Although many artists have successfully combined modern methods and ancient traditions, Irmin Schmidt’s sound alchemy is certainly quite exceptional in music history. Be it 20th-century new music merged with that of the Late Middle Ages, or experimental rock with 1000-year-old far eastern court music, the outcome of his work has always been a starting point for something unprecedented.
Maybe he wasn’t the very first to play recordings of the French 14th-century ‘Messe De Notre Dame’ and tracks of traditional Japanese music simultaneously – thereby getting extensive sound collages with a strange atmosphere, at a time the term “sampling” had yet to be invented – but, surely, he was the only one to give up a promising career as a composer and conductor at the age of 30, just to establish one of the most influential rock groups in history.
A lot of the styles he had been engaged in during his formal education in composition, piano, and music ethnology, later would somehow or other be integrated into both the sounds of legendary krautrock outfit Can and his solo works: a preference for African rhythms and “world music” (yet another phrase to coin) that he shared with his band colleagues, Stockhausen’s dealings with electronics, John Cage’s Dada side of music, and the sense for spontaneity and presence of mind he gained from the Fluxus movement.
So it’s not surprising that the by now 76-year-old is well-known for the compositional complexity of his works and a huge diversity of genres. ‘Villa Wunderbar’ wants to provide an insight into his vast oevre, especially as a solo musician, which is not easy to overlook: next to a series of albums, it includes nothing less than an opera (‘Gormenghast’, based on the Mervyn Peake trilogy), a ballet, several releases with English composer Jono Podmore aka Kumo, and over 100 film scores.
Among the many gems on this double-cd are a remix of Can’s ‘Last Night Sleep’, as well as a re-mastered and extended version of ‘Alice’ (originally from the ‘Lost Tapes’ released in 2012). Even more interesting is the selection from the long-term collaboration with Can co-founders Michael Karoli and Jaki Liebezeit, like the title track itself, or ‘Love’ from the original album ‘Musk At Dusk’. Even after the group’s disbanding, the same driving force, linear rhythmic, and soundscape openness that once marked their Soon-Over-Babaluma-era was still present: in Liebezeit’s angular drumming, in a musical collective where each instrument plays as an equal, or in the gentle piano piece that suddenly turns into some mystic tango version of post-Damo-Suzuki-Can.
Equally impressive are the African rhythms electronically generated by Kumo, interacting with noise-pop-like intros and spooky sound collages, or Schmidt’s ‘Gormenghast’ arias, arranged in true opera style with fully trained voices, and mixed with tribal drums.
Many soundtracks, however, come across as over-sentimental – and thereby form the composer’s synthesis of the arts: a fusion of high and low culture, kitsch and good taste, ancient music traditions and modern equipment. As to both music and attitude, this compilation really is remarkable.
Key Tracks: Villa Wunderbar, Le Weekend, Time The Dreamkiller, Rapido De Noir
Label: Mute Records
Release Date: 4 November 2013