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Ersatz kosmische
June 9, 2013 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Recently, a recording of electronic music allegedly created by an East German Kosmische Musik enthusiast recruited to help the DDR's Olympic training programme appeared. This recording turned out to be a hoax created by two musicians from Edinburgh, but, as such, it is the latest in a long line of ersatz krautrock to emerge in recent years.

In 2008, Australian nu-electro label Modular released Eine Kleine Nacht Musik, a self-titled album from a project by American electronic producer Henry Smithson. Inspired by kosmische artists like Cluster and Tangerine Dream and consisting of ten instrumental tracks of analogue synths and metronomic rhythms with titles like Bardolator, Die Fontäne and Besuchen Sie Mich Einmal, it nonetheless did not come with a back story, and made no pretence of being anything more than a homage to an era by a modern practitioner.

This was not the case with the Endless House project, ostensibly the collection of recordings by an art collective of independently wealthy European eccentrics, who, in the spring of 1973, managed to establish a futuristic art-space/discotheque in the heart of the Białowieża primeval forest, on the Polish-USSR border, deep behind the Iron Curtain. The Endless House Project release consists of a CD with a set of postcards, showing photographs of the venue's interiors and brief biographies of the artists involved, and was accompanied by several interviews with the principals (one of them, equally improbably, from “BBC Radio Hungary” in 1977). The music itself echoes the more electronic end of kosmische musik, ostensibly beating Kraftwerk to the punch by years, and in places prefiguring Detroit techno; the backstory reads more like what a hypothetical Wes Anderson film set amidst the 20th-century German/European avant-garde would have resembled, from the juxtapositions of Bauhaus, Stockhausen, Constructivism and krautrock to the fraternal tensions between Endless House's megalomaniacal founder Jiri Kantor and his younger brother Ernest.

Somewhat less flamboyant is Science Of The Sea; ostensibly the work of one Jürgen Müller, a marine scientist from the University of Kiel, who in 1979, after long field trips into the Baltic, felt inspired to buy some synthesizers, set them up on his houseboat and start composing instrumental pieces with titles like “Sea Bed Meditation” and “Dream Sequence For A Jellyfish”. One of the 100 or so vinyl records he had pressed supposedly ended up in the hands of a small label named Digitalis Recordings and online. The music itself is comprised mostly of synthesizer chords and arpeggios, sounding not far from Klaus Schulze's electronic compositions; apparently Müller's original aim was to sell it to TV documentary companies as incidental music.

Finally, Jon Brooks (of British hauntologists The Advisory Circle) has also made a record with mid-century German modernist references; titled Music For Dieter Rams, it is said to be made entirely from sounds recorded from a Braun AB-30 alarm clock, designed by the famous industrial designer; stylistically, the music veers towards the programmed electronics of Kraftwerk.
posted by acb (18 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
I loved this stuff 30 years ago then slowly grew away from it. The few times I went back it no longer grabbed me the way it used to. But this, I'm liking - perfect Sunday morning musik. Thanks!
posted by ashbury at 7:35 AM on June 9, 2013


Ever since I found out Kompressor was the toothpaste for dinner guy I have believed in nothing
posted by thelonius at 7:44 AM on June 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love the idea of faux historical music but always forget I should actually listen to it. I'd heard about the Dieter Rams project from a friend, but never got around to checking it out, and now, clicking though, it seems to be offline at the original source.

Going to have to check out the Jürgen Müller before it vanishes.
posted by immlass at 7:53 AM on June 9, 2013


It took a couple read-throughs for me to figure out that this doesn't say komische Musik.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:24 AM on June 9, 2013


People really believed it was made in the 1970s in East Germany? Really? They didn't even try to make it sound vintage. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of synths could tell you "no fucking way this was made before the 21st century".
posted by DecemberBoy at 8:42 AM on June 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Neat! I'm looking forward to listening to all of these; so far I'm really enjoying the Kosmischer Läufer album. Good stuff. I'd also recommend some recent Kosmische explorations by Sungod, Jonas Reinhardt and Oren Ambarchi.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 8:47 AM on June 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyone with a cursory knowledge of synths could tell you "no fucking way this was made before the 21st century".

i don't think it could have been done during the 70s - the drums and poly synths give that away - but it could have been done during the 80s and 90s easily
posted by pyramid termite at 9:31 AM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


People really believed it was made in the 1970s in East Germany? Really? They didn't even try to make it sound vintage. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of synths could tell you "no fucking way this was made before the 21st century".


Anyone with a cursory knowledge of synths would know about Wendy Carlos and all the other pioneers from Moog down to Aphex Twin, including garage innovators HAM radio enthusiasts etc. around the world that make the world of "design your own music making machine and make neat stuff with it" so interesting to begin with. So, in other words, a "cursory knowledge of synths" would lend to this story, not detract from it.
posted by eparchos at 9:44 AM on June 9, 2013


So, in other words, a "cursory knowledge of synths" would lend to this story, not detract from it.

Well, and also, part of liking this style of music is the idea of the time & place it came from; so for a Krautrock/kosmische fan like myself, whether or not the music actually comes from that time is secondary to the fun story and the evocation of a particular period in music. When hearing about a new "lost" Krautrock album, I don't really care much about things like authenticity &c.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 10:07 AM on June 9, 2013


It's a pity there's no real Jürgen Müller, but Science of the Sea is some lovely music. Somewhere there's an alternate reality where electronica had a Jacques Cousteau.
posted by El Brendano at 2:23 PM on June 9, 2013


@El Brendano: You might check out the movie Atlantis by Luc Besson, the soundtrack (by Eric Serra) is pretty wicked for what it is.
posted by eparchos at 2:48 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the earliest polysynths -- a 163-tube jobbie with mechanical, magnetic tone-wheel-driven oscillators, seven attack/decay/sustain envelopes, vibrato, 3-stage filter, and 72-note polyphony -- dates to the late 1930s. Created by Larry Hammond, you heard it in Gone With the Wind.

Forget Moog and Ray Scott, their work was built on the shoulders of giants. Not to even mention Kock's 1932 neon jobbie.
posted by Twang at 3:39 PM on June 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm possibly off the beaten track a bit in that one of the touchstone albums that got me interested in making music was one of the collaborations between Cluster and Eno, After The Heat. It's not as well-loved as Eno's solo work, or Cluster's, either, but there's this great intersection of the sort of abstract electronic play of Cluster and Eno's love of atmosphere's that's always kept my interest, and it's an album I revisit frequently.

I'm gearing up for a gig next Friday, in my long-form droning ambient mode, but I've been thinking I'd like to do a more composed recording project this year, and my inspiration is still taken from that musical intersection, and particularly from the way that Cluster, at their best, made music that's electronic because it was their playground in which to explore the possibilities of synthetic instrumentation, not for just novelty or familiarity. My reservation is that there's just this sort of thing underway out there in which we look back lovingly to the pieces that inspired us and then manoeuvre in the excessive light of nostalgia, producing nearly pitch-perfect replicas of what we loved instead of trying to revisit the will and the idea behind the musicians who moved us.

It's the reason I think so much guitar music has been mired in sameness for forever, with people aping Hendrix's actual output with the stale puritanism of classical fiends instead of Hendrix's drive and wildness, or otherwise working to make lovingly rendered perfect recreations of their other inspirations. These days, the stigma of synthesizer love has finally faded in the post-metal, post-grunge, post-post-post-pop USofA, so we're free to make our mechanical masterpieces, but I end up feeling a bit disappointed that what's happening often isn't the big reach or the stratospheric mission—it's the warm, sepia-toned reflections of what made us happy, and that's okay, I guess, if what you're seeking is a new Sha Na Na album or something comforting and familiar. The new OMD album is the best Kraftwerk album in decades, and that's good, in a way, but I have to wonder if the old guard and the new new romantics are incapable of a stretch anymore, or just unwilling.

This recording is a fine and fun thing, to be sure, but I wonder what it would be if it went farther afield from the realm of the merely pitch-perfect.

Of course, as James Murphy says, the best way to complain is to make things, so there's my jab in my own rib cage with a pointy stick.
posted by sonascope at 3:53 PM on June 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


I like 'Science of the Sea' a lot, and I wasn't familiar with Kosmischer Laufer--thanks for this post.
posted by box at 5:31 PM on June 9, 2013


Anyone with a cursory knowledge of synths would know about Wendy Carlos and all the other pioneers from Moog down to Aphex Twin, including garage innovators HAM radio enthusiasts etc. around the world that make the world of "design your own music making machine and make neat stuff with it" so interesting to begin with. So, in other words, a "cursory knowledge of synths" would lend to this story, not detract from it.

What does any of that have to do with the fact that you can clearly hear technology being used that didn't exist before at least the 90s? What are you even talking about? Aphex Twin? What?
posted by DecemberBoy at 9:51 PM on June 9, 2013


I am talking about people making their own synthesizers at home, coming up with alternative and weird technologies that you wouldn't have heard based on a catalog selection of synthesizers. The very nature of a synthesizer being a playback device, essentially, means that any sound recorded into it might make for some incredibly weird music. So if this false band had made their own instruments and recorded their own sounds for playback, well, they could have easily come up with this stuff as early as the 1950s or even before. Analog is a marvellous thing.
posted by eparchos at 11:51 PM on June 9, 2013


I doubt that it would have sounded as crisply quantised, unless they invented the computerised sequencer as well (in East Germany, where technology was rationed, in 1973). Done with tape editing and overdubs, music would just sound looser.
posted by acb at 3:46 AM on June 10, 2013


part of liking this style of music is the idea of the time & place it came from ... whether or not the music actually comes from that time is secondary to the fun story and the evocation of a particular period in music.

Let me be the first to call this "Krautpunk."

Science of the Sea is lovely. The Endless House project, which sounds even more up my alley, I missed somehow.

On the topic of instruments that should be revived, I vote for the Clavilux.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:53 AM on June 10, 2013


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