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Concert Review/ Klaus Schulze & Lisa Gerrard

img  Tobias

You don't have to be a medium to believe in telepathy tonight. I'm roaming the streets of Essen's shopping zone in search of something to eat before the show and for some reason my thoughts keep coming back to how Schulze's musical career in the new millennium has increasingly been stymied by his deteriorating health. There were gigs in Italy which were announced and canceled. There was a focus on reissuing his entire back catalogue rather than new material. There was a general worry about his condition, which only slightly abated after he had explained that he mainly suffered from a chronic issue with his back. But thanks to one of the more lively and optimistic works of his entire career („Moonlake“) and a Double album with Dead-Can-Dance-muse Lisa Gerrard („Farscape“), which even managed to stir up some controversy among followers and critics – anything but a bad sign for a musician now at the end of his fourth decade as a recording artist – he seemed back for good and more inspired than he had been for a long time. To anyone who hasn't followed his personal troubles over the past few years, that may actually sound like business as usual: Thomas Holst, who runs an eclectic radio show at local broadcaster Antenne Münster and who is joining me for the Essen concert tonight, has experienced the gradual rise of the Synthesizer pioneer first hand. To him, with images of muscular and glamorous stage appearances still firmly implanted in his mind and a vinyl collection ending with 1976's „Moondwind“, the idea of this man ever being too weak to play seems perfectly absurd. But fans were grateful for every note he played in public.

And yet, as the crowd gradually empties itself from the lobby and its merchandising stand - selling tshirts, some of the recent „La Vie Electronique“-3CD box sets and a special 30-minute tour-only mini-album by the name of „Come Quietly“ - into the Lichtburg's majestic 1200-seat main hall, a redplushseated amphitheatrical old-style cinema stylishly diverted from its intended use for the event, something doesn't quite seem right. Centre-stage, Schulze's fortress of equipment, a wall of modular analogues fronted by a semi-circle of loose keyboards, a Moog and a strangely out-of-place macbook, is blinking, twinkling and flashing reassuringly next to two microphones (one for Gerrard and the other, with all likelihood, intended for Schulze, who usually enjoys addressing his audience with his friendly Berlin dialect between pieces). But there is something about the way the photographers, a group of about seven people clustered together at the podium like a group of orderlies, seem to be anxiously chatting among themselves. The fact that the lights are suspiciously staying on at around 8:15 when a man with a baseball cap, his hands sheepishly in his pockets and a shy and somewhat disheveled gaze, is shuffling on stage, is also anything but promising. And sure enough, he has some bad news to convey. Schulze is still in his hotel. He is unwell. In fact, he is ill and a doctor has been called. He will try to attend the show, but it doesn't look good. Anyone wishing to leave the show and be reimbursed can do so now. Straight away, about 200 fans are rushing out of the hall, their faces clearly marked with disappointment. We, too, sink back even more into our oversized seats, wondering what is to come next. One and a half hours later, I will wonder whether the fugitives will come to regret their decision.

For even as they are exiting the Lichtburg, the lights are finally dimming and Lisa Gerrard, clad in a burgundy-coloured evening gown is taking to the stage: Even though Schulze can't be here, that doesn't mean she can't sing, after all. His solo set, scheduled as an introduction to the show, will have to be dropped, but there are plenty of sequences and textures on his hard disc to work with. It is a strange sight at first to see Gerrard standing there alone, next to this pulsating wall of diodes, organically feeling into the music as though duetting with machines were the most natural thing in the world. But then Schulze's harmonies take over, an infinite loop of minor triads interspersed by a single, baroque major chord and suddenly nothing seems out of place any more. The sound is deep, direct, rich, resonant and bass-heavy, a subcutaneously boiling iridescent stream of sound-made viscous light. Even though she is the only human being up there, Gerrard's presence is enough to completely fill the vacuum of her creative partner. If you close your eyes, it's all there: Her gothic, tribal, mediaeval and operatically ornamented vocal lines drenched in cathedral reverb. The endless, spiralling repetitions spanning a harmonic space without beginning or end. The daring dimensions of the endeavour. The spiritual dance. The feeling of participating in a dream.

Even though the ingredients are essentially the same as on „Farscape“ and the subsequent „Rheingold“-DVD, this performance is an entirely different proposition altogether. The title of the latter live-document alluded to Wagner, after all, and their presentation at Berlin's Schillertheater last year, too, had all the bearings of the duo exploring the realms of a dark, erotic and occult kind of electronic chambermusic. These notions have all but disappeared here and given way to mysteriously minimal invocations – fields rather than compositions, static states rather than evolutionary ambient tracks. The eccentric chord progressions of the Berlin gig are still there, but so are passages of unashamed tenderness and fragility. And yet, the epic proportions of their journey are still intact: The second work of the evening essentially consists of a single harmonic scheme, which is so long that a mere four run-throughs seem to take forever. It is almost as if the Avantgarde-approach of Schulze and Gerrard had first been molded into the format of accessible pop songs and then slowed down to the speed of stalactites forming inside a cave.

Schulze's absence only goes to intensify the impact of these meandering masses of texture, timbre and shamanistic tribulations. While his rhythmically agitated solo performance would have provided some animated counterpoint to the meditative moodwork, it is all ambiance and atmospherics now. In fact, his contributions have been reduced to the absolute essence, almost to the status of backing tracks. Sometimes, a tentative sequencer line will peal itself off the stoic strings, blossoming for a few moments, only to die down and disappear again. Occasionally, there will be harmonic additions to the pads, a delicate effect here, an abstract, unpitched noise there. But for most of the time, the music is playing itself, almost absent-mindedly and in the same trance as the public, which is silent and motionless, drifting up up and away with Gerrard, as she goes from drawn-out melodic motives to single-note sighs and intriguing whispers. Again and again, you find yourself thinking: They can't possibly go on doing this. The song's gotta end. This time, the beat is going to finally kick in. But they can, it doesn't and the electronic wave of pulsation, for which Schulze has almost become a synonym over the years, will remain a construct of fantasy, a figment of expectations which Gerrard triumphantly defies for the entire night.

It is easy to see why someone like her should fall in love with these pieces. Schulze is not only treating her like a queen, as she confesses in a short closing note, he is virtually building reverential castles of sound for her and her voice to inhabit. As a gesture of gratitude, she is interpreting them as what they were probably always intended to be: Tunes for the sleepless. Melodies for the incurably melancholic. Songs for absent friends. For an outsider, the fact that concert like this can still be pulled off without one of the main protagonists even attending might seem proof of the fact that electronic music doesn't need musicians to be played on stage. In reality, the exact opposite is the case here: There is so much of Schulze in these beguilingly desolate structures, that his very soul has seeped into them. Gerrard says it best just after her delivery of old folk song (and Dead Can Dance favourite) „The Wind that shakes the Barley“: „Klaus was with us tonight.“ While that might otherwise have seemed a slightly surreal statement, there is every reason to believe in telepathy tonight.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Klaus Schulze
Homepage: Lisa Gerrard

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