Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Gunter Schickert - Samtvogel

Gunter Schickert
Samtvogel


Released 1975 on Brain
Reviewed by Lugia, 04/01/2004ce


Gunter Schickert: "Samtvogel"
Brain 1080, recorded June-Sept 1974, released 1975

Tracks:
1) Apricot Brandy - 6:06
2) Kriegsmaschinen, fahrt zur Hölle - 16:58
3) Wald - 21:35

Coming as late in the Brain catalog as this does, one might be tempted upon seeing a listing for it to dismiss it as some Deutsch Proggy thing or some of the scary metal that Brain sometimes turned out. But one look at the jacket dispels this, as you're greeted with this sort of "I saw this on the back of my eyelids while telepathically communicating with Planet Zg" drawing that might be more at home on some International Artists thing.

What this is, in a sense, is an album that might be considered to be the Evil Twin of Manuel Gottsching's "Inventions for Rock Guitar". Whereas Gottsching offers up a minimalistic and kosmische shimmer of corruscating guitar and delay multitracking, Gunter Schickert takes more or less the same apparatus and creates a soundtrack to some sort of lysergic bummer-trip. Not that that's a BAD thing, mind you...

The whole thing begins with some beatnik-like and seemingly-innocuous jazz-guitar noodly bits, until the echo-warpo vocal starts with something about "...a shot...of apricot brandy...". With something other than apricots in it, I would gather, as the track slowly vectors into weirder turf, and the pulsy mechano-delay loops that characterize later parts drift in and out among the psuedo-Les Paul on an ether binge-sort of lounge noodles. You get the definite feeling from this that things are going to head off in a very strange direction.

And they do. The next track, "Kriegsmaschinen, fahrt zur Hölle" ("War machines, go to hell") starts right off on the right sort of wrong foot, with heavily-pulsing delays and this sort of dark, mechanistic "chicka-chicka-chicka-chicka" playing that builds and ebbs and builds again in sometimes-consonant, but also sometimes-dissonant layers of overdubbing. Then it drops into this oppressive-yet-ethereal zone of delay, volume pedal tinkerage, little sequential bits building...and then out of this this Terry Riley-meets-NEU! pulse-matrix of guitar layers gets going at a pretty good clip, with voices and odd twangy repeating bits drifting in and out of the woodwork. Out of this, we get dropped into the 'song' part of this, with Schickert intoning "Komm' doch in mein Fabrik/Sag't der Personalchef" in a filtered echoed monotone. VERY creepy ambience to this...definitely not a 'kosmische' affair, but something that takes the kosmische sonic vocabulary and zangs it off in a direction that's almost proto-industrial. This, folks, is definitely an excusion on the dark side. No spacy kosmische overtones here, but something looking toward a different sort of 'psi-fi'; this would make good background music for some William Gibson-esque sort of dystopic futurist fiction, methinks. The whole thing gradually degenerates into dissonant loops, fragments, with that incessant guitar pulse underneath until...voila!...we're plunged thru an overdubbed raveup and then dropped into some sort of chasm of echo-box feedback and tape-speed tinkering as Schickert's voice pops in one last time saying "...Hölle...". Welcome to Hell, and end side one. Whoo...

"Wald" ("Forest") picks up where we left off, with the pulse-layering from the latter part of side 1 in predominance. This waxes and wanes for a bit, and then Schickert starts working with little looping patterns, dropping out of machine-mode for a bit, and slowly adding in layers of washed-in bendy chords. But it's still a dark affair, and even though what's going on is awfully pretty, it's also got a mood of foreboding to it. This forest seems to be one out of those scary Brothers Grimm stories. Werewolves lurking herein, perhaps. Tense. Especially tense as those mechano-pulse layers start intruding in washes and blocks, like some sort of attacking machinery bent on trashing what tranquility was there. The eeriness takes over toward the end, with tense "Twilight Zone" type figures phasing out...then in...then out...then back to the thematic echoed bits...and the machines attack once more...then more phasing...and then just for a final mindfuck, we're back to the jazzy-noodly-loungy part where we all came in. Looped all the back 'round the start of the trip. Turn over, begin again.

Those expecting vast expanses of spatial waaaaaah....nuh-uh. Not here. Overall, it's a claustrophobic sort of affair, very bad-triplike. But note that I'm not saying that this is BAD. Instead, "Samtvogel" is a sonic chart of the dark side of in-head amusement, definitely coming from the same psychological turf as what Pink Floyd was exploring at around the same time with "Wish You Were Here", but using a very different musical vocabulary to explore those zones. And as far as Schickert's playing goes, it's a one-man tour-de-force for what you can do with only a Fender Jazzmaster (or Jaguar? the pic on the back sleeve is a little dark to tell) and some cheap (these days) multitracks and echo boxes. Just to hear the variety of timbres that he coaxes out of the instrument alone is worth the price of admission, but the whole hauntedness of the affair, the ominous machine-pulses, the echoing creepiness...it's gravy! One of those great albums for a really dark stormy scary night, which isn't something you can often say about Krautrock.


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