Holger Czukay 1938-2017: Music is a certain vibration of time
September 5, 2017 5:50 PM   Subscribe

Nine years ago, MeFi music nerds celebrated Holger's 70th birthday. Today, a Cologne newspaper announced his death (original German) (English Google translation) (Pitchfork) Holger's CAN bandmate Jaki Liebezeit died in January of this year; Holger's wife Ursula died in July. This is terribly sad, but won't you come on in and celebrate him one more time?

Holger plays French horn for the Eurythmics on Never Gonna Cry Again in 1981.

B-boys and Vitamin C

From 2011 (and the source of this post's title): Music is a Miracle: At the age of 43 Holger Czukay was working on a message for his fans. He kept it unreleased for 30 years. Music is a Miracle takes you on 18 minute time travel through Holger's own musical universe. He gives the listener the chance to become a part of his world of music giving sound examples of the following tracks: Ode to Perfume, Fragrance, 2 bass shuffle, Witches' multiplication table which were released on the album "On the Way to the Peak of Normal" in 1981.
posted by maudlin (52 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

I just put on Ege Bamyasi. The legends are falling.
posted by SansPoint at 5:56 PM on September 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

Way influential figure who, as with many way-influential figures, was not particularly well known by the general public who enjoyed the fruits of his influence downstream.

His work with Can and his solo work, particularly Movies and its "hit" "Persian Love," opened so many ears.


posted by the sobsister at 6:01 PM on September 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Such a genius. Can changed my DNA.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:01 PM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]


We're losing our Vitamin C.
posted by crazy_yeti at 6:10 PM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

His work with David Sylvian was my gateway. An extremely innovative and important musician. He'll be missed.
posted by davebush at 6:24 PM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by droplet at 6:35 PM on September 5, 2017

Here's video of Can performing a televised concert for WDR in Soest, back in 1970.

The opening band that night was also filmed for WDR. Some group called Kraftwerk.
posted by SansPoint at 6:35 PM on September 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

Ah, damn, he seemed so... indestructible, maybe because he enjoyed being human and it was easy to share his view of that in, e.g. Photo Song.

posted by jet_silver at 7:07 PM on September 5, 2017

posted by Lyme Drop at 7:13 PM on September 5, 2017

I think Photo Song is the only song I knew, but all these years later it's one of the songs that I hum when I'm happily puttering around the house. It looks like he's left behind an amazing legacy, and I'm looking forward into discovering more.

posted by Room 641-A at 7:26 PM on September 5, 2017

I remember watching, with a mixture of annoyance and wonder, as he alternately goaded, joked with, and just plain confounded a half full house at the DC's Black Cat one night c. 2002. People had showed up expecting Can, but instead got effects-drenched bass noodling, semi-comprehensible anecdotes delivered in a thick German accent, and some stiff-jointed dancing around a stool that looked like it could collapse at any moment. Holger seemed to be enjoying himself. Whatever else you might say about the guy, he was an artist all the way through.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:28 PM on September 5, 2017 [8 favorites]

A huge influence whose impact is really only being felt now.

posted by Ironmouth at 7:38 PM on September 5, 2017

posted by cultcargo at 8:05 PM on September 5, 2017

posted by pt68 at 8:14 PM on September 5, 2017

posted by kenko at 8:17 PM on September 5, 2017

posted by interrupt at 8:29 PM on September 5, 2017

posted by aesop at 8:31 PM on September 5, 2017


Can - Paperhouse (Live)
posted by the painkiller at 8:39 PM on September 5, 2017

posted by Going To Maine at 8:56 PM on September 5, 2017

posted by rhizome at 9:09 PM on September 5, 2017

Oh, no! Oh I'm so sorry to hear this!

posted by goofyfoot at 9:27 PM on September 5, 2017

Aww crap.

posted by evilDoug at 10:14 PM on September 5, 2017

Der Osten ist Rot (The Faeces-collectors descend from the mountain) - celebratory and somehow also final, yet always hinting at infinite possibility - he'll be greatly missed.
posted by progosk at 10:16 PM on September 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Loved him in The Usual Suspects.
posted by oluckyman at 12:39 AM on September 6, 2017

posted by misteraitch at 12:41 AM on September 6, 2017

Hometown boy.
posted by pracowity at 12:50 AM on September 6, 2017

posted by SageLeVoid at 12:58 AM on September 6, 2017

Movies was one of those lifechanging albums for me. I bought it solely based on a review in either Omni or Heavy Metal Yes. The album the reviewer wrote about sounded so interesting I couldn't not scrape together my money and buy it. And the album I bought lived up to the review - I'd not heard any Can, even, so it was all new to me. Even a lot of the Can I've heard since seems a bit... charming but meandering? ... by comparison. But Movies is pin-sharp, despite having an almost-side-long track on each side. And each side has it's own pop song. Cool in the Pool is, or ought to be, an all-time Summer classic, and Persian Love a playful refutation of the Ayatollahs' banning of music.

It was the first time I heard what would later be called sampling - but (as with the much more famous My Life in the Bush of Ghosts the following year) it was done entirely with tape. Something delicious cooked up in the lab. All the interjections on Cool in the Pool, all the voices on Persian Love recorded from shortwave radio and meticulously dropped into place. Eno and Byrne just lined up voices they thought worked and let them run (and were usually right), but Czukay and Connie Plank took their range of sources - I think the tracks were originally made from extended Can-style jams, then all the good bits were selected and used and spliced together - and assembled them with astonishing care.

I listened to it again a couple of weeks ago when I was out for a run. It still sounds fantastic.
posted by Grangousier at 1:20 AM on September 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

posted by ZipRibbons at 1:31 AM on September 6, 2017

posted by acb at 1:37 AM on September 6, 2017

posted by filtergik at 3:24 AM on September 6, 2017

The Plight and Premonition album with David Sylvian is one of the most sublime things ever recorded.

posted by merocet at 4:07 AM on September 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Czukay was a master. What a loss.

From The Quietus.
posted by metagnathous at 4:35 AM on September 6, 2017

posted by Kattullus at 4:54 AM on September 6, 2017

posted by bile and syntax at 5:03 AM on September 6, 2017

posted by mustard seeds at 5:11 AM on September 6, 2017

I knew Czukay's work well before I knew he'd ever been in a band prior, and he was my first ever favorite musician in that cultish, deep-to-the-core sort of way, and still remains my all-time favorite.

It was a tape mailed to me by a friend of my sister's, arriving in a padded envelope from where they all lived in the East Village, and it was 1983, when I was struggling with the horrors of high school.

Joe, Jenny said you were looking for cool new music and I think you'll really love this stuff, read the note in the envelope, and there were two tapes, one with a Snakefinger album on one side and a Grauzone album on the other, and a second tape with Full Circle on Side A and On The Way To The Peak of Normal on B, and I loved and treasured the former tape, but the second one changed me.

I'd loved all sorts of music, mostly landing in some peculiar middle ground between psychedelic period Beatles, Eno, and Parliament/Funkadelic, but those were all amazing works of musicians at their creative peak, filtering in from outside, but as my Czukay tape spooled through my shockingly expensive Toshiba portable that was the first thing I bought with my first paycheck ever, I felt like that was music that was coming from inside my head, from some junkman's workshop tucked somewhere in the curlier parts of my brain. Where other musicians worked steadily with and against the existing scholarship of how things were meant to go together, Czukay grabbed snippets phasing in over the shortwave and spliced them in, sometimes seemingly at random, and it worked, surprisingly at first, then better and better as the tape played on a seemingly endless loop soundtracking my otherwise frustrating existing.

Where George Clinton and Bootsy gave me a future that was day-glo, silver-encrusted, and jittery with gorgeous alien funk, there was a futurism in Czukay that was something we wouldn't all know until now, and something that took what jazz did and ran with it in the studio—when you run out of red, use blue. I'd already been a fanatic for tape, carrying around my old yard-sale-find Craig portable reel-to-reel and collecting the sounds around me, but it was a sort of rote ritual with no logical outcome beyond a love of the luxury of sound until I heard Holger Czukay's joyous, playful incorporation of the world in a blizzard of snippets.

I wouldn't know for years where the voices in "Ode To Perfume" came from, and when I found them, years later, in a trashy pop song, it reminded me what I'd already learned from Czukay, which is that things don't necessarily have to be rational to work, and that sometimes, you can just let the tape guide you, and let the fragments guide you to find new meanings out of what might otherwise look like static. The sky's full of music and voices, the tape recorder is a painter, pulling noise together for our future uses, and, as William Burroughs quoted from Bartol—Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.

It is a splendid musical maxim that can be found informing some of our best work, and it works for life, too. Keep your eyes and ears open, take everything in, let everything be grist for the mill.

My own music, ultimately, doesn't sound much like Czukay, nor Eno, nor Reich, nor Anderson or most of my other early influences, but when I write best, it's because I'm working from the principles that I learned from Czukay. I'm less concerned about being singular in my work than I am of calling in the sky, tuning the dial on the increasingly scratchy shortwave radio in my head to pull in all the little bits and pieces that come together into new design languages. In the same way that Czukay somehow brought together a punk rock bassist and the Pope to make something lush and gorgeous, the end rule is always if it sounds right, it is right.

I took up music informed by Czukay, but without his means, which meant my splice-block tape collage curiosities went in their own direction, but that's the essence of what he did, always striving to be in a place of mild or more profound discomfort. Thirty years or so ago, I read a rare interview with him in a magazine in which he said that "learning to play an instrument is learning to lie," and that little sentence contained multitudes. I am a better liar than I have ever been, in some areas of expertise, and in others, I'm more comfortable than ever to just step off the cliff into the void with a wheelbarrow full of things, fairly confident that I'll be able to build an airplane on my way down, or a set of spring-loaded shoes, or a nice casket in which to crash land.

I met Czukay, just once, in the corner of a little club in DC, and when I was standing there, in his presence, next to the other rabid fan who waited until the man himself came out, I realized that there is really nothing to say to him that could successfully encapsulate the feelings I had then, and that it was all essentially immaterial. I thanked him for his work and all that it meant to me, half-heartedly had him sign my tape recorder, and said, apropos of almost nothing, that he threw my whole world up in the air and I've been piecing it back together ever since, happily so.

I am a better liar than I have ever been, and yet I have this wheelbarrow and a long way down.

When I need a little air and space, there is always somewhere to go.

All machines are standing still.

Hiss and listen. Hiss and listen.
posted by sonascope at 6:34 AM on September 6, 2017 [11 favorites]

I am so very certain that I first encountered the name Holger Czukay in one of Matt Howarth's music review strips that seemed ubiquitous in certain zines and quasi-underground magazines in the 1980s. Magazines were cheaper and easier to get where I lived at the time than records were, so it's deeply ingrained into me that Czukay, Conny Plank (and his collaborator/antagonist Cthulhu), and the rest of the Krautrock pioneers came from and soundtracked the Bugtown universe of infinite lives and transgressive adventures, along with Nash the Slash and of course The Residents.

Those comics had affected my preconceptions sufficiently that when I was finally able to listen to Can, Amon Duul, and the rest, the music seemed inextricable from that futuristic otherworld. They seemed untouchable in a way, and in hindsight that was kind of a shame; the music was spacey as all get-out, sure, but it also made it harder to appreciate how much earthiness and play was going on.

So, rock on in Bugtown, Holger. I hope you've already hooked up with some awesome collaborators out there.
posted by ardgedee at 7:33 AM on September 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

“I was fired for being too…intriguing.” Long interview from 2012.
posted by maudlin at 7:57 AM on September 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

posted by Golem XIV at 7:58 AM on September 6, 2017

posted by Yowser at 8:28 AM on September 6, 2017

The only Can album I had was Ege Bamyasi, but I really loved it. I'm enjoying the links in this thread.

posted by languagehat at 8:48 AM on September 6, 2017

Yes, we Can.

Everything I wanted to say has been said, but I don't think that was ever true for him.

posted by Devonian at 9:41 AM on September 6, 2017


I too know his work through David Sylvian
posted by supermedusa at 10:36 AM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've taken a fair few entheogens in my time but I only ever connected once with the divine. I'm pretty sure the soundtrack had something to do with it.

Damn, Holger. Between you and Walter, it's been quite a week.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 12:34 PM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

at some point, I'll get more eloquent with my response to Herr Czukay's passing, but for now, I'll just redirect you back to sonascope's comment, which in linking to Blessed Easter, Ode to Perfume and Traum Mal Weider really does get to the core of the complex and thoughtful beauty that makes the man's work so essential to me.

Also, On the Way to the Peak of Normal.
posted by philip-random at 5:49 PM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sad to lose that one.

Still haven't listened to all he's put out. Think I'll take my time with it.

Save that money for a rainy day
for the sake of future days

posted by cwill at 10:33 PM on September 6, 2017

posted by silentbicycle at 5:40 AM on September 7, 2017

"Auf Wiedersehen to Can co-founder Holger Czukay," a tribute by Tyler Wilcox at Aquarium Drunkard.
posted by LeLiLo at 11:17 PM on September 7, 2017

Getting pretty tired of my listening diet being driven by the deaths of my musical heroes.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:55 AM on September 8, 2017 [3 favorites]


Getting pretty tired of my listening diet being driven by the deaths of my musical heroes.

Well said, DirtyOldTown.
posted by On the Corner at 3:11 AM on September 12, 2017

posted by homunculus at 9:27 AM on September 12, 2017

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