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Legend of Despair

img  Tobias

Picture this: There's a man you consider a living legend on the other side of the Atlantic and noone in your immediate surroundings seems to know or care about him. That, in a nutshell, is the story of Greg Allen. In the 80s and early 90s, his love for the music of German Synthesizer pioneer Klaus Schulze grew in perfect sync with its decrease in availability in the USA. „Schulze was like a mystery man to us, barely knew what he looked like (except Moondawn cover), never heard him speak, his personal life was off limits“, Allen remembers of these years, „I would try to share his music but no one was interested.“ There seemed to be two logical conclusions: Despair or write a book about him. Allen went for the latter.

A wealth of information
The result of 1,5 years of persistent work and, as he freely admits, an „aggressive approach“, „Klaus Schulze – Electronic Music Legend“ has now been made available by specialist mail order Eurock. Containing reviews of almost the complete Schulze discography (including sideprojects), interviews with friends, colleagues and collaborators as well as a plethora of appurtenant quotes, it represents a first and expansive effort of shedding light into a career which now spans 40 years and has gone through as many  memorable peaks as it has experienced medial troughs. Just flicking through the pages of the book gives you the excited feeling of being granted access to a  wealth of previously unavailable information.

To get this far, Allen has had to surmount a couple of obstacles. Many of the artists he wanted to talk to were extremely hard to get in touch with and intermediaries proved consistently unreliable. The scene for the kind of electronic music Schulze excels in has never seen eye to eye with the press, possibly down to the latter's persistently antigonous stance towards its protagonists in the early years. Consequently, many artists have become notoriously shy of talking to anyone outside of their immediate circle of friends. And then, establishing immediate personal contact with his book's main persona was barred by Schulze's friend and quasi-manager Klaus Dieter Müller, according to Allen. Even though Müller was willing to answer questions himself and despite his involvement providing the book with a historical spine and a detailed timeline, Allen remained dissatisfied. In the end, he managed to secure Schulze's home phone number and gave him a ring. From then on, his endeavours gained new momentum.

Always entertaining
Allen's persistency has paid off. The interviews alone justify the book's price tag of $40. Even though they would have profited from a little editing (there's a couple of unnecessary repetitions for example), it is a revelatory joy to read Harald Grosskopf's comments on the recording of aforementioned classic „Moondawn“ (on which he accompanied Schulze's oneiric Sequencer lines on drums) and his personal dislike of the orchestral set up of monolithic double-album follow-up „X“. Vocalist Jullia Messenger provides a truckload of entertaining annecdotes and personal impressions. Steve Roach and Robert Rich get to offer their perspective on how Schulze's music influenced their own sound. And long-time allies Marian Gold (of Synthiepop band Alphaville) and Jörg Schaaf allow for a glimpse at the technical and creative process at the hart of Klaus Schulze's music.

Even though other conversations are less satisfying, they are still entertaining. Allen's email interview with Japanese composer Kitaro, for example, is almost hilarious for the uninspired brevity of the answers – a language issue, no doubt. Schulze himself stated that he was looking forward to perusing the pool of memories Allen had tapped into, telling him: „Now I get to see what all my friends really think of me!"

Because informational access was restricted, the book falls short on the autobiographical part. Instead, Allen's album reviews are at the heart of the publication. Mostly descriptive, they are less suited as ratings or classifications of Schulze's prolific canon of works and rather serve as offering a first taste of what to expect musically. Part of this is down to former distribution issues of his music in the USA, which meant many records were not even for sale overseas: „For the late comers, the guys in their 30's who were babies when „Irrlicht“ came out or even in their 40's, I tried to give a thorough impression of every album I could to help people make a decision or if they know the album (everybody knows „Timewind“, right), compare their own opinions with mine“, Allen says, „I describe the book as a celebration of KS' career for the Klaus Schulze junkie!“

A lack of emotional distance
It would have made his labour of love even more admirable if he had included this extremely apt description of his aims in the opening paragraph of the book. Instead, he claims that it wants to prove why Klaus Schulze is worthy of the tag „Electronic Music Legend“ and should even be considered the „most important composer of the genre“. This, however, is something it can not deliver, because Allen lacks the necessary emotional distance to gauge the impact and importance of his subject in an objective way. Almost every album is labelled a masterpiece here and wide-spread concerns with him repeating himself or pieces dragging on for too long remain all but unaddressed. This lack of dramaturgy occasionally turns „Electronic Music Legend“ into a difficult read for outsiders or those with a more critical stance towards Schulze's oeuvre.

Others, meanwhile, will find this attitude refreshing. For once, „Electronic Music Legend“ represents a fan-zone free of the usual nagging and whingeing. For decades, the media have neglected Schulze and misrepresented him due to a persistent lack of understanding, so positive retaliation was an obvious response. Greg Allen has done the scene a favour, because his work offers a much needed point of departure for more analytical essays on the man and his music in the future. Not a bad result at all after being close to despair for years: Thanks to his book, there is definitely no longer an excuse for not knowing about the living legend on the other side of the Atlantic any more.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Klaus Schulze
Homepage: Klaus Schulze – Electronic Music Legend Microsite
Homepage: Eurock

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