Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Inner Space—
Agilok & Blubbo/Kamera Song


Released 1968 on Deutsche Vogue
The Seth Man, December 2004ce
“CAN SOUNDTRACKS” is the second album of THE CAN but not album no. two. “CAN SOUNDTRACKS” means a selection of title songs and soundtracks from the last five movies for which THE CAN wrote the music. Album no. two will be released in the beginning of 1971.’ (-Original liner notes to “Soundtracks” by THE CAN.)


Had “Soundtracks” included material from the last nine movies for which THE CAN wrote the music, it would have been a very different beast altogether. But before I outline why, something about Can has been plaguing me for years and I’d like to clear it up once and for all regarding the above liner notes to “Soundtracks” and specifically: the line, ‘The second album but not album no. two’.

I’m not meaning to make a mountain out of a molehill, but the only conclusion I keep returning to is perhaps Can were either at this point feeling uncertain in the wake of Malcolm Mooney’s departure and the arrival of new vocalist Damo Suzuki and/or did not wish to be seen as putting out a compilation of soundtrack material as a stop-gap as opposed to a true artistic statement that was theirs and theirs only. Which is entirely understandable, but did Pink Floyd write on the back of the “More” soundtrack album: ‘“MORE” is the third album of THE PINK FLOYD but not album no. three”? Of course they didn’t, and they were afloat in waters equally as tenuous in the wake of Barrett’s exit. No, “More” was their third album and therefore, ‘album no. three’ and every bit as excellent and accomplished a work as “Soundtracks” and just because the music was commissioned by forces outside the group it didn’t automatically assign it as a lesser effort. On the contrary, Can’s music was already multi-faceted enough to more than fit the requirements of soundtrack work as they were mutable in their energies and capabilities to express a wide stylistic berth with varying degrees of moods and emotions. So what exactly was the problem?

I understand they were artists, slightly older, German and half of them had academic musical training but that’s still no reason to cloud the issue with skewered semantics or plain old bad math. And if they were getting so particular about numbering their releases, why didn’t they count the Music Factory version of “Monster Movie” as ‘the first album but not album no. one’ and the subsequent reissue on United Artists as ‘the second album but not album no. two’ while they were at it? And what about the unreleased album that was recorded before BOTH versions of “Monster Movie” entitled “Prepared To Meet Thy Pnoom”? Is THIS the true ‘first album but not album no. one’?! I’m already losing count as Can seem to in reality have three consecutive first albums. But ostensibly: not three ‘album no. one’s. Of further consideration is the fact that several of the tracks from the “Prepared To Meet Thy Pnoom” sessions wound up on “Delay ’68” which by the perimeters of the above-mentioned (and to me, nonplussing as fuck) liner notes can only mean that “Delay ‘68” was ‘the first album of THE CAN but not album no. one.’

Only thing is, it was released in 1982: a full three years after they broke up.

Can were ahead of their time, but this is absurd. And to make matters even more so (and it is the absurdity of THE CAN I think of as one of their most enduring qualities) the more serious Can are, the funnier they get. I mean, have you ever seen the documentary on the box set? (Or rather, from “CAN DVD” which is the ‘second box set but not box set no. two’)? They come across in their interviews complacent in their position as a group whose stature has only snowballed with each passing decade. Which is fair and they deserve every bit of recognition that comes their way in acknowledging their outstanding achievements -- which were many. But when Holger Czukay talks about selling his records to penguins, I laugh and reach for the remote to rewind again and again as I think of his quote about sometimes feeling “flamboyant like Bryan Ferry!” And when Irmin Schmidt proudly grins while stating “I got corrupted” (not once, but on two separate occasions) referring to the break in his classical career that resulted in Can’s formation, my inner wiseacre starts welling to the surface. I‘m also tore between crying and screaming “Onkel!” at the screen when I behold the talented, now sadly departed and beautiful Michael Karoli saying in all slack-jawed simian and apparent seriousness, “I think I have an intellect...I don’t think I use it much.” All respect, but what a pack of jokers. And Jaki Liebezeit quietly commenting “I did not join Can, I just met some people” is indicative of a way of looking at the world in a manner to outdo even Til Eugelspiel in the Teutonic prankster stakes.

Although it’s possibly due to either a cultural or generational divide at play, I’d like to think it’s just as much down to a sense of keen absurdity. Because if Can were more governed by matters of consequence, reason, plans and career-mindedness their music would not be what it was and still is. Not only are Can in their best moments one of the most natural and one of the most gifted bands I’ve ever heard, they are also one of the most playful, ever. There are more ideas in one minute of many songs by Can than in most groups’ entire back catalogue, along with many moments of true invention where intent and happenstance fuse together to create worlds of possibilities and nearly tangible environments through their multi-leveled approaches that span a pallet ranging from meditational quietude, rhythmic-based stampedes to trance-inducing spontaneity.

(Anyway, as I was saying) had “Soundtracks” included material from their last nine movies for which THE CAN wrote the music, it would have been a very different album altogether because it would have reached back to their very first soundtrack efforts for the small, independent feature, “Agilok & Blubbo” which yielded only one single: “Agilok & Blubbo”/“Kamera Song.” It was so early it was before Can, before THE CAN and when they were The Inner Space during the latter half of 1968 (although the group was nearly all in place with the core lineup of Schmidt, Karoli, Czukay and Liebezeit together with flautist/tape operator David Johnson.) They were also just beginning recording at Schloss Norvenich, where this piece was laid down in July of 1968, the same month as “Pnoom” from “Delay ’68.” But if there was one thing it lacks to qualify it as THE CAN it is the absence of a vocalist who could (and would in a month’s time) guide a course into, through and beyond the rhythm as it elevated it beyond the repetition-unto-exhaustion of its foundations through ad-libbing, improvisation and hoarse barking for an extended period of time.

But this was still a month prior to Malcolm Mooney coming on board and without a vocalist, it was left to one of the five Inner Space musicians to sing which leads to the mystery of exactly WHO sang on “Agilok & Blubbo.” In all probability it was Irmin Schmidt, as his is one of three names listed in the credits of the track and it was courtesy his connections in the West German art world as a classical conductor, musical director at der Stadttheater Aachen and part-time film critic which led Can to pursue soundtrack work at their onset (and consequently: well beyond their formative years.) But one thing is certain: they are distinctly European-accented and they nasally let loose with humourous and Dylansised thin wild mercury inflected English, set against Karoli’s spindly guitar and Liebezeit’s rattling and ever-steady drumming in a series of carefully repetitious patterns. “Agilok & Blubbo” is a faint, naïve and very interesting glimmer of Can before they were Can as all the musical ingredients are already in place -- the intro of sooth-drone Farfisa joined by a tape kebab of backwards overdubbed flutes; the electric guitar switches between a clearly-defined yet oddly tuned gypsy main riff and barely controlled burnout fuzztone soloing; the held-back yet insistent bass, the consistent rhythms and even Czukay’s edits between the main theme and interrupting cutaways all maintain in embryonic form the shape of THE CAN to come. The lyrics cross elements of the storyline along with a series of run-on pop art Dlyanesques like: “Why don’t you go ride a ramp?/Catch the world and crazy love?/Sew your image and read no more?/Write a song like ‘Agilok & Blubbo” as well as the fantastic couplet of “Blow your mind and move your crutch/Tie the double noose of Pnoom” inserted directly after a hilariously wrecked, Race Marbles-like harmonica solo.

The flipside “Kamera Song” is an entirely different approach altogether. “Sunday Morning” xylophonics drop like two-megaton teardrops around the vocals of actress Rosemarie Heinikel, here credited with her diva alter-ego, ‘Rosy-Rosy.’ The sleeve of the single features a still of Rosy-Rosy from the film and the provenance of her name is immediately obvious as she is depicted holding a machine gun while her pair of abundant breasts make her neckline not only plunging, but altogether insufficient in their attempt to modestly corral her assets. Her vocals are coy and cooing in German until she switches to bleating out slang English slogans such as “Mama!,” “Stop the war!,” “Make peace!” and “Cheese!” over Holger’s red-armed-hot-from-Vietnam bass strummin’ und drangin’ in the aggressive chorus.

‘Impending Pnoom,’ indeed.