Editor's Rating

Tangerine Dream founder's 1978 LP of synthy motorik receives its first UK issue: spacious, eerie and polyrhythmic by turns

7.8

CONRAD SCHNITZLER was a unique talent, and one who stood firmly outside the strictures of what was expected of him.

His mother was evacuated to Austria during the Second World War; so, brother in tow, he made his way to her. Serving a mechanical engineering apprenticeship, he was dismayed, in 1956, at the re-introduction of national service in what was by then West Germany, he chose instead to serve in the merchant navy, one of the few available exemptions. 

On shore leave in Düsseldorf, he finessed a place at the art school after hearing of a professor who was willing to take promising pupils without formal qualification. This set his course into conceptual art and music.

He was with Tangerine Dream for just one album, their debut, Electronic Meditation, adding the conceptual weight that helped forge their reputation. He then promptly left, certain that the creative potential of the group had reached its limit.

But a friendship with fellow Dream member Peter Baumann was to endure, and after five self-released cassettes and a vinyl compilation of them, Conrad once more teamed up with Peter in 1978 to make Con – the album now being reissued by archive specialists Bureau B.

And although at the time this was the first of Conrad’s solo ventures to gain a release outside his native Germany, this is the first time Con has been issued in the UK.

It’s five tracks of deeply conceptual brilliance. The story goes that Conrad arrived at the door of Peter’s Paragon Studios in Berlin with two synthesisers and a sequencer – on a bicycle, and set to work.

The near-13 minutes of “Electric Garden” announces on synthesised foghorns. Korgs rise and swoop, astrally. Sparse, echoing percussion begins to build and other layers of distant worlds wrench and judder. Texturally it’s much, much closer to a British ambient record than you would imagine; and for 1978, much more modern than Tangerine Dream sound.

“Ballet Statique” moves back towards that chattering hypnotism for which his first band became famous, but retains a sense of space and a sparseness of percussive elements. “Zug” sets out to do for the train what Kraftwerk were up to elsewhere with Autobahn; the sense of propulsion is a given, but it’s the tonal sweeps and bends that give a real sense of the reflected noise as a train moves through cityscapes, cuttings, more open areas.  If there is a railway-corresponding concept to rival motorik, this is its embodiment.

“Metall I” is a scorching, melting soundscape, suggestive of some inhospitable outer planet; and closer “Black Nails” plays deep and hard with dark, eerie textures, which both recalls and predates the chromium precision of Warp-era Seefeel.

It’s another fascinating retrotronica archive retrieval from Bureau B, whose investigation of these tributaries of the German experimental music scene is unrivalled. This is very much one for the reel-to-reel tape machine and stainless steel circuitry aficionado in your life; or any fan of deep early electronica.

Conrad Schnitzler’s Con will be reissued by Bureau B on digital, CD and LP formats on August 14th and is available to order here.