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Conrad Schnitzler – Filmmusik 2

Bureau B

Conrad Schnitzler - Filmmusik 2Conrad Schnitzler, early member of both Tangerine Dream and Kluster, must have found both of those oppressive bands too formulaic and stifling. By 1975, he  had struck out on his own, producing music for films that had yet to be released or even made. Judging by the inner sleeve of the album, these are not films as we may recognise but were the products of his dabbling in the infancy of videography.

There are two volumes of these works, this being the second, and it contains material from the same source as the first volume, recently discovered master tapes dating from 1975. I think, bearing in mind that this is forty years ago and this is one man grappling with early electronics solely for the purpose of dovetailing with video images that only he could see and imagine, this is an extraordinary work. Clearly, he was the sort of restless, questing polymath who puts the lazy likes of me seriously to shame.

The scary thing is just how prescient this work is. Across six tracks, one of which runs to twenty-three minutes, he gives us a master-class of solo electronics that still sounds current forty years on. The first five tracks are all of a similar four- to five-minute length and based around processed beats of various tempos. Drones weave in and out of the first, evoking a cold, stark landscape. Static chatter and oriental tones over a more elegiac tempo change the mood and draw the listener down slightly. We are taken into landscapes alien and barren as the sounds of crazy insects ascending and descending, hovering spacecraft and skittering helicopter blades sit atop the constant beat barrage with synths at times hesitant and at others random, producing background tension. In the foreground, sounds are hesitant, hypnotic, incessant, disruptive; sometimes it is difficult to concentrate and at others there is a slight sickly sensation.

The long final track is a different kettle of fish. Its extreme duration allows Conrad to really push the listener and to a certain extent himself with the limits of what is tolerable. We have three distinct changes in feel over the track; the first ten minutes are proto-techno (bearing in mind this is 1975), the beat is fairly relentless and in the foreground an oscillator rises and falls about every forty-five seconds. It is just enough time for you to be drawn back in again each time, rather like riding a rollercoaster, the thrill continuing until the rhythm starts to slow, a sinister drone takes over and the waves return at a lower pitch. Things become random and scattered after this, the sound of foil being scrunched becomes oddly mesmeric until matters gradually drop out and the track ends as a skeleton of its former self.

I know techno was bound to be invented eventually and although I am not a huge fan of the genre, there is something about that sound that has been co-opted over the decades by various people even up to the current likes of Factory Floor. There is also a touch of the soundtrack to Stranger Things in some of the sounds and textures. They evoke that air of mystery and unease that the recent wave of ’80s-centric synth merchants are also producing. Now, whether anybody has had the chance to hear this music over the last forty years, I don’t know — but it has rightly taken its place in the evolution of electronic music. Personally, I think it a fascinating document of one man’s trip into the future.

-Mr Olivetti-

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