REVOLUTION OF ELECTRONICS
Chapter 3: THE SEVENTIES: THE ELECTRONIC REVOLUTION IN MOTION (First Part: 1970-75)
By: Jorge Munnshe
Kraftwerk was formed in 1970. Its founders, Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider, had met two years before, while studying Classical Music at the conservatoire in Dusseldorf. The band would include at one time or other such artists as Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother (who were to found Neu), Karl Bartos, Wolfgang Flur, and others.
The concept of Kraftwerk, as well as the essence of Techno music, are born from an urban or industrial vision of the world surrounding us, a vision made possible merely from the technological explosion that followed World War Two, with the spectacular industrial development, the highways, the skyscrapers, the hosehold electric appliances, the technology becoming an intimate part of everyday life in the big cities. Techno has been defined as the Folk Music of the urban settlements, perhaps because the lifestyles in two big cities on different points in the world are more similar to one another than to those of the rural areas in their same region.
At an instrumental level, Kraftwerk kept away from the standard synthesizers that appeared in those times coming from such firms as Moog, EMS, or ARP, and chose to use their own equipment. This was rather rudimentary at the beginning: home-made oscillators, altered electronic organs, all kinds of metallic planks to be used for percussion, and tape to manipulate the recordings. Within a few years, their studio would become an elite laboratory, supplied with prototypes of new models developed by different firms, and customized devices.
The electronic music scene harvested an important technological success with the sophisticated soundtrack of the movie The Andromeda Strain, composed by Gil Melle, as well as an artistic one, since this is music indeed, not mere noises of a more or less complex nature like it happens with other soundtracks of those times.
Tangerine Dream release their album Alpha Centauri, whose name is a clear indication of the impact that the coming of age of the Space Age had on the musical panorama and the industrialized society in general. In the album a VCS-3 is used, besides the electronic organs. This is the first album where the listener can clearly appreciate the unmistakable style of Tangerine Dream, and it can be considered as the true recording beginning of the band. In that moment, TD is formed by Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke (drummer coming from Jazz and a former member of the band Agitation Free) and Steve Schroyder. Conrad Schnitzler has left TD to return to Cluster for a short time, definitely leaving the band to begin his solo career. Klaus Schulze has also left TD. He founds the Ashra Tempel band. The first album by them then appears, as well as the first one by Krafttwerk. Pink Floyd continue on one of their most cosmic phases with Meddle.
Vangelis is undergoing a decisive transition stage in his musical career. After album 666, where he assumes the composition, Aphrodite's Child split up. Vangelis is somewhat hesitant as to the path he is to take from then on. He wanders between France and Great Britain, is about to enter the band Yes, and makes some experimental works here and there, like the already mentioned album that reflects the atmosphere of May '68. Most remarkable is his innovative soundtrack for L'Apocalypse des Animaux. Some of the compositions are brilliant, revealing a powerful imagination. The merit is double, furthermore, as he has based his work on electronic organs instead of synthesizers.
Each one of the members of Aphrodite's Child continues on their own path, but in the case of the two cousins, Demis Roussos and Vangelis, these paths will remain close. Roussos is then a consolidated singer, and he will begin a successful solo career. For a time, Vangelis will compose songs for his cousin. This activity, not the private works he carries out in these years, will be what really will give him money. Thanks to his cousin's success, Vangelis will have enough funds to build a studio supplied with the most sophisticated equipment abundant in synthesizers.
We are in the early seventies. Electronic music still is seen as related to LSD "trips" and hallucinations of the Vietnam war veterans. Yet when the utilization of synthesizers spreads to Rock and to Pop, this image will gradually fade. Yes, Genesis, and Jan Hammer, among others, are already using them.
The most durable formation and perhaps the most brilliant one of Tangerine Dream is established in 1972, when Steve Schroyder abandons the band and Edgar Froese contacts keyboardist Peter Baumann in the Berlin club where he performs. He proposes him to join the band, which he accepts. The first album released with this new configuration is the legendary Zeit, a dense, dark work.
Schulze begins his solo career with Irrlicht, an impressive electronic symphony that furthermore has the merit of having been made basically starting from only one synthesizer Synthi AKS.
The second album by Kraftwerk appears, as well as Schwingungen by Ashra Tempel. Popol Vuh initiates a fruitful collaboration with film maker Werner Herzog, which would last for several years. The movie soundtrack of Aguirre: The Wrath of God, provides the film with a special dimension, very much in tune with Herzog's particular style, and is highly suitable for the movie.
In the USSR, Eduard Artemiev continues with his innovative musical career, with such works as the soundtrack for the movie Solaris. Despite the traditional iron curtain of silence prevailing at the time, in successive years several artists from Eastern Europe will become known all over the world, like for instance Polish musician Marek Bilinsky, Yugoslavian artist Laza Ristovski, Rainer Oleak from Eastern Germany, and the Hungarians Petr Hapka, Gabor Pressor and Laszlo Benko.
Synthesizer technology advances spectacularly in a couple of years. Klaus Schulze records his second LP, Cyborg, which follows the line of the first one although it turns out to be more innovative. And Picture Music, the third one, contains more avantgarde ideas than the second one, besides revealing an impressive technological leap forward.
Kraftwerk present the album Ralf & Florian. Both founder musicians use now some standard synthesizers. Pink Floyd abandon the most experimental aspects of their style and enhance the clearly melodic ones, connecting with a wider audience.
Ashra Tempel present Join In, in which Klaus Schulze and also Rosi Mueller participate. The latter will enter the band, where she will work for several years.
In August 1973, Tangerine Dream recorded Green Desert. This work would remain unreleased for more than ten years, until the band decided to reveal it in a compilation on their first albums. The official LP of '73 was Atem, which already displayed the definite consolidation of the Tangerine Dream Sound, reached with the recording of Phaedra in December this same year.
Bands that have nothing to do with electronic music, also get updated and incorporate new technologies to their work. One of the examples that attract most attention in this sense is that of the American Rock-Folk band Creedence Clearwater Revival, who released some pieces with unusual traits, and even the one called Pendulum, of a decidedly experimental character.
The release of Phaedra in 1974 coincides with that of the first solo LP of their leader, Edgar Froese: Aqua, as well as with the international projection of the band, which reaches the top ten British lists.
Klaus Schulze, who, like TD, transcends frontiers, releases Black Dance, where he combines baritone and operatic choirs with the latest synthesizers of the time.
Kraftwerk also achieve success. Their album Autobahn, a true ballad to highways, spread Techno in Europe. In it, they sing through a prototype of vocoder especially build for them.
If Tangerine Dream popularized the sequencer in the making of most complex rhythms, Kraftwerk was to be the band who would popularize the vocoder as a device capable of distorting the human voice up to astonishing limits, thus achieving these metallic voices that appear to have been produced by a robot. Curiously enough, the vocoder was not invented then, since its existence goes back to the thirties, and it had not been developed for musical applications, but rather as a voice encoder / decoder for military use, namely to mask telephone conversations, as a further part of the Intelligence System of the Allies during World War Two.
The Exorcist, one of the terror movies with a strongest impact in the history of the cinema, owes a part of its effect to then ghostly fragment of the Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield that accompany the most mythical sequences of the movie.
In Italy there already are such authors as Giuliano Sorgini who are pioneers in a kind of music completely electronic for movie soundtracks of terror films.
In Japan, Isao Tomita follows the steps of Walter Carlos and makes electronic versions of pieces of Classical Music, using synthesizers instead of the acoustic orchestra.
Electronic music spreads at a great speed, and its acceptance in the audience increases, especially among the young. A proof of that is the clear success that Super Sound Single by Conrad Schnitzler harvests in the mid seventies in the European discos, which predicts a brilliant future for electronics within the most popular styles.
Klaus Schulze, only four years after the beginning of his solo career, appears as one of the modern composers who influence the new electronic artists most.
Tangerine Dream release their marvellous Rubycon, where Chris Franke takes a relevant role in the composition. The band engage on a successful European tour, during which they shape an album considered to be by many people one of the pillars of the new electronic music: Ricochet. The album is a display of rhythmic complexity never heard before then. Franke, in charge of the sequencers and rhythm computers, achieves an outstanding result. Ricochet is such a spectacular music, so deeply immersed in the electronic universe, that it will succeed in awakening the enthusiasm of new generations of listeners in the following decades. Furthermore, Edgar Froese releases Epsilon in the Malaysian Pale, a complex, innovative work. The leader of TD has reached so much success that, with only two albums released, already a compilation of his is commercialized, under the name of Electronic Dreams.
Vangelis signs a contract with RCA that will allow him to compose his works with the sufficient economic security as to be able to exclusively concentrate on their production. On the other hand, the money earned with the songs for Demis Roussos allows him to create his own studio. To do that, Vangelis chooses an old house in London that will become the famous Nemo Studios, the artisan forge where Vangelis will shape some of his best works. Once again, the thematic inspiration comes to him from the epic dramatic quality of the biblical themes. Thus, his first album for RCA will be titled Heaven and Hell. With the studio half set up and the building workers working, Vangelis uses his electronic arsenal for the first time, recording what will be one of the masterpieces of the new electronic music. In Heaven and Hell we attend an epic concert where electronics acquire warm, sentimental and mystic aspects. This is an album with violent, aggressive themes, and also with others of a romantic nature, that include a female soloist voice and choirs. The fusion of voice, percussion and synthesizers is perfect; rather than a fusion, this is a unique, inseparable Whole. Perhaps the greatest merit, and maybe also the main trait that separates this musician from the cosmic wave coming from Germany is the tangible proof that he gives in this album that electronic music does not have to sound cool, sinister, robotic, but rather that its expressive possibilities can equal if not surpass those of the acoustic orchestra, the paradigm of the performing perfection.
(Next chapter: 1976-79)
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