Berlin School is the name for a style of electronic music. It is well known for combining minimal, atmospheric music with looping sequences and the use of cosmic electronic sounds. It is so called because it emerged in the German capital in the early 1970s with pioneers like Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Agitation Free amongst others.
Now more than 40 years later it is still around. Perhaps less popular than in its high days, but there is still a large (male dominated) audience listening to this music, and some of them listening to only this kind of music. There are still artists making a living from it and record labels selling it. In all those 40+ years the music hasn't really changed much. In essence it is very simple music (meaning there are not so many ingredients). But it is remarkable that it hasn't changed because it is synthesizer based music, and the synthesizer has made an enormous development in those 40+ years. It has become digital and the sequencer is being replaced with the computer that is capable of much more than producing simple looped sequences. Berlin School music is developed from the early big modular analog synthesizers such as the Moog Modular and the ARP 2600. Some of the artists still use a lot of old gear.
So what is the secret of the Berlin School? Why has it been able to survive the technologic revolution in the computer age? There is an element of meditation in the music. It is quiet, fluid music. There is an element of melancholy in it. A longing for travelling and reaching undiscovered places. There is an element of Science Fiction in it. Those early modular synthesizers looked like the control room for a space ship. Lots of knobs and cables and blinking lights. Synthesizers were much more magical instruments in the early days than they are today. The 1970s were a decade of space exploration that also inspired the arts. Mankind had just set foot on the moon and it was the expectation that the planets would follow. The Berlin School music is music for the imagination, the soundtrack for a dream, food for the child that is still somewhere hidden in every grown up person. Music for the mind, not for the feet. For an outsider it can be boring music that is always sounding the same, for an insider it is a ticket to Tau Ceti solar system through the inner space. And even now the mystical music from these ancient machines can be a counterweight for the domination in life by smart phones and the overload of information.
Craig Padilla is an American pupil of the Berlin School. He has been making music since the early 1990s, both solo and collaborating with others. His music is influenced by Steve Roach, incorporating some elements of new age and ethnical music. Sonar is his first vinyl release (the album is only released as a double LP). It perfectly illustrates the assertion that Berlin School music hasn't changed much: the album contains recordings from 1996 onwards, but it sounds as a unit and you cannot tell which recordings are old and which are new.
By releasing it on vinyl the circle is full again, since vinyl is the medium of the 1970s. An LP is much more than just the music. It is the artwork of the cover, the weight in your hands, a physical and spiritual experience of music.
**** Erik Gibbels (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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