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Drumming, drones and drifting bliss: 10 of Klaus Schulze’s greatest recordings

The prolific German musician, who has died aged 74, released an astonishing range of music, spanning techno, prog rock, ambient and more. Here are 10 of his best

Mesmerising and transporting … Klaus Schulze circa 1972.
Mesmerising and transporting … Klaus Schulze circa 1972. Photograph: INTERFOTO/Alamy
Mesmerising and transporting … Klaus Schulze circa 1972. Photograph: INTERFOTO/Alamy

Tangerine Dream – Journey Through a Burning Brain (1970)

Klaus Schulze’s first appearance on vinyl was as a drummer in the nascent Tangerine Dream, a band that bore no resemblance whatsoever to the Tangerine Dream who were famed in the mid-70s for their beatless, beatific electronic epics. The frazzled, occasionally terrifying contents of their debut album Electronic Meditation sounded like early Pink Floyd with all the songs removed and the freeform experimentation cranked up to 11. The second track, Journey Through a Burning Brain, features atonal guitar soloing, vast swells of menacing organ, someone doing something supremely nerve-jangling with a flute and Schulze’s battering drums fading in and out of the mix. If this was psychedelia, it was psychedelia from long after the flower-power dream had curdled, reflecting the turbulent state of West Germany in the late 60s.

Ash Ra Tempel – Amboss (1971)

After departing Tangerine Dream, Schulze formed Ash Ra Tempel with guitarist Manuel Göttsching and bassist Hartmut Enke. Krautrock authority Julian Cope described Amboss, the 19-minute track that takes up all of their debut album’s first side, as “the power-trio playing as meditational force … a methodical breaking-down of all your senses until you are crushed and insensible”, which perfectly sums up its relentless barrage of drums, feedback, hypnotically repetitious riffing and ferocious guitar solos that leap from speaker to speaker. Schulze’s drumming is astonishing: frantic but precise, driving but contained.

Klaus Schulze – Satz: Ebene (1972)

Schulze’s debut solo album, Irrlicht, wasn’t electronic music as we now think of it: it didn’t even feature a synthesiser, consisting of sounds made using a broken electric organ and musique concrète techniques that involved him manipulating tape recordings of an orchestra. Weirdly, it might be even more prescient than the synthesiser-heavy music he went on to make; Satz: Ebene’s vast, swelling, ominous wave of sound feels remarkably close to latter-day drone music.

Klaus Schulze – Bayreuth Return (1975)

The first side of Timewind was recorded in a studio, but effectively live – the whole thing was done in one take. Bayreuth Return is based around a shimmering sequencer passage that Schulze endlessly manipulates so that the track’s rhythm subtly shifts, overlaid with chilly electronic tones. The sound of Schulze reaching the pinnacle of his 70s style, it’s a mesmerising, transporting and mysterious piece of music.

Klaus Schulze – Mindphaser (1976)

Schulze released so many albums that picking one as his best is a near-impossibility, but 1976’s Moondawn would definitely be in with a shout. The track that consumes its first side, Floating, is deep and exceptionally beautiful, but Mindphaser is something else: the shift, 11 minutes in, from beatless ambience to restless drumming that doesn’t so much power the music as dance around the synthesisers, is genuinely stunning. A masterpiece of what became known – thanks to the location of its main players – as the Berlin School of electronic music.

Go – Time Is Here (1976)

You couldn’t wish for a greater contrast between the two “supergroups” with which Schulze was involved. The Cosmic Jokers were krautrock luminaries, reportedly paid in drugs for jamming at acid-fuelled parties, whose albums were released without their permission; despite such an unpromising origin story, their 1974 eponymous debut album is worth checking out. Go, however, featured Steve Winwood, jazz-fusion guitar maestro Al Di Meola, Stomu Yamash’ta – best known for his contributions to the soundtrack for The Man Who Fell to Earth – and various ex-members of Santana, Traffic and Bob Marley and the Wailers performing complex, proggy concept rock. Lost to history, Go sound absolutely nuts: on Time Is Here, soulful vocals battle for space with Meola’s dextrous fretwork, reggae-influenced drumming and layers of ambient synths. If nothing else, it’s a curio that demonstrates one deeply weird aspect of Schulze’s career, and the regard he was held in by his fellow musicians.

Klaus Schulze – Georg Trakl (1978)

Schulze billed his tenth album, X, as a series of “musical biographies” of various eminent figures, from Friedrich Nietzsche to Ludwig II von Bayern. It’s epic in scope, variously featuring drums, guitar and an orchestra alongside Schulze’s battalion of synths. But the track dedicated to expressionist Austrian poet Georg Trakl is effectively Schulze working in miniature, distilling his approach into just over five minutes that gradually build momentum thanks to some vaguely jazzy drumming. If you prefer your electronica in bite-size chunks, Schulze’s 70s ouevre is probably not for you, but he was – very occasionally – willing to oblige.

Richard Wahnfried – Druck (1981)

As if his torrential solo output wasn’t enough, Schulze also recorded collaborative works under the pseudonym Richard Wahnfried. Tonwelle, from 1981, reunited him with Ash Ra Tempel guitarist Manuel Göttsching: rumours suggested the other guitarist, credited as Karl Wahnfried, was actually Carlos Santana. Whoever was involved, Druck is on a different planet to Schulze and Göttsching’s Ash Ra Tempel work. A gorgeous, sunlit drift of synth and guitar soloing, it’s as Balearic in its own way as Göttsching’s landmark 1984 album E2-E4 (the source, lest it be forgotten, of Sueño Latino’s eponymous dancefloor classic).

Klaus Schulze, Pete Namlook, Bill Laswell – Three Pipers at the Gates of Dawn Pt 5 (1996)

“I did my music when electronics, synthesiser, computers, trance and techno were not around in music, not fashionable,” Schulze once remarked. “At last, my music is now accepted and fulfilled by a new generation who does not have the prejudice of their parents.” If you were looking for evidence of how Schulze was accepted by the post-acid house generation, then the series of collaborative albums he made with the late ambient artist and founder of FAX records, Pete Namlook – who claimed Schulze was his biggest influence – is one place to start. There are 11 volumes of the punningly titled Dark Side of the Moog series to work through, and the quality control isn’t always up to snuff – a perennial problem with the prolific Namlook – but the banging techno on display here shows how easily Schulze’s vision was adapted to a new era.

Klaus Schulze & Lisa Gerrard – Loreley (2008)

Quite aside from the sheer quality of their music, you can understand why Schulze was a long-term fan of Dead Can Dance: the influence of his atmospheric electronics was clearly in the duo’s DNA. His collaboration with singer Lisa Gerrard must have sparked: the two and half hours of music that comprised their first album together, Farscape, was apparently recorded in two afternoons. Loreley, from the live album Rheingold, captures the duo on stage, Gerrard’s haunting vocals floating over a Schulze backdrop that moves from pacific to pulsing and back again. At nearly 40 minutes long, it’s music you immerse yourself in rather than listen to: then again, you could say that about almost all of Schulze’s greatest work.

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