Interview by Thomas Mangano
This exclusive interview with Klaus Schulze gave us a unique opportunity to discuss the music and career of electronic music’s most notable figure. A pioneer of early analog electronics, Klaus Schulze remains as independent and authentic as ever. His music continues to transcend through the digital age of music and into the beyond. Mr. Schulze held back no punches back while delivering answers to our questions about his music and career and the values that he attaches to them. This interview stands out as one of our more colorful ones to date, but it is also inspirational. It reminds us of a time when fierce creativity and fearless passion could bring new music forms into the world. Germany was the hotbed for that new musical movement and Klaus is to be found at the heart of it.
We are very pleased to present it to you.
Thomas Mangano, Editor
LBFH: In the early days, what prompted you to shift from percussion to keyboards?
KS: A drummer is – more or less – “just” the backbone of a group, the “motor”.
I wanted a bit more. Also I had great interest in the new technique, the coming age of synthesizers; of course at this early time no one (not even me) knew what will become out of this: a short fashion? a joke for a half year? Or, as we know today: a change for the whole present music. I remember in an airplane from Germany to London, to visit Virgin Records, I had with my friend KDM, (Klaus D. Mueller), a little discussion: what will become of all this “new music”? We had realized that many companies manufactured suddenly (I speak of circa ’74) all kinds of keyboards and other “new” tools, and therefore, a success MUST come. Of course it was wishful thinking. But I was right with my wish and guess.
LBFH: Out of the many interactions and collaborations in the Zodiac Club days, what strikes you most about those times?
KS: This is too long ago to remember any special event or happening or people or whatever…
LBFH: What do you think distinguished Ash Ra Tempel from the other electronic bands of the day?
KS: We were NOT playing the usual “German” kind of rock, the one with that lousy beat.
We did not cover the Beatles, the Stones, or any other British blues-rock, even if we played in the standard rock set-up: guitar, bass, drums.
We were different. We were young. We were bold.
LBFH: When you first started to release solo work, did you have very definite ideas of what you wanted these works to sound like, or was there a fair amount of experimentation?
LBFH: You achieved some truly remarkable sounds and productions with early generation keyboards and traditional instruments; did you ever have the sense that your creativity was hampered by the technology of the day?
KS: Of course! I always wanted and searched for better instruments (with a better sound), a much better mixer, better loudspeakers, a better echo machine, etc.
LBFH: Did you ever made a choice to keep your music apart from the main stream of popular electronic music?
KS: I just DID music. And this was not in the main stream. I did my very own music.
“Popular electronic music” at this time was, if I remember well, the instrumental “Popcorn”, or?
LBFH: Our readers draw inspiration from musicians and artists who forge unconventional paths in careers. What has been your driving force to stay loyal to a music form that has a very select audience?
KS: To play my music is my daily life, and my job, yes, my profession.
I am not a studio musician who can and who will play all kinds of music for a client.
An exception could be film music.
LBFH: You have an impressive list of albums in your catalog. Do you have many ideas stockpiled or do you go into the studio with open expectations and create in the moment?
KS: Mostly it’s the latter. Every night I sit in my studio and play and record. Sometimes I like what I had done and find it worth to release.
LBFH: Home recording studios and recording technologies have become much more accessible and user friendly. Do you find that these changes enhance the way you approach composition?
KS: This has nothing to do with me. Except, that I was probably the first (or one of the first) who recorded his own music alone, on tape recorders, in my sleeping room and not in a studio. But I saw the turn-up of all the cheap instruments, synthesizers and studio gear in the late seventies; I even helped some of those amateurs who suddenly could afford a “home studio” and made music à la Klaus Schulze. These people became more and more, and the quality of their output was not always to my taste.
LBFH: With the preciseness of digital technology your style seemed to have adapted into a more accessible form, most notably in the percussive aspect. Was there a sense of return to your percussive roots?
KS: Yes, I started as a drummer. And I was really not bad. And I was different from other drummers I only needed one bass drum, where other needed two; yes I was fast! Just recently I had to read in a magazine’s article:
Manuel credits Klaus Schulze’s manic drum part as a large part of the appeal (of Ash Ra Tempel). “That was Klaus’ specialty – he was a very good drummer. He played the fastest bass drum I had ever heard. … We wanted to continue with Klaus as the drummer but he wanted to play synthesizers only. I was very disappointed that he left the drums.”
LBFH: Can you describe some of the challenges you faced when you decided to tackle operas?
KS: To find classically trained singers who could (at least a bit) improvise.
But these attempts (to do operas) are over, today.
LBFH: Your body of work has covered so many parts of a performer’s spectrum. You have worked solo, with small and large ensembles. Do you feel that there is still uncharted territory out there for you?
KS: Maybe, who knows?
LBFH: You have influenced so many musicians and artists with your pioneering techniques in playing, recording and producing. Is there a sense of satisfaction when you stop to consider the gifts you have given over the years to loyal audiences around the world?
KS: Of course it is always a satisfaction when you do something with all your vigor and enthusiasm, and then you realize that some people seem to like it (and even pay for it).
LBFH: I remember when we discovered your music back in the 1970’s here in America. It was a very “trippy” time. We would put on headphones and sit in the dark and listen to your albums. The idea of imagining pictures from music was very new. Did you have a sense back then that your music was revolutionary?
KS: When I actually did the music, the fun of DOING was and is greater than any thoughts about how “revolutionary” is my music . Of course I tried (out) something new, and I liked it. It’s also and simply less boring. The doing as well as the results. And I was happy to find a label and then another label, who paid for it and released it to the public. Yes, Virgin Records and then later Island Records did a lot to establish me also in America (with Timewind and Mirage), with, well, little success then.
LBFH: Do you still interact with others who hailed from the same musical roots, such as Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream?
KS: Not much. Eddie is doing his stuff for the American market, I do my stuff for the European market, as we once smilingly discussed the situation. This was already 10? 20? years ago, when we had met in person the last time. His wife Monique (Froese ) was still live & present.
LBFH: What are some of your favorite keyboardists?
KS: … (Thinking)… Piano? Maybe Glenn Gould or any other classical player. Or Oscar Peterson.
Synthesizer? I’m not a heavy musical fashion follower, I must not write reviews and articles about the music scene, so please excuse, if I don’t have a name at the moment. The music scene has changed drastically since the seventies, over the eighties, into techno and whatever… and MOST musicians use synthesizers today (and already for the last decades). In the seventies there were three or four names (Carlos, Vangelis, Tomita…) that I was listening to, out of interest, and some of it I liked very much. Today I cannot give a certain name, sorry.
LBFH: What is your favorite thing about performing live?
KS: This is a thing of the past. I don’t give concerts anymore. The “favorite thing” about (my) concerts isn’t anymore the same as it was some years ago, for me. I cannot describe it.
LBFH: At what point do you start to feel a connection to the audience?
KS: “A connection to the audience”? No one ever has asked me that. The connection is always there. Even if I do my music mainly for me, I also think about the public who will hear it, if I play in public or if I do an album for the public.
Example: A new LP album? Okay, side A will have the music that the audience expects from me, side B will have something new, something challenging.
Also in concerts I think about the audience. With past concerts I can describe it. On stage you can feel the atmosphere in the public: is it a calm audience? Or, an uneasy audience? Is it even a “rock” audience? And ideally, you perform the music equally, for every situation. You even try to affect the audience, bring them into a direction you want.
LBFH: What is the message that you hope to bring with your music?
KS: If I would have “a message”, I would write it down. But I am not a messenger, not a writer, not a philosopher, and I do not quote calendar sayings. I am a composer, a producer of music, short: a musician. I don’t believe in the kind of “messages” that some artists tell to journalists, simply because they are asked and they try to be polite
Therefore, let me quote a heathen Stravinsky: “Music is just notes. What you speculate beyond that, is pure nonsense”
LBFH: What is new and upcoming from Klaus Schulze?
KS: Nothing special.
About the interviewer:
Thomas Mangano is a composer and a performer living on Long Island, NY. He is the owner of a production services company that provides music, soundscapes and effects to professionals in film and media industries. He is also the founding member of the Boutcher/Mangano Jazz Trio and currently serves as the Music Director for the Custer Observatory.
To learn more about Thomas, Please visit hi website: Thomasmangano.com