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A triple-disc collection from synth-god Klaus Schulze.

Music Review: Klaus Schulze – La Vie Electronique

Klaus Schulze is nothing if not prolific. Since he began recording in 1970 as a founding member of Tangerine Dream he has released over 40 albums, and that does not even include his various collaborations. With such a vast amount of material to work with, putting together a compilation of his work has not been an easy task. In 2000 he came up with the ultimate solution, releasing The Ultimate Edition, a 50-CD set that covered 40 years of work. Recognizing that few people are prepared to pick up such a monumental set all at once, Schulze has broken the contents down a bit with his triple-disc La Vie Electronique series.

The latest edition is La Vie Electronique 9. The music contained herein spans the period between 1982-1984. It appears that Klaus records everything, as this set shows. The first disc is from a concert in Budapest he performed with keyboardist Rainier Bloss on October 21, 1982. The three lengthy tracks show the two artists managing a unique dance between music of the head, and entertaining an audience. As Schulze was to do more and more over the course of the eighties, the use of percussion is very prominent.

The opening piece, “Ludwig Revisited” is an update of his earlier “Ludwig” from the X album released in 1978. The four-movement composition begins with a striking piano solo from Bloss, with Schulze adding dreamy textures from his Mini Moog. A bit later, Schulze switches over to his EMS “Suitcase” synth for some extra-terrestrial sounds. “Peg Leg Dance” follows and is a clear audience favorite, thanks to the extended Mini-Moog solo Schulze employs midway. The third and final track from this concert is titled “Die Spirituelle Kraft Des Augenblicks,” and clocks in at just under 16 minutes. This is a hard one to describe, as there are elements of African music blending into nearly generic seventies prog, held together by an insistent drum machine. Who knew electronics could create such an eclectic blend?

All of the music on discs two and three were recorded in the studio in 1984. They are mainly long experimental tracks, which find Klaus incorporating much more rhythm into his music than ever before. As he and fellow electronic travelers were finding out, the seventies were over. Shorter, more compact songs were preferred, with lots of big drums. It was a difficult time, as even the liner notes acknowledge, but there is some fascinating music to be discovered here.

Disc two opens with “Seltsam Statisch” a tri-part composition which makes extensive use of the Fairlight synthesizer, as well as a drum machine. The “motorik” beat once associated with fellow Krautrockers Kraftwerk and Neu! Is significantly employed, albeit in a much different light than the way they previously used it. Listening to “Seltsam Statisch” today reminds me of the term retro-futurism. What was once intended to sound as futuristic as possible now sounds quaint.

Of the remaining two cuts on the disc, my preference is “Kompromisslose Invention.” This one is nearly 16 minutes long, and strikes an unusually cacophonous tone for Klaus. It’s always good to shake things up from time to time.

The third disc is dominated by “National Radio Waves,” which is definitely the longest track on this collection at over 53 minutes. The composition is stretched out into six different movements, which are quite distinctive. We begin with a faux overture, then move into what could charitably be described as some unheralded “Phantom Of The Opera” cues, resolving with horror sounds worthy of a Hammer film. “The Garden Of Earthly Delight” follows at a paltry two minutes, and the set closes with “The Midas Touch – Cave Of Ali Baba.” This is another intriguing piece, blending many effects with what again sounds like nods to ancient African tribal music.

Discs two and three also feature interviews with Klaus Schulze, both in German.

Listening to La Vie Electronique 9 it is abundantly clear that Klaus was searching for a way to update his sounds, and experimenting with new technologies. While some of the material on this set may not be quite as compelling as other recordings he has made over the years, there are some undeniably great moments. La Vie Electronique 9 may not be the ideal place for the neophyte Klaus Schulze fan to start, but for longtime aficionados – there is much to recommend it.

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