Klaus Schulze – Irrlicht

I first found this record for 50p in a wicker basket in a pub, built 1610, up on the desolate Pennines in Winter. With a start like that, how could I go wrong? Well, apart from accidentally buying a reissue years later for £12, oh the shame. Anyway, this is Mr.Schulz’s debut solo album and rather than the synthesiser overdoses he is famed for, it is electronic drones and treated orchestra sounds.

There is a widely circulated and unsubstantiated story circulating on the internet that this is Klaus’ vision of how Tangerine Dream’s “Zeit” should have been and this lead to his departure from Tangerine Dream and the rivalry lead to the two albums both being released in August 1972. That’s a great legend but Schulz had actually left Tangerine Dream back in 1970 and had been playing in Ash Ra Tempel inbetween, whilst Tangerine Dream had already made the “Alpha Centauri” album since they lost their Klaus.

The real legend is the music itself. “Irrlicht” (German for Will O’The Wisp) contains simply some of the best electronic sounds ever recorded. Mr.Schulze makes his equipment produce a deep, dramatic, humming buzz that somehow resonates right down to the very bottom of your soul. It sounds utterly unlike any sound you would imagine on this earth. It sounds like machinery humming from beyond the doors of perception. It sounds like reality is melting on your turntable.

What is fascinating about “Irrlicht” (and what caused me to pluck it from the wicker basket, having never heard of Mr.Schulze) was the subtitle of “Quadrophonische Symphonie Für Orchester une E-Maschinen”. Now, while I would never claim my German was particularly good, I could work out what that meant: orchestra and electronics in Quadrophonic sound. Well, I don’t have a quadrophonic sound set-up but those sort of LPs seem to acclimatise themselves nicely to a home cinema surround sound set up.

So, amidst the mind- melting electronics mentioned previously is an orchestra. Yet, thanks to Mr.Schulze, they sound like they are playing in our world but being recorded from another dimension through a crack in reality. The sound comes in and out among the electronics in a haunting manner before being completely subsumed.  Then it goes through a mad, phantom of the electric organ-style overload peaking heavily in intensity.

Then it suddenly goes down a couple of gears and slowly fades away, in what I presume to be the second part, in a whirl of sounds, subtle strings and what sounds like someone knocking on your ceiling. Its accompanied by occasional, ominous crashes of sound and lasts a short while until you get to the end of side 1.

Side 2 is all one track “Exils Sils Maria” and shuns the intensity of the first part for a strange, ghostly echoing landscape of sound. There is no detectable orchestration, though it may well be there in a deeply manipulated form. Perhaps closer to the first couple of Cluster albums than anything else in the Schulze oeuvre, it features waves and waves of echoing, distorted sound.

It carries on for over twenty one deeply imaginative minutes, conjuring images in the listeners mind of deep space, wasteland dawns, machines whispering at night and the emptiness of infinity. It could make an evocative soundtrack to many, many things but stood on its own as a piece of music is the only way to experience it and live the movie in your mind.

“Irrlicht” is a timeless piece of work made using methods superior to most modern electronic recording techniques. While it may not contain tunes your postman could whistle, it has enough presence and power to submerge the listener in another world. What more could you ask for?

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