On August 4, 2011 Conrad Schnitzler (74) passed away. He was a pioneer and a legend in electronic music. He didn't get the credits for it, but he wasn't aiming for that either. He saw himself as a sonic artist rather than a musician playing music in a melodic form. Schnitzler was co-founder of the famous Zodiak Arts Club in Berlin in the late sixties. In its short existence this club launched the careers of many famous German electronic bands and artists such as Klaus Schulze, Ashra Tempel, Agitation Free, Cluster and Tangerine Dream. It was the place to be for anyone with artistic ambitions in Berlin. Schnitzler started Tangerine Dream together with Edgar Froese and Klaus Schulze on drums. Together they recorded the debut album Electronic Meditation (1970). However, Schnitzler had his own musical path to follow and both he and Schulze left the band after that album. Froese then recruited Peter Baumann and Chris Franke. With this line-up the band would eventually be successful.
Meanwhile Schnitzler was also involved in Eruption, a band that evolved from the jam sessions at the Zodiak Arts Club. It included Wolfgang Seidel and Klaus Schulze and members from Ashra Tempel and Agitation Free. Together with Dieter Möbius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Schnitzler formed Kluster. This trio existed for only a short period of time, but recorded two albums: Klopfzeichen and Zwei Osterei. Schnitzler then went solo and started to experiment with synthesizers. He recorded three groundbreaking albums: Rot (1972), Blau (1973) and Gelb (1981, but recorded in the early seventies). These albums were private releases and therefore didn't get the attention they deserved. Around the same time Kraftwerk with Autobahn (1974) and Tangerine Dream with Phaedra (1973) were highly credited for being innovative and setting the standard for electronic music. Schnitzler didn't aim for those credits; for a few years he focussed on his street performances, until Peter Baumann convinced him to record an album for his Paragon-label. Con (1978), later reissued as Ballet Statique, became his musical break through. Schnitzler's style differs from both Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. Kraftwerk make more or less conventional songs using electronic instruments. Their rhythms are electronic, but the structure of their songs is conventional. The sound of Schnitzler lacks the cosmic, atmospherical elements of Tangerine Dream. Instead, his music sounds very clinical and artificial, pure electronic. The music is like an abstract painting where the sequences are the shapes and the sounds are the colours. Just like an abstract painting one cannot explain what it is, and therefore the listener should really listen into it in order to comprehend.
In the first decade of the 21st century Schnitzler gained some more popularity. With the rise of laptop music some producers started to make more abstract music like Schnitzler before them, and Schnitzler started to collaborate with some of them. The Japanese record label Captain Trip re-released a large part of his back catalogue, and small independent record labels in Germany and the United States issued both new and old work. Conrad Schnitzler was very productive. Just four days before his death he finished his last recordings. In the seventies he recorded relatively few albums, although he recorded many cassettes which he sent to fans and friends. There may be a lot of recordings kept in the vaults like Live 1972, released about a month before his death. The title immediately raises the question: is this a real live recording? Well, it doesn't sound as one; no sound of an audience and almost too perfect to be a live recording. Back in 1972 it was very difficult to play electronic music live on stage. At the time the available synthesizers didn't have memory chips. In order to change the sound the musician had to change all the settings manually. Some solved this problem by having a synthesizer for each sound, but the equipment simply was too expensive for most people in those days. Besides, Schnitzler didn't like playing live. Once a piece of music had been finished, it lost his interest. Playing the same music night after night wasn't what he was looking for. He used to do street performances and performances at art galleries where he used a backing tape while he was acting, wearing a helmet with a megaphone on it. This helmet became his trademark. I think that the music on Live 1972 was used for such a performance.
Listening to the music it's noticeable that Schnitzler used a sequencer. In those days sequencers were relatively simple; they could repeat a short sequence of a few notes. This was two years before Tangerine Dream started to use them. The entire album consists of a lot of short untitled pieces, where sometimes the same sequence and sounds return. Even for today's ears the music is remarkable and extraordinary. In 1972 this must have sounded as extraterrestrial music. Whoever restored the sound from the original tapes deserves a statue. The sound is very clear, twinkling and dynamic. Live 72 is only released as a double-LP. There's a small issue of hundred in white vinyl and one of five hundred in black vinyl. Both are sold out already. With his passing away there will be an increase in the interest for the works of Conrad Schnitzler. I hope his heirs will release more of these treasures; not for commercial exploitation, but this music deserves to be heard. And Conrad Schnitzler deserves the credits for being one of the few true innovators in electronic music.
***** Erik Gibbels (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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