoder with the microphone mounted inside the PA, Klaus used the feedback produced to sound like voices. All audio mixing was done on stage using a 32 into eight Dynachord mixer.
Also on stage, making its first public appearance, was Klaus's "new toy" - the GDS computer. The terminal with its associated keyboard was a studio model, although he soon hopes to have a stage model which, he says, will look like a MiniMoog. The GDS has two floppy disc drives which he uses to store the various parameters and voices he requires, "...I spend hours looking for an organ sound as beautiful as in a church... Now that it is in memory, I can find it no matter when."
Klaus is very aware that some people will believe that the computer is producing the music and goes to great lengths to explain that he still must play everything. One big advantage of the GDS is that he will need fewer instruments on stage. He has said in the past that he would like to play in smaller halls, but the cost of transportation for his equipment is too high to make this possible and so the GDS may well solve this problem.
The ideals of I.C. were to produce and promote new artists, whose records were not necessarily million sellers, but who had something fresh and new to offer. This has been a dream of Klaus for many years, and, after two false starts, one of which actually saw some albums released on the Delta Acoustic label, he offered I.C. as a concept, complete with five new, unreleased albums by various artists to the big distributors. WEA took up the offer, but because of the money involved, they formed a partnership with I.C. Klaus was to provide and produce the acts, and WEA were to market and distribute the records. This arrangement proved to be unsatisfactory, with disagreements over the choice of acts and an overly complicated contract which acted against Klaus' interests, so I.C. went independent.
Whilst looking for a factory to cut his last album at half-speed, Klaus was told by experts that "half-speed cut" was just a fashion without better sound, but if he would cut his album for 45 rpm there would be a great improvement. So, with I.C. now independent, Klaus decided this was the way to go. All releases on I.C. are 12 inch LP's but must be played at 45 rpm, the only disadvantage being that the playing time is restricted to a maximum of 18 minutes per side.
IC's reputation has grown quickly with demo tapes arriving at an alarming rate, all of which are first listened to by Klaus' manager and the best are then passed on for Klaus to judge for himself. Not all requests to appear on the I.C. label come from "young hopefuls", Richard Pinhas and Michael Garrison both offered their new albums to I.C. ("Iceland" & "Regions of Sun Return" respectively).
The first I.C. studio was in Hambuhren, but Klaus wanted somewhere bigger so they moved to their present location in Winsen/Aller, a small town just north of Hannover. The new studio has many advantages, not least of which is the fact that it is situated above a bar! The first floor was originally a hall, with the studio and control room situated on what was the stage. The seating area is now the video studio where promotional video tapes are produced, although the video side seems destined for greater things than just this. The surrounding rooms and second floor contain the offices and work-rooms for the small compliment of staff employed by I.C. and apartments for visiting artists.
Studio manager and recording engineer, Barney Roth-Profenius, showed me around the control room. Situated centrally is the AMEK 3000 computerised 36-channel mixing desk. The computer is, in fact, only being used for setting volume levels on mix-down. Only 24 channels are normally used, but as the desk is of modular design, any of the spare channels can be unplugged and used to replace any of the main group should a fault occur.
Signals are fed from here to a control panel on Barney's right as he sits at the desk. This panel houses 24 LED VU meters which he uses in preference to the slower analogue meters mounted on the main desk. Beneath these are the track selection buttons, vari-speed control and auto-locator for the two-inch tape machine, a 24-track Telefunken Magnetophone 50.
Behind Barney's chair is a rack containing the VGW monitor amplifier, Klark Technik graphic equaliser, four Dynachord units, (consisting of two DRS 78 digital reverb units and two flangers, a TAM 19 and a TAM 21).
Above these are the Pioneer CT-F1000 cassette deck, headphone amp and the Publison, a French-made effects unit based on the Eventide Harmoniser. Studio monitoring is through GBA Electro-Voice speakers. In the far corner are the two master tape machines, a Telefunken M10 and a T9, both very old, but Barney swears by them. Proudly displayed on the back wall is a photo history of the rebuilding of the studio.
The I.C. concept originally included a synthesiser school, but this unfortunately closed because of a combination of lack of time on the part of Klaus and lack of interest on the part of the media, although Klaus told me that he would like to do it again in the future, time permitting. Meanwhile, he refers prospective pupils to one of the many schools that have sprung up in Germany, many named after the titles of his albums.
After speaking to Barney at I.C., I went to visit Klaus at his home studio, where he was working with Michael Schrieve on the new "Richard Wahnfried" album, while the group's two-year-old namesake was busily adding echo to every track!.
In the future Klaus sees himself moving away from the rock/pop type of music and developing a more classical style, the popular side being catered for by "Wahnfried", which will have as its base Klaus & Michael with the other members constantly changing. Also in the pipeline is an album by Klaus and Michael and a new solo album later this year. This will be Klaus' first on I.C. as an independent label.
His last release "Dig It", made whilst still under the control of WEA, was a digital recording, but he doesn't see this method being used for I.C. artists in the near future due to the expense of digital editing equipment which is necessary for conventional albums with short tracks. His own albums, however, which normally consist of one track per side can be recorded in this way as they do not need editing.
Klaus also appears on a new album by Din a Testbild, a new wave band recording on I.C., which has been whittled down from its original five members to one, the vocalist, with Klaus adding the electronics. A European tour is planned for the end of this year but unfortunately this will not include the U.K. in spite of offers from a promoter.
Interview by Dennis Emsley
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