Holger Czukay - Cinema - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Holger Czukay - Cinema

by Rob Taylor Rating:8 Release Date:2018-03-23
Holger Czukay - Cinema
Holger Czukay - Cinema

Acolytes of German rock music may not, like me, be all that familiar with the solo works of Can bassist, Holger Czukay, who died last year. In honour of his legacy, Grönland are releasing a box-set, Cinema which compiles most of his solo and collaborative works, with a few notable exclusions such as his works with David Sylvian. What is [substantially] included is collaborations with Conny Plank (Les Vampyrettes), Jah Wobble, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Cluster & Eno and Rolf Dammers (Technical Space Composer’s Crew).

Czukay’s musical conceptions are the point of connection between the seemingly disparate forms of pop and avant-garde. His use of broadly sourced field samples, fragments of world music and genre-defying compositional methods leading down predictable paths. Listening to three or four decades of music in truncated form, i.e over four or five listens, could have be alienating, but I was spellbound by the ambition, or in certain cases, by the pathos and sensitivity with which the music was realised. Take for instance the haunting ‘Boat Woman Song’ from Canaxis 5. Recorded in 1968 at the height of the Vietnam War, the track features vocal loops from one after another Vietnamese singer, plaintive and restlessly phrased against a choir, a host of orchestral instruments and an uneasy ambience. Tranquil but carrying an ominous warning. A soothing, meditative polyphony at the 12 minute mark reminded me of Arvo Part’s spiritual fervour. A cornerstone track and well worth your listen if you’re not up for the full programme.

When I said before that Czukay bridged a gap between pop and experimental forms, it seems to me that his overall edict was squarely towards making music that was reasonably accessible. Somewhat playfully, early tracks like ‘Konfigurationen’ literally dose up the melody, (here like a Ben Webster horn-lead lullaby) only to subvert the melody with atonal gyrations. Strange undercurrents here and there. Unexpected changes of key, bi-lateral musical story lines, the insertion of odd samples. On ‘How Much Are They’ there’s the abrupt fanfare of horns interrupting the kitsch, and rendering a farcical tone to proceedings. Likewise, calypso rhythms on ‘Hit Hit Flop Flop’ and ‘Perfect World’ avoid his usual foreboding sound in favour of light-hearted cultural observances. Occasionally, these ventures, such as ‘Persian Love’ from Movies give a slightly benign treatment to the serious musics of the subject matter. Such are Czukay’s perversions.

Czukay’s ambient works are never straightforward exercises. ‘Traum Mal Wieder’ (Daydreaming) takes its meditative pulse from a kind of locomotive progression, and along the journey various strangers turn up, five seconds of whistling, some glistening percussion tinkling at the edges, distorted voice and synth drones. Rumination it might be, but like the rapid eye movement phase of sleep, surreptitious activities lie just beneath the calm, conspiring against rest.

Unfettered by musical convention, Holger Czukay was drawn to unusual tonal values in music. He either created his own sound pictures or borrowed from the variety of field recordings at his disposal. From there he built vast canvasses of music, in a way not dissimilar to modern icons like DJ Shadow, but with a far wider palette.

There’s no doubt that Czukay’s ecumenical approach to music is an inspiration to this and the preceding  generations. Today we see a relentless push to break down artificial barriers between musical forms. Czukay was doing it about 45 years ago.

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