Klaus Schulze has earned his place as one of the fathers of modern electronica. He has been called the Godfather of Trance and the head of the Berlin School of electronica.
He’s been exploring the boundaries of electronic music for over 30 years. He worked in one of the early incarnations of Tangerine Dream, and was a founding member of the Ash Ra Tempel. But it is his solo work that has most clearly definined him as an artist.
His work in the 70’s established his style. In works like Timewind and Body Love, he created a new style of electronic improvisation. His work of this era featured droning synthesized backgrounds, and used sequencers to create a pulse. Over these drones, he usually improvised synthetic string textures with organ, synthesizer or Mellotron. The focus of his music was his Moog soloing.
His solo style was not influenced by the bombastic neo-classical synth work that was made popular by people like Keith Emerson. Instead, his soloing was much more reflective. This reflected his technique; he background with Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Temple was as a drummer, not a keyboardist. One of the results of this was that Schulze does not try to be virtuosic, but instead tries to get inside the sounds. He lets his sounds have space, and slowly builds his music to a crescendo over relatively long periods of time. Many of his pieces of this time were 20-30 minutes long, because they would fit on a single side of an LP.
Schulze’s work has been varied. While the bulk of his work has been sole, he’s played in ongoing bands, such as Richard Wahnfried , and played with a range of instrumental soloist. In addition, he has recently created an opera, and also worked with combinations of orchestral instruments and electronics.
Schulze’s style bears the influences of the psychedelic 60’s, experimental jazz and rock improvisation, along with some middle-eastern flavor. His works often feature drone sections with slow Minimoog soloing, and then build into trance-like electronica built upon sequenced synthesizers. His work rarely features what you would call melodies, but instead is built upon exploring modes. After hearing much of his work, you’ll be able to hear his style living on in the work of many more recent electronica artists.
- 1947 – Born in Berlin
- 1969 – Member of Tangerine Dream. He records Electronic Meditation with them.
- 1970 – Founds Ash Ra Tempel and is heard on their record of the same name.
- 1972 – Releases his first solo work, Irrlicht.
- 1975 – Produces two LPs of Far East Family Band, whose keyboardist goes on to record dozens of LP’s as Kitaro.
- 1976 – Plays with Stomu Yamashta’s group Go. He also releases some of the most mature work of his early period on the recordings Moondawn and Body Love.
- 1978 – Records his tenth LP “X”. This is unusual in that it includes a classical orchestra on several of the cuts.
- 1979 – First Richard Wahnfried LP, Time Actor. This was an experimental group that Schulze put together to try out different ways of working.
- Early 80’s – Schulze started to become recognized as more of a legitimate artist. He created soundtracks for films and radio background music. He also released several live LP’s.
- Late 80’s – Schulze is subject of 10-part series on German radio about his work and importance as an electroninc music composer.
- Early 90’s – Schulze records many live concerts, including a concert from the Royal Festival Hall and a concert called The Dome Event.
- 1994 – Schulze proves his staying power by recording a Wahnfried production of electronic dance music, a cd of classical interpretations, and created an opera, Totentag.
- 1997 – the mega cd set Jubilee Edition is released. It features 25 cds of over 30 hours of previously unreleased music.
- Current – Schulze is busy as ever. He has released a 50 cd edition of rare works, covering work from the 70’s through the 90’s. He’s worked on remixes of various artists, solo concerts, and work with other likeminded musicians.
Schulze comes across in interviews as humble about his work, but also cognizant of his role as a pioneer in electronica. In a 1994 interview, Schulze talked about his early work:
I did my music when “electronics”, “synthesizer”, “computers”, “trance” and “techno” were not existing, or fashionable, and I’m sure that I will still do it when any recent vogue is gone.
It was Edgar and me, who fighted hard, who starved, who put our souls into Electronic Music in 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, etc.; it was me with my money who established in 1979 the first label for young electronic musicians: Innovative Communication (and gave it completely away in 1983). It was me who founded a school to learn synths, from 1978 to ’79. It was me who did turn-on Kitaro (1975) and many others to electronics. It was Edgar and me who made hundreds of concerts since 25 years, and who gave literally thousands of interviews, showing and explaining the world about this crazy new music, the music of today and tomorrow…
Our music is now accepted by a new generation who does not have the prejudice of their parents; these kids grew up with electronic music of all kinds.
Schulze doesn’t seem himself as a keyboardist, but as a synthesist and composer:
I am still no keyboard player. In comparision, say, to Oscar Peterson, I am an amateur. Because my craft is not playing the keyboard, but finding and combining sounds, building and using the structure to create emotions with sounds.
Schulze doesn’t see himself as being influenced by the work of German composers such as Stockhausen that had created electronic works. He also rejects comparisons to the minimilist composers of the late 60’s, and even John Cage.
Have you ever checked Stockhausen’s output? About 5 (five) compositions that could be called “electronic”, and they were done 30 to 40 years ago, made with an oscillator or something like this. He did over hundred of other compositions that have no relation whatsoever to electronic music. Besides, what I heard meanwhile, sounds awful to my ears and to most other people’s ears and hearts. Stockhausen is maybe a good theorist. Who’s listening voluntarily to his actual music, who “enjoys” it? I also had and I have nothing to do with Cage or Riley. Neither with their music nor with their theories and philosophies (if they have any…). I have nothing against it, but this is simply not my world. When I started to do my music, and before, I was listening to Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd, before it was the Spotnicks and the Ventures, but not to the names you mention. Nobody in my surrounding and in my age did. This was a kind of “culture” that just did not exist among us. Only many years after, and because every second journalist asked me about “Stockhausen”, I finally bought his theoretic books and I read them. Interesting stuff, I must admit, but the musical results are still not my cup of tea.
More About Klaus Schulze
Schulze maintains a web site that is huge, and full of real information, not flash videos like many artists. The site features an extensive discography, along with the text of many interviews. It’s an excellent resource!