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Music Review: Irmin Schmidt – Filmmusik Anthology Volume 4 & 5

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As a founding member of the legendary CAN, (which reportedly is an acronym for Communism, Anarchy, Nihilism), Irmin Schmidt’s credentials in the rock avant-garde are unimpeachable. CAN’s influence seems to grow with each passing year, but Schmidt’s true passion seems to have always been soundtrack work. Over the past 35 years, Irwin Schmidt has composed music for over 40 films and TV programs.

A three-CD collection of his music was released in 1995, titled Anthology: Soundtracks 1978-1993. The new two-disc set Filmmusik Anthology Volume 4 & 5, is devoted to the years since the original collection.

CAN’s early-Seventies albums such as Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, and Future Days have been compared to the contemporary records Miles Davis was making. On the surface, CAN’s music had little in common with In A Silent Way, Bitches Brew, or Jack Johnson. But dig a little deeper, and the recording techniques were nearly identical.

Davis would assemble his band in the studio and improvise literally for hours, recording everything. This material was then edited down to create the final LPs. CAN’s music of this era was created in exactly the same way. I bring all of this up because the first eight tracks here are strikingly reminiscent of another Davis classic, Sketches Of Spain (1959).

Palermo Shooting is a Wim Wenders film from 2008. It is a film I must admit that I have not yet seen. Based on the music, and Wenders’ excellent credentials, it is one I will be seeking out. One of the more fascinating aspects of the music Schmidt recorded is the man he chose to fill the “Miles” role on trumpet, Markus Stockhausen.

As most CAN fans know, Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay formed the group after meeting as students of the famous musique-concrete pioneer, Karlheinz Stockhausen. Markus is his son. His appearance with Schmidt on the Palermo Shooting tracks completes a very poetic 40-year circle.

Volume 5 of this collection is dominated by Irmin Schmidt’s work for television, with ten of the 18 tracks devoted to the series Bloch. Much of this material reminds me of another truly groundbreaking composer in TV, Angelo Badalameti. While I have not had the privilege to see Bloch, the music evokes such a similar sensation to what Badalamenti did for David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, I feel that this is a program I need to look for as well.

There is a world-wide vocabulary to music and film that has transcended efforts of restraint for many, many years. The career of Irmin Schmidt is a testament to this. While Filmmusik actually works as background music one could play for anywhere, it is quietly subversive as hell.

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