THE REVOLUTION OF ELECTRONICS
Chapter 5: THE EIGHTIES, THE CONSOLIDATION OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC (Part 1)
By: Jorge Munnshe
In 1980, VANGELIS achieves a new success as his music is chosen to make up the most part for the soundtrack of the television documentary series COSMOS, including the main theme. The series, directed by CARL SAGAN, a prestigious young scientist in the NASA, besides being a writer, as well as a Pulitzer Award winner, awakens an extraordinary enthusiasm, so much so that an album with the soundtrack is released with fragments of works by VANGELIS, as well as - to a lesser extent - by BACH, VIVALDI, PACHELBEL and others.
KRAFTWERK contributes fresh air with their COMPUTER WORLD. TANGERINE DREAM experiment a new success with the recruiting of JOHANNES SCHMOELLING. TANGRAM is a formidable LP, and besides, it is massively accepted. They even play live in EASTERN BERLIN, recording the LP QUIXOTTE. They also compose the movie soundtrack for the film THIEF. Their music for thrillers will become one of the most rotund patterns for electronic music during the 1980s. A "classic" of this "fashion" is due to JIMMY PAGE and his spectacularly electronic movie soundtrack for DEATH WISH 2, where these first images of CHARLES BRONSON's revenge find in the tremendous synthetic roars their ideal vehicle to build an atmosphere of cyclopean hatred impossible to achieve with the use of conventional instruments.
KITARO definitely secures a place for himself thanks to the soundtrack that he composes for the television documentary series SILK ROAD. He seeks his inspiration travelling all over Asia and Europe, and as he returns he creates one of the finest soundtracks in the 1980s. In this way an entire collection of impressive themes will be born, some epic, some sentimental, yet all of them with an undeniable talent accompanied by a quality that allows him to fusion the best of the musical Eastern and Western inheritances, with the result of several hours of extraordinarily enrapturing music.
NEURONIUM release their DIGITAL DREAM, which becomes an unprecedented success as well as one of the most legendary albums in the electronic music of the 1980s.
In the early 1980s a spectacular increase in the use of synthesizers in music takes place. Not only there is an explosion of Techno and Disco bands that use them, but also they take charge of soundtracks advertising spots, radio tunes, television headlines... Thus, by the end of this decade what seems strange is the fact of listening to a composition where there is no synthesizer or electronic instrument. Techno and the other styles having a special commitment with electronics have become greatly popularized whereas the trends addicted to classical or acoustic instruments have decreased just as much. To synthesizers one must now add computers, which mean a true revolution in the terrain of musical composition.
With his OSCAR TO THE BEST SOUNDTRACK for his CHARIOTS OF FIRE in 1982, VANGELIS not only proves to have a creative youth in contrast with that of most of his peers pioneering in electronics, but also he provides the synthesizer with a dignity that up to then it had been denied. He proves that a completely self-taught musician, not having the least knowledge in musical notation, can do without scores and develop all his artistic talent thanks to synthesizers, being able to compose a masterpiece and getting an Oscar for it. This is the definite step to dignify electronic music. And, of course, the fame and prestige of VANGELIS increase exponentially in an age that his electronic peers in his generation turn to approaches very near to commercial Pop as they lose their lead in the avantgarde. VANGELIS receives 52 offers to compose soundtracks in the next months. Also, unlike other musicians, he rejects the path of easy money and continues that of his own evolution, in the most difficult territory of Electronic Musical Avantgarde. With some soundtracks like MISSING, THE BOUNTY or ANTARCTICA, and two further albums with JON ANDERSON he continues with his career with SOIL FESTIVITIES, MASK and INVISIBLE CONNECTIONS. In 1986 he collaborates in a free way with the Third World, composing the music for the well known RACE AGAINST TIME, a sports event held simultaneously all over the world. In 1988 DIRECT appears, brimming with talent, and whose pieces connect at once with the audience.
As the decade goes by, TANGERINE DREAM make music each time nearer to Pop, up to a point when in 1989 their music can already be labelled as more or less conventional Instrumental Pop. After all, in those moments it already is usual that Pop bands utilize synthesizers and other electronic instruments. Only soundtracks will remain as the realm of the avantgarde in the next years. Despite this gradual transformation, they continue to have fresh ideas, and moments of sublime ingenuity. This can be heard in their albums TANGRAM (1980), POLAND (1983), HYPERBOREA (1983), FLASHPOINT (1984), LEGEND (1986) and NEAR DARK (1987). On the other hand, the first undeniable traits that they are moving towards Pop, are found in UNDERWATER SUNLIGHT (1986) or TYGER (1987) where a soloist singer is included. In any case, it cannot be denied that TANGERINE DREAM are in one of their phases of greatest activity, as to these and other works we must add about ten important soundtracks, a musical video called CANYON DREAMS, and a high amount of compilatory albums. In this last chapter, we find that during the 1980s as many as 15 LPs are released in several collections, plus a re-release and the use in their soundtracks of numerous re-recorded fragments from previous albums. This so very intense commercial exploitation of their music seems to point at the fact that TANGERINE DREAM see their creativity overcome by the multiple offers they are presented with due to their status of star band. In the mid 1980s, it is obvious that there are problems in TANGERINE DREAM, whose name is the commercial property of FROESE.
A constant change of members in their ranks is registered, ending up with the very same CHRISTOPHER FRANKE leaving in 1988. This loss is seen my the fans as an irreparable one.
In 1983, EDGAR FROESE releases an LP and a soundtrack of his. From then on, his solo career will stay frozen, as if the continuing of TANGERINE DREAM, whose existence at the end of the decade appears to be solely relying on him, would require all his creative efforts.
KLAUS SCHULZE begins the decade of the 1980s by renewing his instrumental supplies. He leaves everything analogic on a second plane, and provides himself with digital synthesizers as well as computers, including a costumized rhythm computer, together with the most sophisticated Fairlight. Later, he adds the MIDI system to his studio, as well as samplers. Among synthesizers, samplers, musical computers and percussion units, they add up to over 40; to which one must add 3 computers Atari, an Apple-II, and the entire equipment of effects and recording. This technological renewal coincides with his change of image (he has his hippie long hair cut and adopts a new look in the conventional trends).
His album DIG IT, is a reference to this personal step from the analogic to the digital, and contains such expressive titles as "Death of an Analogue", a true electronic funereal march, sad, emotional and of a great artistic sensitivity.
His style changes astonishingly. And thus, TRANCEFER (1981) is an album where he uses a palette of very particular sounds, which re-create an orchestra where sounds of machines live together with synthetic choirs, so as to build two mystery adventures, with their setting, great doses of thriller atmospheres and knots full of action and rhythm.
According to some, his AUDENTITY, released in 1983, is his masterpiece, or at the very least, the apotheosis of his artistic youth. The rhythmic themes are a ballad to technology, a song fearless of the future. And the last one, is a symphony where SCHULZE puts the essence of his entire artistic career, re-creating his own biography in music.
During his tour in Poland in 1983 he records another double LP, which gathers very different versions of pieces from AUDENTITY, another one from X, and very innovative new music. When he comes back, he composes the soundtrack for the film "ANGST".
Nevertheless, despite his constant activity and despite having a sophisticated electronic equipment, SCHULZE cannot help receiving the worst criticisms in his career in the mid 1980s. He is labelled as a snob, presumptuous, a mediocre posing as a pioneer, a would-be expert in musical technology by means of the purchasing of most expensive instruments that he then doesn't use. This loss of popularity coincides with the bad state of his business, which implies high economic losses. As if this were not enough, the record company he signs for does not release his works outside Germany, and furthermore, SCHULZE himself must take care of two cases of illegal releases of his albums in the United States.
During the period 1983-85, his music has a much more commercial style than the former one, approaching a lot to Pop and Techno, despite which effort his fame cannot help becoming dilluted among so many electronic geniuses appearing in the 1980s.
When many believe him finished and think he has surrendered before the growing difficulties of continuing to hold a career within electronic music, resigning himself to being one of the many who wish to reach a hit in the top Pop charts, SCHULZE surprises everyone in 1986 with DREAMS, an album with absolutely innovative pieces, with most unconventional forms and structures, yet with the undeniable personality of SCHULZE. A dense music, exciting, solemn and myterious, of a mature KLAUS SCHULZE, tired by the avatars of a long artistic career, yet he still has new things to tell us.
At the same time, the pulse that KLAUS was losing in front of many new artists who were said to be about to defeat him completely, begins to become balanced. KLAUS SCHULZE is not, according to the audience, as wonderful as his most fervent fans believed him to be in the 1970s, yet neither are so the revealed artists that appeared to be replacing him in the 1980s.
With ANDREAS GROSSER he records BABEL, a symphony divided into a mysterious, rhythmic part, as if it were a History of Electronics narrated in a style of Sword and Sorcery, and another one with a slower rhythm, Wagnerian, suggesting the nostalgia of very long quests to remote lands.
With EN=TRANCE, the cycle is completed, and the transformation of SCHULZE's style makes his music become unlike anything he did in the 1970s, even if it continues to have his undeniable signature. Obviously, this is due to his own evolution as a person. The mature Klaus Schulze is, musically speaking, more complex, with a rhythmic wealth that characterizes a few synthesists, a certain relationship with minimalism, and a special talent to search for new sound forms and to link them to his current style.
On a personal plane, he succeeds in overcoming his problems with alcohol, which in the mid 1980s had led him on the verge of destruction.
The 1980s also register a certain return to the public eye of WALTER CARLOS, the pioneer of synthesizer who got an unprecedented successs with his albums in the late 1970s, when still almost all the other members of the first wave of synthesists had never played a synthesizer yet. After the success of SWITCHED-ON-BACH in the late seventies, CARLOS retires from the public scene. He continues to work and to publish successful albums, yet he avoids appearing in public, which only adds to the mystery. For over a decade, WALTER CARLOS is only the name that signs the albums. At last he emerges from his long retirement and the reason for his long public absence is revealed. He has become different. He is not the same person that in the late 1970s he used to be. Now he is a woman. Although before, when his body was that of a man, he also felt like a woman. Of course, the society in that decade would not have accepted this, or at the very least they would have made life difficult for her. WENDY CARLOS confronts life with an admirable creative freshness. She composes five hours of magnificient electronic music for the movie THE SHINING, and finally STANLEY KUBRICK only incorporates a few minutes. Due to a curious rule of the producers, this unreleased music cannot be released, thus having one of the best masterpieces by CARLOS absurdly left aside. Despite such a big disappointment, WENDY goeson and composes the soundtrack of TRON, as well as several LPs, among which most remarkable are DIGITAL MOONSCAPES and BEAUTY IN THE BEAST, the latter composed basically on the musical scales ALFA, BETA and GAMMA, developed by herself.
PETER BAUMANN, who had devoted himself to Pop music after he had left TANGERINE DREAM, comes to manage the label PRIVATE MUSIC, for some time, a label he founded.
KRAFTWERK reduce drastically the cadence of new album releases of theirs.
ASHRA TEMPEL and MANUEL GOTTSCHING reappear in the mid eighties, and they are said to be "musically speaking on the threshold of old age", which does not mean it to be true and that they lack new ideas, but merely that these no longer attract a wide audience as was usual in the past.
CONRAD SCHNITZLER seems to always be living thirty years in the future. He has succeeded in something as incredible as remaining in the musical avantgarde during the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, the nineties... and at this rate, certainly the Twenty-First Century. His advanced intuition made him be one of the first musicians to use synthesizers, and later the computers when no one believed in them, thus becoming a maestro of musical creativity by computer. The Schnitzler of the eighties is a radical innovator, such a ferocious enemy of commercial music for a massive comnsumption, that this fact means for him to find himself set asunder from almost all the commercial circuits of distribution, so that his music is only available via the subterranean, alternative culture channels. This fact does not imply that it is his own will to set impassable limits, but when he feels like doing so, he is perfectly capable of making music that can be labelled as "commercial", and so he proves on several occasions. Meanwhile, enough time has gone by so as to have his son GREGOR grow up and collaborate with him in some albums. The pass of time does not affect his creative freshness, though. In his albums, CONRAD SCHNITZLER shows an unexpected artistic youth for a man that is over fifty years old at this stage. Besides, his live performances continue to be as daring and spectacular as usual, as for instance a concert based on the presence of a hundred casettes playing at the same time.
The eighties are the scenario of the excellent moment the electronic musicians of the second wave are in, much better shaped than most of the first wave. The ones achieving most international recognition are perhaps JEAN MICHEL JARRE, NEURONIUM and KITARO.
JEAN MICHEL JARRE becomes a colossus of electronic music during the eighties as well as a star of Pop in general. His success during the second half of the seventies with OXYGENE and EQUINOXE is remarkably increased with MAGNETIC FIELDS at the beginning of the new decade. At the end of 1981 he plays in China, of all most unlikely places, releasing a widely spread double album that gathers his performances. After appearing a compilation of all his hits, he gets an enormous impact in 1984 with his avantgarde ZOOLOOK, where we can hear how he builds the basic lines that will provide the framework where several avantgarde subgenres of Pop will advance during the eighties and the nineties. Perhaps the greatest of his achievemnets is understanding and proving the enormous potential that the then recently appeared samplers possess. In this album, JARRE makes a spectacular use of human voices digitally sampled, which includes the collaboration of LAURIE ANDERSON. Later, the NASA commissions him to compose the music that will accompany the celebration event of the 30th. anniversary of the space agency. Thus is RENDEZVOUS born, one of the jewels of the electronic music of all times; and thus does he give the apotheosic concert in Houston, developed in the entire city, with the musicians, instruments and loudspeakers sited on different points of the town, yet thanks to the miracles of technology they form a unique Whole. The last work by JARRE in the eighties is REVOLUTIONS, which enters Pop almost in its entirety, thus getting the artist reach new audiences, although this fact causes the rejection of those fans most addicted to his genuine, original style, which had always had its focusing center in the most radical of electronics.
At the end of the eighties, JEAN MICHEL JARRE succeeds in becoming more famous than his father, the well known composer of movie soundtracks MAURICE JARRE (the author of such hits as DOCTOR ZHIVAGO). He even seems to have influenced his father with respect to technology, as he begins to incorporate synthesizers to his music in the late eighties, which before was purely orchestral, thus getting interesting results.
If DIGITAL DREAM meant for NEURONIUM to become known at an international level, and THE VISITOR was an important commercial hit in Spain, CHROMIUM ECHOES meant his definite launch into the world electronic stardom. Furthermore, in 1981, VANGELIS discovers NEURONIUM through DIGITAL DREAM and THE VISITOR, and he likes this so much that he invites MICHEL HUYGEN and CARLOS GUIRAO (the only members of NEURONIUM then) to spend a few days in London and play together in his studio. This is when HUYGEN and VANGELIS become friends. CARLOS GUIRAO also leaves NEURONIUM and from then on it is obvious that the weight of the band lies on HUYGEN, who also is the one who composes the music. Of the 4 original members of NEURONIUM only the composer, of a Belgian origin, remains. Since then he surrounds himself with good musicians such as SANTI PICO for the instrumental performance, and NEURONIUM goes on. After ABSENCE OF REALITY, released as a solo LP by HUYGEN, INVISIBLE VIEWS is released. At this stage the Spanish band is already known even in Japan. A contract with the prestigious label JIVE ELECTRO ensures the world distribution of the releases by NEURONIUM and HUYGEN, and thus HERITAGE by NEURONIUM and CAPTURING HOLOGRAMS by HUYGEN as a solo artist, are launched into the world market, coinciding with the extraordinary success of NEURONIUM at the British festival U.K.Electronica. This is the first of a wealth of hits, which will even lead to the creation of a Fan Club of NEURONIUM in London, offers of concerts all over the world, new works that include several LPs, soundtracks, tunes for television programmes, the interest on the part of such artists as MANUEL GOTTSCHING to play together in concerts, and the prestige of HUYGEN as a producer of other artists.
After his world projection with THE SILK ROAD, KITARO shapes his talent with an extraordinarily prolific musical production, which he combines with his world tours. In 1984 he engages on a tour all over Asia where he gets a stellar recognition. As a result of these concerts he releases LIVE IN ASIA, recorded in Shanghai. He composes the soundtrack for a fantasy cartoon movie called QUEEN MILLENNIA. Among his most memorable works in this time, most remarkable is THE LIGHT OF THE SPIRIT, a precious music available to any kind of audience, no matter any labels, as well as other albums which do not lack in rhythm, where he appears to recover part of his heritage from the Symphonic Rock he used to make in the seventies with the FAR EASTERN FAMILY BAND.
(Next chapter: The 1980s: THE CONSOLIDATION OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC (Part 2) )
For more information about the available releases by those artists and sound clips, use these links:
JEAN MICHEL JARRE
ASHRA / MANUEL GOTTSCHING
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