New box set for the connoisseur – Holger Czukay’s life achievement


Spanning across a long productive career this new box set by the Grönland label covers both Holger’s time as a member of Can to his impressive solo work and multitude of collaborations. Spanning both he’s work with Can to the time after means that you will be able to explore his music dating back before 1968 to his post-Can work in 1976.

The music industry of today owes a lot to this German music pioneer, if not for more or less being the inventor of the use of sampling. With this in mind Holger’s rather on the edge and sometimes utterly obscure music has influenced everything from punk, noise, trance, ambient, trip-hop and hip-hop.  After a false start as a jazz musician, Czukay studied in Cologne from 1963 to 1966 with the pioneering avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, a mentor figure who made a lasting impact on his approach to life and music. In 1968, he formed the band with the young German guitarist Michael Karoli which quickly evolved into The Can.

Minimalism was the key term: Nobody repeated one or two bass notes and made them count like Czukay. From 1968 to 1975, Czukay recorded the band’s group-mind improvisations onto two-track tape, then edited them into coherent pieces. “When you make a two-track recording you still have the choice to erase, to put holes into it,” Czukay said in 1989. “The holes are sometimes even more important than the actual sound.” In 1976, amid other lineup changes, Czukay switched from bass to shortwave radio — like his Stockhausen, he liked to use them “as unpredictable synthesizers,” he said in 2009. Czukay officially left Can in 1977, though he would edit the tapes for 1979’s Can and participated in short-lived group reunions in the late ’80s and late ’90s.

Pre-digital recording/editing techniques on the first few solo albums found Czukay building his parts in an exquisite way where everything is divided into its smallest components, the mixes often done fast and rough. Not uncommon Holger would mix each composition as many as 20 ways, then sample phrases from each mix and edit them back together. “This is the way of an artificially put-together piece,” he said. “Artificially in the sense of better than the original, or different and possibly better than the original.” As an example very phrase of Movies was painstakingly stitched together from numerous edits; the album as a whole is the product of several thousand edits, most of them via blade to magnetic tape. The results could be a funny, funky riot of international pop and ‘serious music’ sources (‘Cool in the Pool’), or heartbreakingly nice with a sound-story drawn from an Iranian shortwave radio broadcast (‘Persian Love’). ‘Hollywood Symphony’ is a mysteriously epic aural account of a non-existing film. Its episodes are ambiguous –– snatches of movie dialogue, shortwave noise, stately string synth, plaintive but peculiar guitar, and hundreds of indiscernible sources braid into and out of each other, over a fuzzy-blanket bassline and Liebezeit’s variations on a coolly loping beat that propels yet can be felt or understood in many ways.

In a recent interview he states on the use of shortwave radio:

A shortwave radio is just basically an unpredictable synthesizer. You don’t know what it’s going to bring from one moment to the next. It surprises you all the time and you have to react spontaneously. The idea came from Stockhausen again. He made a piece called ‘Short Wave’ [‘Kurzwellen’]. And I could hear that the musicians were searching for music, for stations or whatever, and he was sitting in the middle of it all and the sounds came into his hands and he made music out of it. He was mixing it live – and composing it live. He had a kind of plan, but didn’t know what the plan would bring him. With Can, I would mix stuff in with what the rest of the band were playing. Also, we were searching for a singer and we didn’t find one – we tested many, but couldn’t find anyone – so I thought: “Why not look to the radio for someone instead? The man inside the radio does not hear us, but we hear him.”

On the album ‘81’s On the Way to the Peak of Normal– found Czukay holed up in Cologne with a massive TV antenna in the garden and meters of tape loops spooling around every available surface. The close-mic’d vocals make the album sound dense, soupy and oddly claustrophobic, yet paradoxically the music is also spacious and airy – as if Czukay has created the audio equivalent of an optical illusion. On Der Osten ist Rot [The East is Red], Czukay and producer pal Conny Plank finally got to play with an Emulator – one of the first wave of affordable high-end digital samplers.

Czukay has collaborated with an impressive list of musicians that includes Brian Eno, David Sylvian and Jah Wobble. The ’90s found Czukay plugging into the global e-dance network, offering his personal take on techno in a series of club-friendly team-ups with U-She and Dr. Walker from Air Liquide. At 71, he shows no sign of slowing up, unleashing a slew of self-released material and collaborations. Even though the rest of the world seems to have finally caught up with his ideas, he still sometimes succeeds in startling the listener.

The below video shows an interesting collaboration between Czukay, Jah Wobble and U2’s The Edge

In an interview Holger was asked about his development as a musician – do you see creating music as a form of ‘play’ as much as a serious endeavor?

“Yes, of course it’s serious. But on the other hand, when I play I don’t take it seriously either. In the beginning, it didn’t matter if I played something or if someone else did it instead. But later on, I knew what to do with the material. I learned to compose and revise. But I’m not an expert musician, I’m not a great piano player or a great guitar player. But whenever I touch a musical instrument, somehow I know what to do. I know how to do it. I remember I was working with The Edge and he said in an interview sometime later that he had – at that time; it may have changed since – two guitar players who had influenced him: one was BB King and the other was me. I wonder why? Because I really couldn’t play the guitar. He could play much, much better than me. But I suppose whenever I pick up an instrument I always suddenly have the feeling that something positive will come out of it, that’s all.”

Holger Czukay interviewed in Santa Monica, CA in 2000, giving a 3-minute summation of how rock evolved in post-WWII Germany.

One day, in a Turkish cafe in Cologne, over plates of obscure fried organ meats and cups of sour milk, Holger Czukay summed up best what he searched for: “These things are not the type of ‘masterpieces’ that come by thinking and torturing your brain. That has nothing to do with creativity. These things are in the air, and you just grab at the right time. This idea is based on an ancient way of producing. Very effective, actually – there is a chance to be surprised by something, and accept something that was not to be foreseen.”

But the most resonant place to understand Czukay’s place in the post-rock musical continuum may be at the end of 2009’s The Grandfather Paradox, a DJ-mix CD by Henrik Schwarz, Âme & Dixon subtitled “A Journey Through 50 Years of Minimalistic Music.” There, “Sunday Jam,” a Czukay-edited track from 1979’s Can, finishes off a set that sets him, and them, alongside forebears like Steve Reich, Raymond Scott and Moondog, and followers such as Liquid Liquid, Young Marble Giants and minimal techno innovator Robert Hood. This is Holger Czukay’s immersive circularity in a nutshell: looking back, looking forward.

ABOUT THE ALBUM

The box includes 5 vinyls – including previously unreleased songs, a DVD with the film „Krieg der Töne / The War Of Sounds“ starring Holger Czukay as the main character (he also wrote the score for the film) and a 7inch (VinylVideo), as well as a lush booklet with previously unseen pictures.

Get it here

tracklisting:

Vinyl 1

1. Holger Schüring Quintett – Konfigurationen (1960, previously unreleased)

2. Technical Space Composer’s Crew – Canaxis (1969, Canaxis 5)

3. Technical Space Composer’s Crew – Boat Woman Song (1969, Canaxis 5)

4. Cluster & Eno – Ho Renomo (1977, Cluster & Eno)

Vinyl 2

1. Holger Czukay – Oh Lord Give Us More Money (1979, Movies)

2. Holger Czukay – Persian Love (1979, Movies)

3. Holger Czukay – Cool In The Pool (1979, Movies)

4. Holger Czukay – Hollywood Symphony (1979, Movies)

5. Les Vampyrettes (Czukay/Plank) – Biomutanten (1980, Les Vampyrettes)

Vinyl 3

1. Les Vampyrettes (Czukay/Plank) – Menetekel (1980, Les Vampyrettes)

2. Phew (Phew/Czukay/Liebezeit/Plank) – Signal (1981, Phew)

3. Holger Czukay – Witches Multiplication Table (1981, On The Way To To Peak Of Normal)

4. Holger Czukay – On The Way To The Peak Of Normal (1981, On The Way To To Peak Of Normal)

5. Holger Czukay – Ode To Perfume (1981, On The Way To To Peak Of Normal)

6. Holger Czukay – Two Bass Shuffle (1981, On The Way To To Peak Of Normal)

7. Holger Czukay/Jaki Liebezeit/Jah Wobble – How Much Are They? (1982, Full Circle)

Vinyl 4

1. Holger Czukay/Jaki Liebezeit/Jah Wobble – Trench Warfare (1982, Full Circle)

2. Holger Czukay/Jaki Liebezeit/Jah Wobble – Full Circle R.P.S. (No. 7) (1982, Full Circle)

3. Holger Czukay/Jaki Liebezeit/Jah Wobble – Twilight World (1982, Full Circle)

4. Holger Czukay – The Photo Song (1984, Der Osten Ist Rot)

5. Holger Czukay – Der Osten Ist Rot (1984, Der Osten Ist Rot)

6. Holger Czukay – Das Massenmedium (1984, Der Osten Ist Rot)

7. Holger Czukay – Träum Mal Wieder (1984, Der Osten Ist Rot)

8. Holger Czukay – Hey Baba Reebop (1987, Rome Remains Rome)

9. Holger Czukay – Hit Hit Flop Flop (1987, Rome Remains Rome)

Vinyl 5

1. Holger Czukay – Perfect World (1987, Rome Remains Rome)

2. Holger Czukay – Music In The Air (1987, Rome Remains Rome)

3. Holger Czukay – Ride A Radiowave (1991, Radio Wave Surfer)

4. Holger Czukay – We Can Fight All Night (1991, Radio Wave Surfer)

5. Holger Czukay – Through The Freezing Snow (1991, Radio Wave Surfer)

6. Holger Czukay w/ Karlheinz Stockhausen – Breath Taking (2008, Second Life, previously unreleased)

7. Holger Czukay & U-She – La Premiere (2008, Second Life)

8. Holger Czukay / Ursa Major – 21st Century (2007, 21st Century)

9. Bison (Czukay/Murphy/Smith) – Mandy (2004, Travellers)