Julian Cope’s Album of the Month
AOTM #29, October 2002ce
Released 2002 on Ultra Records
- Neun Welten Ull (The Nine Worlds) (5.52)
- Lichtkreuzweihe (Consecration of the Luminous Cross) (3.29)
- Von Gaat und Ernte (5.19)
- Wille (The Will) (5.03)
- Irminsul (4.24)
- Um Wodansmal (Woden’s Mark) (5.19)
- Wotans Wilde Jagd (Wodan’s Wild Hunt) (8.00)
- Bergandacht (Meditation on the Peak) (2.23)
- Wolfstund (Hour of the Wolf) (6.09)
- Nachhall (Reprise) (5.37)
Heathen Note: For we heathens who have refused the term ‘pagan’ or ‘neo pagan’ these past years, it can only bring us pain when such non-heads as Bowie and Oasis simultaneously lay ‘fashionable’ claim to the word for their new corporate releases. But this is a temporary thing and such dabblers will most likely be Buddhists within the year. As I said on THE MODERN ANTIQUARIAN tour in Spring ’99, I am a declared heathen who dances on the heath outside the so-called consecrated precincts of God’s Acre. For we genuine heathens, all the world is a sacred place, including the human body itself. This album celebrates humanity’s relationship with its environment with a rare beauty. That it is a current release makes its sense of timelessness an even greater achievement.
The Dreams of the Night come to Fruition only to those Aflame
When I first heard this album just one month ago, I smiled and sank back into the sort of relaxed state that enfolds me only when I recognise the work of a kindred spirit. This Waldteufel record generated a sense of trust within me, and I knew immediately that here was a huge motivation of depth and clarity. For the album takes elements of the Northern Myths and Traditions and interprets them with a wonderfully poignant and personal resonance. At times, I laughed at the sheer audacity of Waldteufel leader Markus Wolff’s marvellously portentous vocal delivery, and the un-self-consciousness of songs which even dared to begin with one person clapping.
On HEIMLICHES DEUTCHLAND, or “Hidden Germany”, clattering and distant singular snare drums evoke (and invoke) the eight-hoofed gallop of Odin’s magical horse Sleipnir, whilst Annabel Lee’s accordions, violins and violas confidently drone atonal notes right through catchy waltzes worthy of accompanying the Padstow Obby Oss at each May Day festival. Flutes conspire with monophonic synthesizers, as French horns blast in that same barbarian manner that Thighpaulsandra uses on Queen Elizabeth albums, seemingly summoning up all the spirits of Windsor Great Park. And throughout it all, muttering, groaning, heaving and sighing vocal motifs accompany the declarations of the poet Markus Wolff.
It should be noted that this Markus Wolff is a purist who wishes to convey his message in German where possible, but he has sent me his own translation of the lyrics, so I’ll print them here when it seems necessary. Waldteufel may be the product of two modern American-based artists – Wolff and Annabel Lee – but this album has wrestled the sound of Old Northern Europe away from its exclusive heimat, and has successfully caught that sound in American studios of this so-called 21st Century. As someone who fervently believes in the shamanic value of travel to the temples of the old lands, it is often difficult for me to take seriously the assertions of American artists on an Ur-European trip. But on this occasion, yes, Waldteufel appears to be that very real thing. Its interpretations differ hugely from my own experiences which many of you will have heard at DISCOVER ODIN. But nothing here jars so much that it spoils my enjoyment. Of course, it helps the Waldteufel cause enormously that Markus Wolff is also an excellent sculptor,1 translator and publisher, as well as having spent his childhood in Prussia. Besides his own lyrics, Markus Wolff has, for HEIMLICHES DEUTSCHLAND, also interpreted the works of five 19th and 20th Century German poets. And I have listened over and over, spellbound by the insistence, the catchiness and the curious musical and lyrical sub-plots of this wonderful record.
All that is my Own
Emotionally, this Waldteufel album reminds me of Walter Wegmuller’s TAROT and Sergius Golowin’s masterpiece LORD KRISHNA VON GOLOKA. However, vocally, musically and atmospherically, the only comparisons I can make are with Nico’s 1968 masterpiece THE MARBLE INDEX and Sand’s deeply mysterious GOLEM, which escaped unapplauded and unknown in 1974. All these records sound as though they were recorded in live performance in some oak grove before the coming of electricity. And all three recordings bend in utter subservience to the curious vocal structures of those poets at the helm of each individual project.
In Nico’s case, John Cale’s production and instrumentation was so sympathetic to her muse that the rhythms throughout stretched and strained like the timbers of some overladen sailing ship, rather than daring to up-end her multiple-syllables and brutalise the songs. In Sand’s case, Johannes Vester was a singer of such strange and pinched delivery that his two cohorts, Uli and Ludwig Papenberg, had no other choice but to accommodate his songs or end up doodling hopelessly.
But regarding Waldteufel, the case of Markus Wolff is specifically different because he is both the poet and the drummer of this project, and, from the very beginning: ‘envisioned a combination of martial drumming and German vocals’. Indeed, the album would probably still have great artistic value were it just reduced to Wolff’s (seemingly) simultaneous vocal and drum performances.2
The Nine Worlds
The album begins with “The Nine Worlds”; not an account of each as described in the Norse Myths, but a more personal account of the yearning and utopian dream of the post-apocalypse age to come. Here, clattering hand drums lonely and dry permeate the atmosphere. As Markus Wolff begins his description of the Nine Worlds, an accompaniment by Annabel Lee’s loud viola, plus flute and low multiple baritone voices, echo his every word. Helicopter drums hover a-rhythmically overhead, as Lee’s viola chugs lonely and unsmoothe, its bow unwaxed and grating. The track judders along, speeding up and slowing down like a donkey ride though low hanging trees. This is the perfect entranceway into Wolff’s otherworld - immediately declaring its difference, yet melodic enough for us to grasp a hold of.
“Lichtkreuzweihe (Consecration of the Luminous Cross)” quickly follows, and sounds like a funeral dirge led by hand drum, and accompanied by viola and cello, creating a holy and hugely empty sound. The ‘Luminous Cross’ here referred to is obviously Woden’s cross, that high shafted Yggdrasil/Irminsul representative found in Ancient Britain and Europe.
Here is an ultra-traditional music of such economy that it sounds novel and shocking and primitive. There are almost no chords, so each of Lee’s extra notes sounds magical and deliciously harmonic – probably creating a similar effect to the manner that early music would have done. Modern German has a parallel language which is known as Flat German – a kind of economical non-poetic simplistic version which can be seen on signposts.3 And HEIMLICHES DEUTSCHLAND is often so instrumentally bare and economical that it feels like the musical equivalent of Flat German.
“Von Gaat und Ernte” follows, a simple instrumental waltz reminiscent of Judy Henske & Jerry Yester’s FAREWELL ALDEBARAN. Dry strings, accordions, bodhrans and clattery drums are here punctuated by low brass and fanfares of trumpets, which phase in and out of tune.
Then, out of the primal soup “Wille (The Will)” fades in with multi-tracked voices from Wolff repeating the same phrase over and over. Distant band random cello scrapes punctuate the atmosphere, as Wolff chants a poem by the wonderfully-named Bogislav Selchow. In this strange heathland soundscape, the hubbub of multitracked voices becomes obsessive and alarming to the point of being humorous.
Next comes the superb “Irminsul”: a hugely catchy tum-tee-tum about the great central pillar of the German tribes, the most famous example of which was eventually destroyed by Emperor Charlemagne in a fit of neo-Christian fervour. Irminsul was the Germanic Yggdrasil; a world pillar and facsimile of the World Tree, which Wolff describes with the obvious delight of the truly cosmically motivated:
“The Irminsul once connected heaven and earth,
Markus Wolff's Irminsul
As the upholder of true spiritual might,
Which today banishes and blesses anew;
The column has been erected once again.
Once the bull was sacrificed to it,
At the foot of the structure rising high,
The order and thus the Od upheld
Through the blood on the column.”
Forgive my own delight at this curious trip – but it is rare to encounter another singer writing about his subject with the same kind of verve that I feel for world centres such as Silbury, Dunnideer and Yggdrasil. Clash goes the cymbal, round and around go the strings and the hollow drum, until Wolff is left humming away to himself in the bathroom next door. Perfect.
“Um Wodansmal (Woden’s Sign)”comes on like the Mothers of Invention performing my ODIN album. It’s a spoken piece over disembodied voices, which hum and chatter around the room. This piece remains untranslated on Wolff’s lyric sheet, so I have no idea what it means, but the atmosphere is both disconcerting and welcoming at the same time, until Wolff’s own voice degenerates into a kind of George Clintonesque sped up/slowed down hyperspeak.
And so we arrive at the mysterious and hugely catchy eight-minutes of ‘Wotans Wilde Jagd (Woden’s Wild Hunt)’, which begins like a synthesized Walter/Wendy Carlos take on Mozart’s Horn Concerto. The greatness of this album, which is epitomised here, is its ability to be both deeply mysterious and comically endearing at the same time. Any British scholars of the Woden Wild Hunt will inevitably first comment on its terrifying aspects, especially such modern legends as the Teddy Boy killed in Windsor Great park in the 1960s, or the hordes of the dead carried into the air to run with Woden. Next, British scholars will probably admit that most of the tales came from Scando-Germania, whence comes this Waldteufel version. And yet, though Markus Wolff, with typical hand drums and bare orchestration, tells his chilling tale of ‘wild-hearted beasts clashing in battle’, ‘deathly pale rogues’ and ‘deafening horns… filling the soul with dread’, when asked who has caused all this, the chorus is sung with the kind of gusto saved for the Munich Beer Festival:
“That is, that is Woden’s wild daring hunt!”
Only around four and a half minutes in, does the music loosen up into a free form march across a wide-open North German plain of clatter drums, hunting horns, string orchestration, bass and baritone male voices, and clanky school percussion. From here, the song could continue for at least twenty minutes, but sadly climaxes far too soon. The Waldteufel sound is at its most intriguing here, and I just hope future albums allow more of this experiment.
And so to the simplicity of “Bergandacht (Meditation on the Mountain)”, in which plucked violin and flute follows the vocal melody exactly. Bass voice supports the solo baritone which tells us:
“I climbed up far on the rocks
Where the sun offered me its purest rays.
Far beneath me, I saw the valleys
Where men live, full of fear and want.
And those who fear, worry and merely exist below,
Because they are overcome by darkness –
I want to raise my arms towards the sky
“Oh, great sun: See, I am your child!””
And so to the intense and deeply meditational “Wolfstund (Wolf Hour)”, in which Wolff takes his first two lines from an old German nursery line, and thereafter weaves a heathen tale of the interlinkage of Life & Death. Here, simple unaccompanied hand claps begin the song, over which looms a distant and hugely fuzz bass guitar, as Wolff chants over and over:
“Um elfe kommen die wolfe (At eleven o’clock the wolves come)
Um zwolfe zerbrichte das gewolbe (At twelve o’clock, the vault collapses)”
Drums, percussion and synthesizers build into cacophony as Wolff tells us his tale of “Eternal Recurrence” and “eternal return”. Churning over and over, on and on, the track moves at first like a plough through icy soil, relentless and inexorable but driven only by will and physical labour. But by the end of the piece, all hell has broken loose and that plough is threatening to rend the very fabric of the sky.
The final and magnificent ending is known as “Nachhall”, an epic reminiscent of Nico’s DESERTSHORE. As more disembodied voices fly in and out of the mix and clattery snare drums tumble across the horizon, multi-tracked violins, violas and cellos play themes from the previous songs. Netherworldy flutes and accordions echo those familiar tunes and remind us how extremely catchy Wolff’s melodies can be. “Nachhall” should therefore, I suppose, be translated as “response” and “reverberation”, or even ‘reprise’, as this piece ties up all the themes together. And as the album comes to its conclusion, the voice of Markus Wolff is picked up and scattered to the four winds in a Norman Collier-style celebration of broken technology. This marvellous work is over.
Waldteufel's sole 45 was released before HEIMLICHES DEUTSCHLAND
It may well be that my review has failed to do justice to this remarkable album, for it is an elusive and rare work that manages so successfully to both entertain and educate as well as this Waldteufel record does. So listen to it while Head Heritage gives you the chance and decide for yourselves. Clearly, the poet/drummer is only one unlikely aspect of Markus Wolff’s many unpredictable incarnations, but from the evidence seen elsewhere in his translations and sculptures, Wolff could well be the kind of polymath whose message only becomes understood through the gradual weight of his ever-building works. For myself, so timeless is HEIMLICHES DEUTSCHLAND that it already feels as though it has been in my record library for many years.
- Markus Wolff markets his sculptures (‘important Gods & Goddesses of the Nordic pantheon) through Heidnischwerk (P.O. Box 17656, Portland, OR 97217-0656).
- Though I do not know if Wolff actually recorded both vocals and percussion tracks together, I know that he was a former member of the all percussion ensemble Crash Worship, and has brought the kind of experience to this project which makes a fabulous use of every lyrical nuance, every breathy tremor, every h-h-hestitation - everything which separates the real thing from a very clever facsimile.
- The Germans attempted to banish Flat German, but with no success whatsoever. The best example of Flat German I have seen was on a signpost on Pestruper Graberfeld; a Bronze Age cemetery in North Germany. The sign warned people to keep their dogs on a lead or risk scaring the sheep. The modern German read: ‘Hundhalter lein sie ihr tier zum schutz der schafherde an’. Underneath, the sign in Flat German read: ‘Holt den hund an de lien anners kriegt de shaap angst.’ My friend, the German writer Glenn Grimmsmann said that the English equivalent of the Flat German translation was this: ‘Keep the hound on its lead or you’ll freak the sheep out.’