[Review] Klaus Schulze: Irrlicht (1972)

The first in a musical odyssey of electronic soundscapes and sculptures that combines equal parts art and artifice.

Kronomyth 1.0: Mind candy, ear licked.

Klaus Schulze’s first solo album is billed as a “quadraphonic symphony for orchestra and e-machines.” To paraphrase a very famous movie, you had me at quadraphonic. Interestingly, the orchestra is in fact just manipulated tapes of an orchestra rehearsal, which places this album firmly in the musique concrète camp. (Things look so much cooler in italics, don’t they?) And the e-machines are actual electronic devices and not some secret code word for a synthesizer. So, in summary, this is an album of manipulated orchestra tapes and electronic devices, which is a recipe for awesome.

The album opens with Ebene, roughly translated as a plane or a level surface. It begins with muffled orchestral sounds through manipulated tapes that are soon joined with the drone of an electric organ. That’s not the most evocative description, so let me try to explain what that sounds like. Imagine a giant computer dreaming out loud in an empty cathedral, and you sort of have an idea. I’ve heard Tangerine Dream’s Electronic Meditation, and “Ebene” is on a whole other level. (I know, I only amuse myself.) TD clawed at the cosmos with musical instruments. Schulze lets the cosmos flow through him like an electrical current. “Ebene” ends abruptly with a kind of cosmic toilet flush (I kid you not) and the listener is quickly swept into the alien, electronic world of Gewitter (“thunderstorm”). Here, Schulze creates some truly out-of-this-world space music that serves as a brief but captivating science-fiction soundscape.

Exil Sils Maria is another large block of electronic musique concrète. Upon hearing the piece played backwards, Schulze decided to keep it that way, and so the entre trip feels like a going backwards in time or tunneling through time as sounds pass by in doppler decay. It’s a neat effect, but is it music? I’d be more inclined to call it audio art, while admitting that I feel a bit silly listening to a reverse audio recording for twenty minutes and trying to make sense out of it. In a sense, Irrlicht exposes the double-edge sword of Klaus Schulze’s music: sometimes it sounds like postmodern classical reconstructivism and sometimes it sounds like thirty minutes of amplifier feedback. For me, understanding intent is critical to appreciating art; otherwise, I’m just staring at a giant metal doughnut or whatever.

Thus we arrive at the end of Irrlicht and, with it, the realization that Klaus Schulze is both a sculptor of sounds and space-rock confectioner. A whole army of albums would follow, some better, some worse, most of them consisting of massive sculptures of electronic sound. That these works are broadly interrelated is underscored by the fact that the labels felt comfortable tacking on a performance from 1976, Dungeon, to the end of this album as a bonus track. It shows an advancement in terms of the electronics used, but otherwise continues in the style of Schulze’s slowly shifting electronic idiom.

Original elpee version

A1. Satz: Ebene (23:23)
A2. Satz: Gewitter (Energy Rise – Energy Collaps) (5:39)
B1. Satz: Exil Sils Maria (21:25)

Music by Klaus Schulze.

CD reissue bonus track
4. Dungeon (24:00)

The Players

Klaus Schulze (e-machines, organ, guitar, zither, voice, choir, percussion) with orchestra.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in May 1972 in Germany (Ohr, OMM 556.022) with gatefold cover.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in Germany (Brain, 1077) with different cover. This cover would be used for most reissues.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in Japan (Brain, 22S-37).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 1979 in Japan (Brain/Metronome, SUX-157-EB).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in 1986 in France (Audio Video Intl, AVI CD 2001) with original cover variation.
  5. Re-issued on compact disc in 1992 in the UK (Thunderbolt, CDTB 133).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in 1995 in Europe (Spalax, 14921) with original cover.
  7. Re-issued on compact disc on April 16, 1996 in the US (Magnum America, MACD 047) and
  8. Re-packaged with Dune on 2-for-1 compact disc on October 12, 1999 (Thunderbolt, CDTBT-005).
  9. Re-issued on expanded compact disc in 2006 in Germany (SPV, SPV 304962 CD) with one bonus track.
  10. Re-released on expanded super high material compact disc on March 25, 2018 in Japan (Belle Antique, BELLE-182881) with one bonus track.
Irrlicht reissue album cover
Brain 1077 album cover

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