Reinhard Lakomy – Das Geheime Leben + Der Traum Von Asgard + (with Rainer Oleak) Zeiten

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SAM_1010This is cosmic music from the “other side” – literally. It’s electronic music from East Germany aka the GDR. Reinhard Lakomy (who died in March 2013) was already a very famous musician when he decided to record electronic music on synthesizers that is heavily influenced by Tangerine Dream (he was friends with and bought a synthesizer from Edgar Froese) and Klaus Schulze. These three records were released during the early 1980’s (1982, 1983, 1985) on the AMIGA label and produced by the only pressing plant in GDR (VEB Deutsche Schallplatten Berlin; VEB for “volkseigener Betrieb”, labeled according to the socialist ideology and meaning that every factory and all manufacturing plants are “owned by the people”).

Besides releasing music by homegrown artists AMIGA licensed a lot of music from the “Klassenfeind”: the “capitalist western world”. For example – I bet Lakomy was involved in this – the first two West-German electronic music records on AMIGA were Tangerine Dream’s “Quichotte” (1981, recorded live at “Palast der Repubik” in East-Berlin!) and Klaus Schulze’s “Elektronik-Impressionen” (1982, the GDR-version of “Dig it”, originally released in 1980 on Brain). So, there is a strong connection between the Berlin School and Reinhard Lakomy who lived in East-Berlin.

Starting in the 1960’s as a jazz-musician Lakomy became widely known during the 1970’s by singing Schlager-/Pop-Songs like “Heute bin ich allein” before quitting that kind of music by the end of the 1970’s and focusing on music and audio plays for children (if you grew up during the 1980’s in the GDR you are most likely familiar with Lakomy’s audio play “Traumzauberbaum”).

Having that said, it is no surprise that Lakomy’s electronic debut is entitled “Das geheime Leben” (“The secret life” ) – and the electronic music he recorded during the 1980’s and besides his work for children seemed to be Lakomy’s (secret) passion. A passion so “weird” and “strange” (or maybe “suspicious”?) that the heads at AMIGA assumed it might be a good idea to explain Lakomy’s artistic move to the people who knew “Lacky” for his music from the 1960’s and 1970’s: The hilarious sleeve-notes on the back of “Das geheime Leben” explain and even excuse Lakomy’s interest in electronic music – and (no surprise) the (only?) music magazine in the GDR “Melodie & Rhythmus” disliked it.

But people knew better and the record sold about 100,000 copies and of course the majority of the people in the GDR that had an interest in popular music were already familiar with a lot of music that wasn’t available officially. It was a common thing among music enthusiasts in the GDR to secretly listen to and record music broadcasted by West-German radio stations, to watch West-German TV-Programs or even trade records with people from the western part of Germany (many had relatives living there or other contacts).

So much for history – let’s talk about the music. The first side of “Das geheime Leben” features the sidelong title-track and there is a strong Tangerine Dream vibe to it: a spheric yet dynamic symphony. And I think there’s a good chance that Reinhard Lakomy was familiar with Jean-Michel Jarre’s “Oxygene” by the time he recorded “Das geheime Leben”. The b-side continues with “Es wächst das Gras nicht über alles” a rhythmic 10-minute track with a dreamy coda and two shorter pieces follow before the records over after about 40 minutes.

“Der Traum von Asgard” starts with some otherworldly soundscapes before morphing into a futuristic somewhat nervous composition with an airy fade-out. After that it’s “Die Gotischen Narren”, a nice, cautiously built and slowly evolving track that closes side a. Flipping the record over to side b you get three tracks that can be described as Klaus Schulze with some kind of dancefloor-vibe from time to time. (I bet nowadays electronic contemporaries like Christelle Gualdi aka Stellar Om Source dig Lakomy’s attitude towards a more beat-driven electronic music.)

“Zeiten”, a record executed together with fellow composer Rainer Oleak, is the last of the three recordings released in the early to mid 1980’s. It is themed around various ideas or concepts of “times” (“Zeiten”) and a bit more academic, so to speak. “Gleichzeit”, the opening track for example, is in comparison to the recordings on “Das geheime Leben” and “Traum von Asgard” more sparse and stern. It comes across like a bizarre mix of Berlin School and early experimental electronic music from Xenakis, or – maybe this comparison more appropriate – the music is not unlike some of the scores that Eduard Artemiev recorded for Andrej Tarkowskij’s movies.

So, if you ever wondered if there was electronic music made back in the GDR then start with these three recordings by Reinhard Lakomy. The music isn’t only interesting for obscurity – it fits next to your Klaus Schulze and Edgar Froese and is a necessary addition to any Krautrock-friendly household.

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review by Holger Adam

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Can – Ege Bamyasi

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Can’s fourth studio album “Ege Bamyasi” was released in 1972.  Their previous albums had been recorded in Schloss Nörvenich, a 14th century castle near Cologne.   After having a hit single in Germany with “Spoon”, they moved into an old cinema (Inner Space Studio in Weilerswist) and recorded the rest of “Ege Bamyasi” there.

Their early albums, up to “Soon Over Babaluma” (1975), were recorded by bouncing between stereo recorders rather than using a multitrack.  They would jam in the studio for hours, and then Holger Czukay would edit the tape into usable sections.  This would then be played back and recorded onto another machine, whilst the band simultaneously played along to add another layer of instruments and vocals.  The constrictions of this technique defined their music; without multitrack, they couldn’t mix or edit individual instruments after the event.  Each layer had to be mixed as it happened.   Later albums, such as the seventh album “Landed”, were recorded on conventional multitrack gear and sounded much more conventional – and boring.

The line-up for this album is the standard set of instrumentalists who lasted for all the classic Can albums – Holger Czukay (bass, engineering and editing), Michael Karoli (guitar), Jaki Leibezeit (drums), Irmin Schmidt (keyboards) – plus Damo Suzuki on vocals.  Damo joined Can for their second album (“Soundtracks”) and stayed until their fifth album (“Future Days”).  Damo’s singing is integrated into Can’s music; I find it hard to make out what he’s singing (or even what language he’s singing in, though it seems to be mostly English on this album) other than a few random words and phrases, but that doesn’t matter – what he does fits in perfectly.  I’m not going to trot out the usual set of clichés about the band members, ‘cos you already know them…  They revolve round “Stockhausen-trained / more mechanical than a drum machine / Damo was asked to join Can after they heard him busking in the street”.  There you go; I’ve trotted them out after all.

The artwork shows a can of okra shoots – “Ege Bamyasi” apparently means “Aegean okra” in Turkish.  There’s a large Turkish population in Germany; mass migration started in 1961 after the building of the Berlin Wall caused a labour crisis in West Germany.

The first thing you notice about the album is the unusual recorded sound – dry, dead, close-up.  The rhythms are funky, but the sound quality makes it a desiccated, listless funk. It’s one of those albums that have a consistent sound all the way through – and it’s not the same as the sound of any other Can album. Most of the pieces sound like they’ve started off as improvisations, though at least two have a defined song structure to them.

 

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The album starts with an abrupt fade-up into an improvisation, with Damo muttering and wittering on about God-knows-what.  The piece is dominated by drums, percussion and bass – the guitar and keyboards play lesser roles in the background.  The “chorus” features a strange whooping sound – feedback? Swanee whistle?  Who knows?    Schmidt’s karate-chop organ playing becomes prominent towards the end of the piece.   This is one of the more formless pieces on the album, which makes it an interesting choice as the opener – though it certainly defines the “Ege Bamyasi” sound.

Sing Swan Song

Begins with the sound of water, and then the song starts – and it is a song, with a structure and a chord sequence.  Damo singing delicately over arpeggio guitar, with a fuzz guitar wailing in the distance.   Lovely.  The lyrics are abstract and absurd – “Shaking her cold hand to hear you’ve been just the drunky hot bowls.”     There is something about the lazy, shimmering sound of this piece that reminds me of Pink Floyd, particularly the songs on the second side of “Atom Heart Mother”.

One More Night

A driving, funky track.  Drums and bass right up front, very little reverb on them.   The singing, a whispered repetitive chant, merges into the music.  This is great.

Vitamin C

A wonderful song, really catchy, with hook lines.   “She is stepping on the pigman’s head”- I’m not sure if the transcription of the lyrics (that I found on the internet) is accurate or not, it’s difficult to say.  One of Can’s best songs, and one of Damo’s best performances.  The track ends with a flock of electronic birds, who fly into the next piece:

Soup

I hate this song.  Hate it?  I fear it.  Ten and half minutes of abstract collaging.  After the initial ambient sounds, you hear a band dragging their way through a dreary, listless song in another room.   Then a big, noisy, shouty song bursts into life – I’m reminded of Faust.  This is rock, not funk.  It eventually peters out into some electronic bleeps (more karate-chop organ) and a speeding-up drum pattern.   After a time, this stops.  Now there’s a musique concrète section of overloaded electronic blasts and someone declaiming loudly in the style of Kurt Schwitters’s “Ursonate” sound poetry.  This section reminds me a lot of Frank Zappa’s noisy abstractions (“Lumpy Gravy” and “Uncle Meat”) – in fact, the whole piece is somewhat Zappa-like, and a bit like “The Faust Tapes” too, although Zappa and Faust use abrupt jump-cut editing, whereas the sections of this song just die away.   The track ends with some free-jazz nonsense and more Schwitters-style shouting.

I’m So Green

Light guitar/drums funk song.  Three minutes of pleasantness. Not much more to say.

Spoon

“Ege Bamyasi” ends with the song that financed the album.  “Spoon” was used as the theme of a German TV thriller series called “Das Messer” (The Knife), and subsequently released as a single.  It reached No.6 in the German charts and sold 300,000 copies.  The money from this enabled them to move into Inner Space Studios and record “Ege Bamyasi”.  “Spoon” was patently not recorded at Inner Space; it has a different sound and feel to the rest of the album.  It starts with a clattering drum machine and twiddly organ, and then the singing begins along with a pulsing sound (something through a Leslie cabinet).  This is a proper song, not based on an improvisation.  It’s arranged and constructed like a single (albeit a Can single) – different sections, hooks, lots of guitars, harmony vocals (!).   Again, I am faintly reminded of Pink Floyd in places.

What else to say?  Can were one of the best Krautrock bands.  “Ege Bamyasi” is one of their best albums.  If you’ve not got it already, why not?

review by Colin Robinson

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Organisation – Tone Float

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Frankly, I’m not much of a Kraftwerk fan, so to me the Organisation record is more precious than any of the music Florian Schneider and Ralf Huetter recorded in the years following. “Tone Float” (recorded as a five-piece-band with Basil Hammoudi, Butch Hauf and Fred Monicks) was released by RCA in the UK in 1970 and according to online sources it wasn’t much of a hit, so the label decided to sack the band that disbanded soon after being dropped.

The music on “Tone Float” is pretty much the opposite to Kraftwerk’s aesthetics. There’s none of the modernist technophilia that defines Kraftwerk – so compared to its successor’s futuristic body of work “Tone Float” is much more identifiable to the period it was recorded in. Using the typical myriad of instruments (organ, bells, violin, congas, bongos, guitars, bass, maracas, tambourine, flute,… ) it’s a psychedelic jam-based music that sits somewhere between early instrumental Pink Floyd and an electrified version of Limbus 3. The overall feeling of “Tone Float” is mellow, relaxed and a bit ramshackle here and there.

I don’t know much about the background story of “Tone Float”, but it is one of the first albums Conny Plank recorded and the band itself sounds a bit like if everyone included in the process is searching for his own and unique way of individual musical expression while recording the whole thing. “Tone Float” consists of tentative improvised music – sometimes a bit out of focus, maybe, but the Organisation didn’t have the time to develop their musical language because they broke up after the release of their debut recording and therefore the musical search came to an abrupt end after its first steps had been documented on “Tone Float”.

Nowadays “Tone Float” is mostly overshadowed by its successor, but if you feel a bit uncomfy (like I do) with the cool/cold aesthetics of Kraftwerk in general, you may opt for Organisation instead and be rewarded with a warm and trippy “Tone Float” session.
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review by Holger Adam

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La Düsseldorf – Viva

vivaThere’s nothing quite like the wild, demented glam stomp of La Düsseldorf and “Viva” is possibly the maximum distillation of this crazed party music. There is something so euphoric and uplifting about it. It’s nothing short of dance around your room with your hands in the air ecstatic rock n roll madness. You would have to be a joyless churl not to crack a smile when the opening title track kicks in. The sound is all heavy drums and clean, joyous keyboards with everything else bar the vocals being quite subtle in the mix.

It’s hard to reconcile them with Neu! but it is that same Klaus Dinger with his younger brother Thomas and Hans Lampe who joined in for side two of Neu! 75. La Düsseldorf is a massive landmark in the development of punk, new wave, new romantic and house music. Dinger’s lyrics are quite hippy-ish, full of utopian idealism and promotion of peace and love but he delivers them with the mad, frenetic energy of a punk.

“Rheinita” starts off more sedate and laid back like one of a Neu! sonic travelogue but suddenly goes into a keyboard break that would end up being recreated thousands of times twenty years later on thousands of ecstatic house music records. “Geld” is all fuzzed out guitars and stomp with more of Dinger’s proto-punk singing like he demonstrated on “Hero” but whereas back then he sounded furious now he just sounds like a man in command of the whole world, effortlessly cool.

All of side two of the record is given over to the big, ballsy epic “Cha Cha 2000”. It starts with the whispered promise “the future is calling” and then those keyboards of joy begin and the rhythms roll in. It peaks and peaks and peaks even more with Dinger crying out “This will be paradise / If we open our heart / If we open our eye”. There is something so simple, heartfelt and sincere about him that you cannot mock his words. The track even veers off into a classical breakdown where the utopian keyboards become pastoral and elegant before returning for the big climax.

La Düsseldorf remain unique even among 70s German music. “Viva” showcases that joyous difference perfectly.
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Bernd Witthüser – Lieder von Vampiren, Nonnen und Toten

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“If I’d perform in front of miners and sing about how we’d sweat because of the exhausting mining-work the miners they’d laugh about me, since I haven’t gone to work for more than two years.” Bernd Witthüser refused to be received as a political folk-singer for the working class.

From 1964 up to 1969 a folk-festival at “Burg Waldeck” (in the Hunsrück mountains) played an important role for the development of a musical underground in post-WW-II-Germany. The music performed there offered an alternative to the German “Schlager” and was influenced by the American and French folk music but even more important than that musical references was a very strong Marxist tradition that the new generation connected with (Berthold Brecht functioned as an important role model). Not unlike Pete Seeger in the U.S. folk music was considered to be not only the voice of the people but something to educate people with, raise people’s consciousness, teach them about society etc.: “We shall overcome”…

That highly political (and arrogant at times) approach often led to controversial events. Not unlike Pete Seeger attacking Dylan’s amplification with an axe, there were similar incidents at “Burg Waldeck”. For example there was the time Rolf Schwendter disturbed Reinhard May’s concert with a snare drum, because May’s songs weren’t political enough for Schwendter’s taste.

As a result to the politicised/political climate during the late 1960’s the festival turned out to be dominated by discussions and teach-ins and all these incidents/discussions during these years were as necessary as self-centered: On the one hand the festival and its music/musicians worked as an instrument to politicise people – on the other hand the privileged middle-class kids had to learn that the “revolutionary subject” (i.e. the working class) they were talking about/looking for was somewhere else: at work – and not at a hippie-festival in the Hunsrück mountains. As a consequence in 1969 the preaching to the converted came to an end (the festival was put on hold until 1973) and the folk-music-scene disbanded and headed off to different shores.

Some of the folk musicians referred to the psychedelic music as a druggy escape-route from a reality that needed to be changed (and because of drug-use remained unchanged), some referred to the psychedelic aesthetics as a way to enter the doors of perception – as a first step towards a new society. The crucial point (still): is smoking pot revolutionary or counter-revolutionary behaviour?
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By 1968 Bernd Witthüser had already had some local success as a protest-singer, but he didn’t want to sing about mining when his everyday life was more about smoking pot and reading poetry. It seemed ridiculous to him.

Instead of performing the “working class hero” he chose to sing about vampires, nuns and the dead. Influenced by medieval and romantic poetry (like Novalis and Heinrich Heine) he recorded a gothic-folk or folk-noir record for Rolf Ulrich Kaisers Ohr-label (with whom he had also worked before when he managed the “Essener Songtage” in 1968). But it wouldn’t be a Witthüser (& Westrupp is on board already, too) record without a good measure of goofy jokes included: The last song on the record is an adaption of the theme tune from the TV-series “Flipper” and until that last song a lot of – more or less – funny wordplays and gags come with a lot of the songs on “Lieder von Vampiren, Nonnen und Toten”.

But the all in all frivolous approach is a good thing, actually. Otherwise “Lieder von Vampiren, Nonnen und Toten” would be an unbearable proto-neo-folk-disaster. But Bernd and Walter had a reefer once in a while and their daily dose of Marihuana kept them away from turning into morbid youngsters longing for death.

It’s quite difficult to write about the music on “Lieder von Vampiren, Nonnen und Toten” without thinking of the lyrics all the time. And being a native speaker of the German language I wonder how the record is received if you don’t get the lyrics (which is – the other way round – in 99,9% the case for all the Anglo-American music “Krauts” listen to). “Lieder von Vampiren, Nonnen und Toten” is a lovely, unadorned folk music record garnished with a lot of humour and a slightly psychedelic vibe. Mostly guitar and voice, with a bit of percussion, a flute, a trombone and stuff like that here and there. Imagine Cheech & Chong singing Current 93.

After “Lieder von Vampiren, Nonnen und Toten”, Witthüser & Westrupp went on to perform and record as a duo and they released three studio-records (“Trips und Träume”, “Der Jesuspilz” und “Bauer Plath”) and a live-record (“Live ’68-’73”). It’s all about smoking pot, making fun of authorities, daydreaming and enjoying life, basically. Not sure, if this can be considered as a revolutionary agenda, but for a few years it seemed to work – and they both remain swinging until this day!
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review by Holger Adam

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Between – Einstieg

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One of the most wonderfully ridiculous things about Krautrock is the wide variety of music that ends up shoved in that section of the record shop and Between is a fine example. Formed by two German students of composition and an international line-up of musicians, they attempted to build a bridge between classical and popular music. Their debut album “Einstieg” has little in common with it’s shelf-mates.

“Katakomben” begins with haunting Gregorian chants before suddenly a funky bongo joins in. It all works in perfect harmony, though I can never quite work out why the sound of what seems to be men and women being mauled by tigers is on there. “Two Trees” has hints of Popol Vuh soundtracking a medieval banquet but with intricate percussion. It’s a very heavy on the flute, hardly surprising as Jimmy J.Galway the flute player would go on to be Sir James Galway, the internationally famous flautist.

“Volkstanz” is the track most indebted to the groups mentor, Karl Orff, bursting with drama and easily the closest to straight up classical on the album. It makes you want to gallop across misty medieval fields on your steed, chasing the ghosts of dawn. “Primary Stage” is a fast, frantic number with Galway playing his flute like its a knife and Cottrell Black doing freestyle scat singing while playing so fast he threatens to melt his congas. It is as strange as it is incendiary.

“Flight Of Ideas” takes Sir James Galway to a place you never thought he’d been – dark, abstract Euro horror-style soundtrack. It would seriously not be out of place in a Jess Franco movie. “Triumph Kaiser Maximilian I” perhaps seems to most perfectly sum up the Between ambition. The flute, organ and singing are all in the classical school but then the bongos and guitar lean more towards the freak folk/rock side. It is a total genre fusion.

“Barcelona Rain” allows their Argentian guitar player Robert Detrée and oboe player Bob Eliscu to get all Popol Vuh complete with sounds of rain until the thunder strikes and then just as you are relaxing and blissing out the whole ensemble freak out like some wild, free improvisation which wakes you from the spell.

“Memories” is another wild, jazzy number with Egyptian hints and saxaphone honks. There is an underlying tension building within the track and it breaks down further and further into abstraction. I find myself reminded of the wilder sides of Basil Kirchin or even Luc De Ferrari.

“Space Trip” is, as the name suggests, the most way-out track on here. A long, discordant track with what sounds like weird electronics but could just be some extraordinary playing on the classical instruments. It follows on heavily from “Memories” taking things even further out into the unknown.

“Try Bach” is a little skit bringing things to a humorous close which appears to depict Sir James Galway attempting Bach on his flute before swearing and snapping it in two. It makes a nice bit of light relief after the intensity of the previous three songs and also adds a nicely memorable touch, making sure you go away from the album with a cheeky smile.

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Ash Ra Tempel – Schwingungen

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“Schwingungen”, released in 1972 on Ohr, is an exceptional Ash Ra Tempel record. Especially the guest-vocals by John L. make a big difference – and the record has sort of a concept or at least a leading theme to itself.

“Light: Look At Your Sun” is a dreamy blues, reminiscent of The Doors or Cream. The lyrics are fantasizing about the cosmic unity of mankind, of everything alive (or at least: the unity of like-minded brothers and sisters).

That first song is exposing the record’s leading theme and in addition to the album’s title (“Schwingungen” = “Vibrations”) “Light: Look At Your Sun” is accompanied by words (in German) on the inside of the gatefold-cover: “Was in Dir, in uns lebt, unsere Schwingungen, ist in allem: Das Paradies das Leben heißt”, which can be translated as: “What lives in you, in us, our vibrations, it is in everything: the paradise called life.” And listening to Ash Ra Tempel you are encouraged to focus on these vibes, to feel these vibes to – finally! – feel life itself/alive. John L.’s lyrics deliver the mantra to meditate to: “We are all one.”

There’s a strong and pronounced message that comes with “Schwingungen” and one might assume it wasn’t Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser but Joachim Ernst Berendt who supervised the recording-session: “Nada Brahma” – The world is sound. We are not only living in this world, we ARE this world! Therefore we ARE sound and that’s why we have to listen carefully to the sound of the outside world (and the sound within us, our inner voices) to reach out for universal harmony/a cosmic unity that was lost within the process of civilisation/modernization.

In order to achieve and maintain that harmony/unity we have to change our ways of living, because the modern daily “chaotic dance of the city ants” (meaning its citizens going to work) is out of tune to the cosmic harmonies and – for example – “the sound of cars is the music of unconsciousness/oblivion” (to quote the notes on the inside of the gatefold-cover again).

The second track “Darkness: Flowers must die” expresses some more (drug-induced) criticism on modern everyday-life that is contrasted by romantic images of nature and universal love (“I see, when I come back from my lysergic-day-dream, standing in the middle of the glass and neon forest with an unhappy name: city – flowers must die” – and the cover-artwork is displaying the utopia-in-tune with the world’s sound: a couple sitting naked in a rural atmosphere).

Of course, the critique on the “neon forest” and its dying flowers within comes as a raging psychedelic rock song. In order to get rid of an ill-fated civilisation Ash Ra Tempel rear up and break away with the help of guitars, drums, saxophone and a screaming singer leading the band to a peaceful countryside (with girlfriends along)!

Having arrived in the rural retreat it’s time to tune into the cosmic vibrations. The entire second side of “Schwingungen” is about that meditative and attentive search for peace and love and universal harmony. In addition to that peaceful vibe the music’s as meditative, airy and spaced-out as can be. “Suche & Liebe” (“Search/Quest & Love”) builds up slowly towards a blissful climax at the orgiastic end.

“Schwingungen” is quite a trip. Call it escapism or an esoteric meditation on life: it’s worth to listen to it.SAM_0769
review by Holger Adam

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