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Klaus Schulze & Lisa Gerrard: "Farscape"; "Come Quietly"

img  Tobias

There is some truth in the claim that most artists only have one major work in them. Countless have nonetheless built an entire career on re-writing the same book, re-painting the same picture, re-shaping the same sculptures and re-composing the same music all over again. Klaus Schulze has certainly been accused of repetition and recurrent motives in his oeuvre. Particular chord patterns from his recent output can be traced back to his earliest experiments in the late 60s (documented, among others, on the first volume of the exquisitely packaged and presented „La Vie Electronique“ series). Melodic themes first explored in the 80s stretch out well into the new millennium. Even his style of arranging pieces into long, texture-oriented introductions and mostly sequencer-based main movements has become something of a given. And yet, his discography can be grouped into clearly delineated phases, all of which have a distinct sound and approach to them. Throughout the better part of four decades as a recording artist, Schulze has been unafraid of alienating large portions of his fan base – and he has gleefully insisted on his right to provoke.

Certainly only the uninformed could consider his collaboration with Lisa Gerrard a cooly calculated marketing-move. In fact, when news about „Farscape“ broke on the web, first reactions were anything but cheerful. Despite the jubilant testimonies of both artists about the deep spiritual connection between them, their fan bases regarded the other camp with suspicious eyes. Possibly the reason for the anticipatory antipathy was the uneasy expectation that, on the one hand, Gerrard's „eccentric“ voice would come to overshadow Schulze's "entrancing“ Synthesizer-sections and, on the other, that his "idiosyncratic“ electronics would destroy the „irregular“ sensuality of her chant. Of all the different duo constellations the German pioneer had entered into, including stints with Rock Crooner Arthur Brown, Classical Cellist Wolfgang Thiepold, Folk Singer Thomas Kagermann and Ambient maestro Pete Namlook, this one seemed most unlikely, uncomfortable and unwanted by an audience craving for more „regular“ solo material after a decade which had seen the constant stream of music slow down to droplets trickling from the tap in three-year intervals.

In many respects, „Farscape“ gave the sceptics exactly what they feared: Neither clear-cut songs nor pure instrumentals. Neither meditative chill-out nor high-voltage electronics. Neither ethereal ambiances nor electrifying physicality. The scope of the encounter was gigantic, too: 2 CDs and over 150 minutes of music were culled from a three and a half-hour session recorded almost in one go over the course of two days. Pieces regularly scratch the twenty-minute-mark, with Gerrard probing every register of her voice – the first shock moment comes in the opening seconds of „Liquid Coincidence 1“, which she attacks in a deeply resonating and all but unfathomable Bariton. Embedded into oceanic reverb, her vocals are towering on top of the music in one moment, only to die down to a whisper, a murmur and a sigh the next; following her contribution requires utmost concentration and is not made any easier by the fact that Gerrard happily blends fantastical languages of her own devising with sections delivered in plain English. No wonder many initially considered the work disturbing, unlistenable and self-indulgent even.

To understand the underlying intentions of the album it is helpful to look at a (slightly edited-down) quote from an interview I conducted with Schulze only a few weeks after his „Moonlake“-release in 2005: „Really, I'm only actively listening to my own music at the beginning of a piece. After a quarter of an hour, I can no longer tell whether I'm listening to it on a conscious level or floating along to it. You're „lying“ inside the music. And it changes as you listen. Merely by the length of these pieces, you're bound to fall into them. In this sense, music is just a carrier.“ Few partners over his extensive career have understood this notion as astutely as Gerrard. Her vocals do not counterpoint the music, nor do they reinforce it thematically. Rather, she adds a second, sympathetic but essentially self-sufficient layer to its organisation, enriching the experience and deepening the mould for the listener to cradle him- or herself into. The tightrope she's walking is, effectively, turning into a metaphor while reaching out beyond the comfort-zone: Reactions like unease, bewilderment and confusion are anything but unintentional side-effects but part of the original prescription here.

The outcome is a music which is as monumental, monolithic, meandering and mesmerising as it is introvert, immobile, intuitive and irritating. On „Liquid Coincidence 4“, blocks of solid brass pierce through almost tender touches of Rhodes, abstract sounds are juxtaposed with operatic chant in the lead-in of „Liquid Coincidence 5“ and the second part of the cycle is marked by an epic breath and seamless transitions between major and minor key moods. Schulze has left the basic tracks almost entirely in their naked state, refusing to add a single solo or a superfluous melody. Instead, he has turned his attention towards building a minimal yet massive and three-dimensional production defined by gargantuan basses, sound effects panning from left to right in the stereo image and carefully balanced, extremely transparent arrangements. Whether or not you think this is a boring sequence of samish pieces very much depends on what it is you're listening to exactly.

While recent concerts have served to take this approach to extremes, with the Essen-performance in September all but eliminating the notion of rhythm and stretching chord progressions to loops of several minutes, tour-mini-album „Come Quietly“ is taking an entirely different route. Clocking in at 29-minutes, it is, in fact, shorter than a track like „Liquid Coincidence 2“. There is very much a song-character to these pieces, which are built around more immediate harmonies, tangible themes and Gerrard's vocal lines, licks and poems. Rather than immersing themselves in a single, continuous mood, Schulze and Gerrard are building a sustained tension arch over a suite of seven individual compositions, some of them under a minute in length. Slow-motion Bell patterns, ostinato string impulses and synthetic Cello are laying down a space of mystical chambermusic on „Balaarat“, while the title track and the closing „Surrender to Silence“ present the concept of „Farscape“ in a more condensed context. There are spoken word contributions, mediaeval allusions as well as field recordings of waves crashing against the shore and of birdsong – Schulze has probably never been closer to the (dark side of) New Age in his entire life.

There will therefore, almost by default, be those charmed by the almost naive sentiments explored by this release and those for whom „Come Quietly“ will again represent a fusion of two worlds which were never meant for each other in the first place. Without a doubt, however, this musical encounter has led both artists onto paths they would otherwhise never have dared to tread. For Schulze especially this new direction seems more natural and organic than the stylistic experiments displayed on „Moonlake“, which oscillated bewilderingly between thrillingly contagious grooves, simplistic techno and hints at innovation and tradition alike. While he has probably long stopped reading reviews of his work, the idea that people are debating his latest album this far into his career must seem like a badge of honour to him. There are plenty more works in this artist yet: Even well into his 60s, Schulze is certainly showing no intention whatsoever of revoking his right to provoke.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Klaus Schulze
Homepage: Lisa Gerrard
Homepage: Synthetic Symphony Records

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