Popol Vuh – Seligpreisung

After the surprising change of style with their previous album, “Hosiana Mantra”, Popol Vuh double down on the new sound. Once again Fricke is on piano and harpsichord, oboe player Robert Eliseu is back as is guitarist Conny Veit and tamboura player Klaus’ Wiese. However, Korean singer Djong Yun is absent with Fricke doing vocals instead and the group has an important new addition, Daniel Fichelscher on guitar and percussion who had previously played with Amon Duul II and percussion supergroup Niagra.

Of course, there’s many tranquil moments where all we hear is the sound of Fricke’s piano (unless your record has seen better days) but it all builds towards sublime moments of harmonious beauty. The ‘percussion’ mostly sounds like straight up drums for the majority of the time and given that it’s married to twin guitar soloing it could almost be a rock band but it isn’t because Fricke’s pursuit of divine otherness steers it towards something else.

It’s not new age or middle of the road blandness, it’s a sort of sonic expression of bliss, a composition of deeply meditative music expressed in the format of a rock band. It seems to be an album that exists only to be between the hours of 12am and 12pm. Waking up or winding down it fits into those subliminal mindspaces with it’s tightly composed jams. How is that even a thing?

Some reissues include a very nice bonus track called “Be In Love” which while excellent, clearly doesn’t belong on this album at all. It’s got Djong Yun on vocals and a very classical violin going on. I am very glad it’s out there and not stuck in an archive but I can’t help but feel that most of these Popol Vuh bonus tracks belong in an out takes compilation album of their own so the original albums can flow the way they were originally intended.

Djong Yun – Du sollst lieben / Ave Maria

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Djong Yun (daughter of the famous composer Isang Yun) contributed vocals to Popol Vuh records such as “Hosianna Mantra” and “Einsjäger & Siebenjäger”, for example. And maybe most Krautrock fans know her from performing “Kyrie“ together with Popol Vuh on German TV – one of the few rare bits of Popol Vuh footage that survived..

Shortly before, during or after recording together with Popol Vuh for “Hosianna Mantra” she also recorded what is (un-)known as the only record she released under her own name. A 7“-record that features two compositions (“Ave Maria” and “Du sollst lieben”) credited to Florian Fricke and recorded with members of Popol Vuh (by the time of “Hosianna Mantra” these were – besides Djong Yun and Florian Fricke – Conny Veit, Robert Eliscu and Klaus Wiese).

The rerelease of “Hosianne Mantra” that was put out on Wah-Wah-Records this autumn comes with this sweet little and hard to get gem and considering that an original of the 7“ might cost you a fortune there’s a good excuse to get another copy of “Hosianna Mantra” for these two songs alone.

And since Florian Fricke composed the two songs and members of Popol Vuh recorded the music – it actually IS a Popol Vuh record, and the two songs are similar to the music that was recorded for “Hosianna Mantra”, so it makes perfect sense to add the 7“ to the rerelease.

There’s Djong Yun’s angelic voice (singing German lyrics which are somewhat of Christian origin), Bob Eliscu’s beautiful oboe, Florian Fricke’s playing the piano and Conny Veit is delivering his significant guitar playing. Klaus Wiese was maybe contributing, too but apart from credits to Florian Fricke for writing the two songs there’s no additional infos or details about the recording session that led to the release of that 7“ back in 1972 and reincarnated thanks to Wah-Wah-Records just recently.

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.

Popol Vuh – Brüder des Schattens, Söhne des Lichts / Nosferatu

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These are the two records that both contain the same music: the original soundtrack to Werner Herzogs “Nosferatu”, both released on Brain records in 1978 – actually it is one release with one catalogue-number but two different covers. (There’s also a Popol Vuh album on the french Egg-Label called “Nosferatu – On The Way To A Little Way“, which features some of the music that Herzog used in his movie but also collects other material composed by Florian Fricke. In an interview Florian Fricke explained: “It actually was Part Two of the original soundtrack. The actual film music, the way it was composed for this movie, is on the record Brüder des Schattens, Söhne des Lichts. And when Werner was already almost finished with his film, he came to me and asked, ‘Florian, do you have music to be afraid by?’ And I thought no, no, no, no. But I remembered some electronic pieces in my big, big, big, box of old material from the early years, and in this box I found ‘angst music.’ And so we made a second record, besides Brüder des Schattens we made ‘music to be afraid by,’ Nosferatu, part two, released by a French company.“)
The title-track “Brüder des Schattens – Söhne des Lichts” is an seventeen minutes long orchestral piece featuring a church choir from Munich, Bob Eliscu (Between) playing his oboe, Daniel Fichelscher on guitar, Alois Gromer on sitar, Ted De Jong on tambura and Florian Fricke on piano.

I’d count these seventeen minutes among the finest moments that Fricke and his fellow musicians ever recorded. It’s a slowly evolving and peaceful composition, very meditative and uplifting and therefore it’s in contrast to the dark-themed movie it is appearing in. Reviewing “Herz aus Glas” I pointed out that there’s this quality to Frickes music to transport a kind of hope – despite all the doom ‘n gloom in a lot of Herzog’s movies. And I think that’s why Herzog chose Fricke’s music which can be seen as complementary to his pictures: The music is not duplicating the dark prospects or trying to compete with the bleak atmospheres Herzog’s often delivering. Fricke’s compositions shed a different light on all the earthly things in decline. The music – again – is like a prayer, a meditation on whatever awaits beyond.

Out of all the Krautrock of that period, Popol Vuh’s music is the most spiritual. And a lot of Popol Vuh’s song-titles address the subject of music as a dialogue with some otherworldly entity. For example “Hoere, der Du wagst” (“Listen, you who dare”): Listen – but on what or to whom? An inner voice maybe, or a voice from somewhere else. But you gotta listen, listen closely to what’s speaking to you – maybe from places you’ll never go to in your lifetime, but maybe afterwards.

The protagonists in Herzog’s movies never or just seldom listen – therefore they’re doomed. Watching „Nosferatu“ we witness the (seemingly) inevitable – but having Florian Fricke’s music to all the madness and dying something beyond the mortal coil becomes evident. Better listen to Popol Vuh, Popol Vuh saves!
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review by Holger Adam

Between – And The Waters Opened

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Between was named Between because the music they made was sitting between the chairs back then and was reaching far beyond genre borders or the traditional segregation of E- and U-Musik (E for “ernst” / serious, U für “unterhaltende” / entertaining). This difference may be still alive in some highbrow dinosaur’s brain and was (sometimes still is) made to separate the so called popular (i.e. proletarian) from the bourgeois culture. Alas, today’s situation is more comfortable (and difficult to a certain extend). But, this is a review for a record not a sociology seminar talking Bourdieu’s “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste” or something like that. (But, well, while I’m at it: go read it, it’s worth it!)

So, Between was Peter Michael Hamel’s brainchild who is a German composer and music theorist (whose records are all great!). Born out of friendship with a few international friends who had a background either in classical or pop music (to stress that distinction again). “And The Waters Opened” was their second record, released in 1973 and it’s heavily influenced by the music of Carl Orff. (Listen to Robert Eliscu’s oboe – which can also be heard on a lot of Popol Vuh records –and if you’re familiar with some of Orff’s music you’ll be reminded instantly). Another reference to how Between sounds may be found in Bobby Beausoleil’s Orkustra which also can be seen as sort of a synthesis between a symphonic orchestra and a psychedelic band.

But even though Between is about overcoming musical (and also social borders) the music is far from freak-out jams. Between is not about provoking utter chaos – Between is about reaching out for a universal harmony in the act of making music. It is – to a certain extend – a sonic utopia.

There are parts of the music that are improvised but most of it was written down before and is executed with modest but nonetheless masterful musicianship. The compositions take cues from the aforementioned Carl Orff, but also from Indian Classical Music, from the Spiritual Jazz and some of the Minimal Music that was around at that time and of course there’s a good portion of Psychedelia thrown in. Every second recorded sounds organic and you can bet that a lot of thought was put into it. And it is in fact a certain compositional rigour that prevents the music from becoming world-music-kitsch or pointless fusion-music: The music you hear is not just about the intended harmony – the music IS the realization of that harmony.

So, you don’t trust me, you think I’m exaggerating here? No problem, get some Between and trust your ears! Be it the wonderful title track or the following “Uroboros” or be it one of the other compositions: this is joyful and refreshing music. The instrumentation’s colourful and the general vibe is uplifting and –well, yeah – it’s just great to have some music around that is full of positive energy without being besmirched with esoteric blurb. It makes you feel good without having to leave your mind at home! A great achievement, if you ask me.

SAM_0680review by Holger Adam

 

Popol Vuh – Hosianna Mantra

After the previous years deeply electronic “In Den Gärten Pharaos”, Florian Fricke decided to take a radical detour with “Hosianna Mantra” and used no electronic instruments. Album opener “Ah!” begins with just the sound of him playing the piano and he plays nothing else, bar the harpsichord, on this album. The line-up has also changed completely. Fricke is now backed by guitar player Conny Veit (whose own band Gila was on a hiatus after their first album), oboe player Robert Eliseu, Klaus Wiese on tamboura and Korean soprano Djong Yun. Gone are the percussion and moog work outs. Something completely different takes their place.

The usual terms that get thrown at the genre such as “krautrock”, “prog rock” or even “ambient” all seem especially inept for this phase of Popol Vuh’s music. Fricke is clearly working within the framework of classical music whilst at the same time refusing to conform to it’s rules or conventions. The switch to piano comes completely naturally and in Conny Veit, Fricke finds his perfect musical partner, his guitar working its way around the piano harmoniously. The mix here seems to give lead to Veit, with Yun’s Soprano generally quite low down in the mix.

Whilst this line-up may feature a tamboura, its use is incredibly subtle, almost indiscernible. First and foremost, this is an album for piano, electric guitar and voice with the rest mostly just accompaniments. The result is a classic early morning album. This is for gently easing you into the day before 11am kind of music. It would be far too soporific for later night but for someone who is slow to wake up, it makes perfect sense. The key word for this album is “gentle”. Even the oboe sounds sound, delicate and drenched in the light of the dawn. Even Veit’s wildest guitar soloing still seems laid out on a bed of velvet. The soprano never becomes shrill of piercing but remains restrained in all her strength.

If you are looking for freak-outs, strangeness, rock-outs or extreme music then this second incarnation of Popol Vuh is the wrong place to look but if you are looking for something gentle and beautiful then few pieces of music quite encapsulate those strengths like “Hosianna Mantra” does.

Popol Vuh – Aguirre

When I first started collecting the music of Popol Vuh, I skipped over their soundtrack work and concentrated on their “regular” studio albums. My logic for treating their soundtracks as poor relations was I had seen ‘Aguirre’ a few years earlier on TV and could not remember the soundtrack. I assumed it was probably very discrete and minimal.

 

Fast forward a couple of years and ‘Aguirre’ comes out on DVD and on second viewing, the soundtrack comes out of my speakers like the heralds of the gates of wonder. That was it, soundtrack obtained.

 

In their regular work, Popol Vuh make music veering somewhere between Eastern devotional music and Western classical. Yet when they did soundtracks for Werner Herzog, they allowed the films to enter their music and create something different. Something less spiritual occupies them, something almost darker. It is fair to say that the partnership of Herzog and Popol Vuh is one of cinemas great director and composer relationships

 

The overriding feeling emanating from their ‘Aguirre’ soundtrack is a sense of awe. Their musical palette moves away from traditional acoustic instruments and into strange electronic soundscapes that still inform so much of the new music that comes through my letterbox.

The main Aguirre theme is perhaps the most memorable piece of music on here with its weird electronic choir effect. It opens the album and the film, returning at the ends of side 1 in a reprised version and sneaking in very subliminally about halfway through the harsh, abstract electronics of ‘Vergegenwärtigung’.

 

Just to confuse matters, though, this is not all music from the film nor is it all the Popol Vuh music from the film. It was not even all recorded at the same time with the same line-up. I’m pretty sure neither “Morgengruss II” nor “Agnus Dei” were in the film, being jaunty, guitar-led celebrations more akin to the fare found on the later post-electronic albums.

pan pipe theme IS included

A special mention should probably go to the SPV CD reissue which gives the main them a third reprise with the bonus track ‘Aguirre III’ which features a seven minute version accompanied all the way through with some masterful, heavy percussion from Holger Trülzsch. The ZYX CD version has a three part bonus track called “Spirit of Peace” but although it lists “Vergegenwärtigung”, in it’s place are three tracks “Wo bist Du?”, “Auf dem Weg” and “Die Umkehr” which is how side 2 of the rare  1982 Kosmische Muski vinyl re-release played.

 

There are also some confusing configurations of the album from Japan which are really just compilations with only one track off the original ‘Aguirre’ despite using the same artwork. Whatever version you end up with, though, you have a classic bit of atmospheric electronic experimentalism of the kosmische school. Just don’t hurt the spider moneys, OK?

review by Ned