Holger Czukay & Rolf DammersCanaxis
Released 1969 on Spoon
Reviewed by Lugia, 09/01/2004ce
Spoon CD 15, recorded 1968 ("Mellow Out", 1960), released 1969, CD reissue 1998
1) Boat-Woman-Song (17:26)
2) Canaxis (19:37)
3) Mellow Out (2:08)
To understand this record, one needs to know a few things...
1) The year 1968 was a rather chaotic one in Europe. There were loads of protests, and the youth movement was spinning out some amazing cultural documents and changes that would repercuss for years and years.
2) The credits for this album say it was recorded at Inner Space. However, Holger's admitted that some of what we hear here was done on 'pirated' time in the Electronic Music Studios at WDR Köln.
3) The person in charge of the Electronic Music Studios at WDR Köln in 1968 was none other than Karlheinz Stockhausen, who at the time was finishing up "Hymnen" with the assistance of David Johnson.
4) David Johnson was an original member of Can, and even on "Monster Movie" there are a few bits that Holger credits to his assistance, notably the "vrrooongggg!" sound at the very beginning of "Father Cannot Yell", which was done at...you guessed it...the Electronic Music Studios at WDR Köln.
5) Karlheinz Stockhausen's works "Telemusik" and "Hymnen" used multitudes of inserted and altered ethnic recordings, "Telemusik" especially so.
6) Holger is one of Stockhausen's students.
OK, got all that? Now, this album might make a little more sense given those contextual bits. "Canaxis" was a 'side project' by Holger and collaborator Rolf Dammers in the early Can days. In one sense, it's related to the electronic music of its day. But in another, Holger took Stockhausen's 'einschuÃŸ' and transformation methods and pushed them farther, precursoring the art and craft we now call sampling. To anyone who's heard Stockhausen's classic electronic works from the 1960s, there's a very familiar ring to the sonic pallette used on this album, and for reasons that should be evident from the above.
"Boat-Woman-Song" starts off with a fragment of an Adam de la Halle piece that Can also used on occasion in their earliest gigs. But Holger takes the last bit, this "Dee, dee, dee, dee, dee" phrase and begins to loop it. This becomes the underpinning for the first and last sections of the composition. A wailing vocal then overlays this, and the electronics phase in and out in a drifting interplay. But then, out of nowhere, this bass-propelled groove develops. And over the top, Holger drops in some Vietnamese singers. It's this magic moment where we step away from just dropping bits of tape into the fray and into the first glimmers of sampling methodology. And it is nicely done, too. The rest of the track takes us back to the de la Halle loop, but now everything's been shifted downward in pitch and tempo. The electronics re-enter, more abstract than in the previous...well, we'll call it what it is...A section, and it's these drifting electronic tones, like pitch-shifted horns, that lead us out of the work.
"Canaxis" is somewhat different, and is more clearly indebted to Stockhausen's influence. A high gong sounds, static tones greet us, then there's this descending and ascending octave-shifting pitch thing that intrudes, and eventually becomes a working motif for the beginning. After a few minutes of these high-pitched tones and octave jumps, a gong strikes and we're into the next part...a male voice, possibly singing in Vietnamese but also just as likely (from the sound) to be Native American begins to sing as strange metal percussion and primitive horn sounds join in. This does NOT sound like yr. typ. WDR job...it's primitive, very neolithic-sounding, as if we'd been plunged from the electronics of the space age to the darkness of some stone-age cave. The voice gives way to the horns and scraping sounds, getting louder and louder as some static voice-sound starts to hold...impossibly long. There's a genuine sense of 'suspended time' here, as if we were under the influence of some ritual chemicals. Gutteral voices, nocturnal sounds. Soon, we're left with the soaring vocal stasis as koto music begins to play. Here, as in "Boat-Woman-Song", the electronics and the 'sample' merge into a singular whole, as if Holger has succeeded in creating some strange hybrid music that hovers in some imaginary space somewhere between Kyoto and KÃ¶ln. Soon, the high tones trace their way back in, and the little 'descending/ascending' motif reappears like some strange birdcall. A low voice begins to hum, an echo of the middle section of this work, as everything slowly fades away like dissipating fog.
Then we have a little extra in "Mellow Out", an old recording from 1960 that's actually the first Holger captured on acetate, playing a little jazzy thing along with a few other players. Title says it all, and it's a nice little curiosity that's actually musically satisfying to boot.
But the 'meat' of this...not only is this critical as a part of the whole Can mythos, it is in fact music that could easily stand alongside anything coming out of Europe's electronic studios during the 60s. It shows off the fact that Holger's not only got the chops, he's also got the technique. And clearly, this has to rank if not up there with the master's "Hymnen", then certainly alongside his "Telemusik" from which more than a little inspiration was clearly taken. It's beautiful, mysterious, moving stuff that's certainly part of the whole Krautrock thing, but also is a few notches above it to this day.