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Contemporary Works Volume 2 by Klaus Schulze

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Klaus Schulze is the undisputed maestro of electronic music. Since his debut solo album in the early Seventies, Schulze has repeatedly forged new ground with synthesizer music, creating several signature styles over the years that many consider to be the templates to judge all others in this genre.

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KLAUS SCHULZE: Contemporary Works 2 (5 CD set on Rainhorse Records, distributed by Manikin Records)

Schulze's newest release is a five CD set. The material (all of which are studio recordings) found on "Contemporary Works 2" is all-new, representing a variety of fresh directions by the electronic master.

The discs (each in their own jewelcase) come in a lightweight cardboard box. Included is a 48-page booklet which offers in-depth sonic analyses by Klaus D. Mueller (Schulze's manager) and Mr. Modular. Also featured are numerous color photographs (mostly of Schulze's studio and equipment) and a 10-page full-color comic strip by Matt Howarth, which entertainingly traces Schulze's adventures through his own dreaming mind.

The personnel on this music are: Klaus Schulze on electronics, keyboards, guitar; Wolfgang Tiepold on cello; Thomas Kagerman on Arabian flute, violin, vocals; Julia Messenger on vocals; Audrey Motaung on vocals; Tobias Becker on oboe, English horn; Mickes on guitar; and Tom Dams on some groove loops.

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Disc 1: Virtual Outback

This disc features a single track ("The Theme: The Rhodes Elegy") which lasts for 65 minutes.

For those not familiar with it, the Fender Rhodes Piano is a particular instrument that captures a remarkably tender resonance. The Fender Rhodes Piano is best known for its usage in Seventies progrock (i.e.: Brian Auger, and many of the Canterbury bands). Schulze has taken a fascination with this unique sound and channeled it through his own creativity to produce music here that is superbly contemporary while deriving mood and timbre from the past.

After a gentle opening, things begin to cook with Schulze's normal sonic heat. Electronic tonalities amass in the distance, roiling with the promise of imminent power. Processed oboe (or is it cello?--it's hard to tell with such a master technician at the helm) provides suitably ethereal counterpoint for the languid E-perc and almost-hesitant keyboard delineation. Gradually, the E-perc adopts an earthier disposition, with bongos pattering at the edges to lend peppier beats. Recognizable cello enters the mix, introducing a sadness to the melody. Later, softly lyrical vocals appear in muted form, distorted just enough so that the articulations never quite break through to become overt or distractive.

Halfway through the track, electric guitar makes its appearance to wail with jazz-like restraint. These searing riffs summon a return of the earlier "theme", allowing the electronics and percussives to merge into a compelling crescendo of emphatic passion. This majestic section continues for some time, finally returning from its dizzying altitudes to sedately growl into a downswing that conveys the listener back to their own cranium. No, wait--there are still a few peaks lying in waiting before the music achieves an epic coda.

The track ends with a herniating sustain that compresses everything together into a loving farewell.

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Disc 2: Timbres of Ice

This disc features 76 minutes. There are three tracks.

Commencing with loving acoustic guitar, the first track is a delicate excursion into dreamy ambience. The electronics float with atmospheric demeanor, excellently evoking "The Lonely Dead of Midnight".

The second track ("They Shut Him Out of Paradise") employs vocals (which started as a high female voice before Schulze treated it into a ghostly male baritone) which usher in Schulze's signature electronics: lavish drones and pingponging effects and intricate E-perc. In typical Schulze fashion, the music accretes slowly, with passages unfurling and amply defining themselves before moving to the next phase. Guitar sneaks into the mix (or maybe its just Schulze's versatile keyboards), while those vocals persist throughout the whole piece. This track lasts 42 minutes.

The third track ("Die Prophezeiung erfullt sich") again utilizes vocal stylings throughout its 23 minutes length. This time, the voice is treated into a state which leaves it devoid of much humanity. Schulze's music dances around the garbled syllables as if bewildered by these enunciation. Languid atmospherics mingle with quasi-wooden E-perc and shrill keyboard squeals to produce an ethereal immersion for these tooled utterances.

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Disc 3: Another Green Mile

This disc features 71 minutes. Although segregated into five tracks of varying length, from 4 to 28 minutes, the music flows seamlessly and uninterrupted.

Once again, Schulze's diverse electronics share the mix with oboe, cello, voice, and guitar. After a quasi-classical opening of pastoral cello and minimal tones, the music enters a vocal passage that evokes walking in the rain accompanied by percussives that evolve rhythms from hesitant beats. It is at this point that Schulze's familiar style gradually emerges to commandeer the melody. Complexity and stately wisdom increase with each passing minute, building to greater velocity and more demonstrative structure. The cello plays an integral part here, injecting an arid quality to the chugging pace. The reappearance of non-lyrical vocals signals the launch of a more pensive passage as electronic texture drift over a foundation of gently pattering synthetic bongos. Although coherent lyrics begin to creep into the melody, the vocals are generally restrained to more expressive warbles, lending the music an operatic demeanor.

There is a brief, almost imperceptible pause before the last track commences. "Follow Me Down, Follow Me Down", the CD's 28 minute piece, exhibits more pep and vitality than the previous tracks, shedding the contemplative disposition for a more celebratory sound. The E-perc rises in tempo and intricacy, the electronics rouse to more compelling expressions. The spiraling descent becomes enlivened by nimble keyboards and snarling guitar. Vocals briefly emerge, cleverly garbled into an elfish chitter, only to be overpowered by the sedately searing guitar. This guitar presence lends the music a decidedly ECM jazz quality that marks it as an exciting departure from anything previously encountered in Schulze's more-than-three-decade-long career. Those elfin mutterings return, replete with even greater distortions, as the percussion grows snappier and the guitar more selective in its choice of explosive outbursts.

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Disc 4: Androgyn

This disc features 76 minutes of music, offered in six tracks, with two pieces of substantial duration separated by surprisingly short compositions. Once more, the tracks flow into each other.

But first, a 12 minute piece explores an elegant fusion of Schulze's electronics with noble cello and vocal samples. Notably, these electronics employ an uncharacteristic palette of unearthly sounds. Even the cello is treated to resound with stratospheric airs. Again, despite the female throats producing the vocal strains, the choral chants are treated to display a hauntingly masculine sound.

The second track ("Back to the Future") is 28 minutes long, and is dominated by Schulze on slide guitar. Utilizing the "Gleiteisen, a piece of iron", this music affects a loving return to the "cosmic slide guitar technique from old Ash Ra Tempel times." Assisting this retro sound is a taste of organ drone (oh--it's that Fender Rhodes Piano again!). Slowly, almost hesitantly, velvet E-perc and delicate electronics creep into this astral domain. The tone of this composition remains languid and quite meditative.

Tracks three through five are all short (4 to 5 minutes). "There's No Mystery" employs vocals and cello to generate a sentimental longing. "Don't Ask the Question Why" introduces a pensive velocity to the melody, as percussives and electronics swell and exhibit more verve. "The Passion Burns" pursues this rising tempo, reintroducing the "Mysterious" vocals to demonstrate emotional fire.

This music slides gracefully into the CD's final track ("This House Full of Shadows"), where Schulze coalesces the previous elements into a more forceful application. Body and power unfurl to propel the melody into majestic territory. The driving E-perc generates cyclic impetus for the dreamy electronics as they investigate darker realms. Haunting cello aids this shadowy examination. The vocals surface amid this passionate tide, producing urgent incentives with recognizable syllables as understanding is conveyed to the audience.

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Disc 5: Cocooning

This disc features 79 minutes. Eight tracks here: a diverse mixture of 20+ minutes, 10 minutes, and 2 minutes and less. As expected, the tunes run together to create an extended listening experience.

Calming overtones are the keynote for the music on this disc. Schulze's amiable electronics are accompanied this time by acoustic guitar, gentle E-perc, and English horn. This tuneage is quite soothing compared to the rest of the CDs in this set, almost minimal. But "minimal" in Schulze's hands is an entirely different thing from most "minimal" recordings. Lurking beneath the easy-going melodies, a vibrant sensibility can be detected, and although it does not break free from restraint, this reserve energy saturates the audience's mind in a subtle manner. The acoustic guitar explores quasi-romantic sentiments, imbuing the music with a leisurely mood. This comfortable state is further delineated once the English horn appears, with expressive strains that lift the listener to a floating vantage. Awesomely sedate, the music is never tedious or overly tenuous. Its soul shines through, evoking a calm that resists any external disruption.

The ambience becomes more lively with the third track ("I Just Have to Sing My Hymns") with the introduction of softly treated vocals. The electronics surge, but gently. The percussives escalate their fine rhythms while remaining unhurried and complacent. There are points where the vocals possess a strange quality, as if fused with orchestral strings. So expertly crafted is this fusion that it is difficult to tell where the voice leaves off and the strings begin.

Subsequent tracks are brief and consist mostly of guitar and oboe acting as the frontmen for Schulze's luxurious electronics and the staid percussion. Only toward the end does the guitar rise to declare its own commanding presence, but even this passion does not violate the overall placid nature of the music.

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The Bonus Disc: Thank You

A special limited edition premium is offered to the first 333 people who order the "Contemporary Works 2" set. This CD features 57 minutes of previously unreleased new music. There are no duplications between this disc and the CW2 set, nor any remixes by other artists. You get four lustrously fresh tracks by Schulze:

"Chinese Eyes" begins with orchestral strings that carry an oriental flair, but this romantic calm swiftly leads to an outburst of rapid keyboards and urgent E-perc. This powerful escalation persists, driving the melody to deliciously frantic proportions...until unexpectedly returning to the opening's stately conditions with the addition of a choral refrain. As the song wanes, though, the previous energized structure reemerges to conquer the mix for a dazzling coda.

"Chinese Ears" continues the theme from the prior track, augmenting the driving melody with fresh elaborations and tasty diversions. The velocity is high, equaled only by the emotional ecstasy...which pauses a few times, once for a passage of majestic cello, and again for an interlude of choral voices...before returning to the powerful rate and delivery

"High Noon (12 Uhr Nachts)" captures a dense drama with atmospheric tonalities. Soon, though, voices, relentless E-perc, and weirdness explode to lend tension to the melody. The piece alternates between stately ambience and jarring punctuations as these elements duel for mastery of the song.

"My World Keeps Spinning Around" offers nimble percussives, and strings and vocals of all sorts. Once a peppy foundation has been prepared, ethereal electronics enter to define a high vantage from which the rotating Earth can be viewed. Heavenly vocal strains float through the mix, mostly non-verbal and conveying a grand appreciation of the altitude. The application of orchestral strings, a Oriental mandolin, and then cello give the track a versatility that unifies the music with a global constancy.

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