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Vintage Electronic Music by Conrad Schnitzler

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Conrad Schnitzler is a grand maestro of electronic music. Considered by many as the grandfather of EM, he is accredited with convincing Tangerine Dream and Kluster to go electronic during his brief membership in both bands during the early Seventies. Since then, Con (as his fans affectionately refer to him) has forged an impressive career as a solo performer which continues even today.

In 2009, the Japanese label Captain Trip Records released THE 80'S WORKS SERIES, an impressive box set containing several classic (and long out-of-print) Schnitzler albums from the Eighties. This is the first time these recordings have been available on compact disc. Almost every disc is augmented with bonus previously unreleased material.

The box set's CDs come in cardboard sleeves with plastic inner sleeves and insert cards detailing recording information (with additional liner notes in Japanese). With the exception of the Berlin Express CD (which is only available as part of the box set), all of these CDs are also available as separate CDs.

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Originally released in 1981, this 2009 reissue offers 66 minutes of diverse electronic music.

Tracks 1 through 7 are by Conrad Schnitzler and comprise 21 minutes.

In typical Con fashion, these tracks are short and extremely diverse in nature. While one is melodic and bouncy, the next could be quirky and highly mechanical. All of them, however, illustrate Con's versatility as he creates electronic tunes possessing a unique disposition. Tonal foundations are elaborated upon with a variety of keyboard riffs, some of which contribute rhythms. Many of these tracks exhibit a fanciful urgency, with synthesized chords that hasten along in order to compress entire opuses into their brief timespans. Vocal snippets (in German) are used, often treated, sometimes functioning as lyrical content. Face it--Con's music encompasses scores of modes (from densely serious to cheerfully whimsical), and he likes to mix them up to present a variegated selection for his audience.

Tracks 8 through 12 are by Gregor Schnitzler and comprise 24 minutes.

While following in father's footsteps, Gregor's material displays a more pronounced poppy sensibility. The electronics are just as exuberant as Con's, but prominent rhythms are present in Gregor's pieces, and the tunes feature more flow as a basic melody is generated and then auxiliary riffs embellish that foundation. The sonic palette is quite similar to Con's in that most of the sounds ring with Dad's crisp artificiality, but the Sohn tends to apply them in as if performing for a dance floor. Treated vocals (in English) are employed in several of these tracks, transforming them into techno pop.

Tracks 13 through 17 are bonus material by Gregor Schnitzler and comprise 20 minutes.

These pieces continue the styles found in Gregor's previous tracks: poppy, rhythm-driven, and featuring vocals (this time mostly in German). A certain aggression is present in these songs, with harsher sounds and an authoritative tone in the vocals (with the exception of an American political speech).

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Originally released in 1981, this 2009 reissue features 76 minutes of experimental electronic music (39 of those minutes are bonus material taken from "T5" of Container, a six cassette tape set from 1983).

This music offers a selection of experimental tracks (atonal with pingponging effects) and moody drone sculptures. Squealing notes spiral amid pulsating electronic backdrops designed to evoke interstellar space (as perceived through Fifties sci-fi movies). The sonic palette utilized here is often eccentric (even for electronic music), relying on the strangeness of the sounds to compensate for the sparse density of each track.

One of Con's signature styles involves his predilection to utilize dials and knobs as much as keyboards to introduce the artificial sounds into his performance. While a lot of the chords are obviously keyboard-generated, many of the sounds stem from the careful manipulation of dials.

This is not to imply that these compositions lack any melody content. The moody pieces are rich with dire harmonies that stir deep questions in the human psyche. While the more fanciful excursions epitomize inductive reasoning, random thoughts converging around a dilemma and producing innovative insights. Effectively, these tunes enkindle doubt, then foster cognitive inspiration. The music is designed to stimulate your mind.

These tracks (from Control and the bonus material) are all short pieces, compact and self-contained. They exhibit a studied self-control in that they make their sonic points without dragging things out with an overabundance of repetition. Melodies pursue unpredictable courses, quirky yet satisfying.

The bonus tracks display a more whimsical mode, expressing an almost cheerful disposition. While unconventional notes cavort with a bizarre jubilation, auxiliary chords cascade like animated waterfalls, drenching each tune's nucleus with sparkling embellishment.

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Originally released as a double cassette tape in 1985, this 2009 reissue offers 158 minutes of striking electronic music.

Keyboard-triggered electronics are predominant here, with auxiliary tones playing minor to nonexistent roles. This simplification effectively focuses the tunes, generating sparkling clarity with these sparse elements.

Many of the notes stem from identical synthesized sounds, a deviation from Con's usually versatile sonic palette. This allows him to concentrate on melody instead of weirdness. The richness of the notes imbues each shrill tone with a striking emotional response. Layering is generally abandoned, as Con concentrates each composition on a central thread.

As for the actual character of these sounds, they are crisp and luscious. Their deep resonance is tempered with a sweet afterglow. Eventually, the presence of xylophonic rhythms contributes additional embellishment to the music.

While generally melodic in character, much of this music might be considered experimental allowing to the erratic manner in which those melodies are handled. Contrasting chords are butted together, creating a sense of lurching juxtaposition as the tunes wobble through their whimsical arrangement. Despite this seemingly awkward organization, melodies persist and reveal themselves, albeit in an eccentric guise.

The shortness of these tracks (averaging between 2 to 4 minutes) makes each composition a compressed musical dose whose substance glistens with expert precision.

One track (being almost ten minutes long) breaks this pattern and allows Con to the opportunity to explore variations in an unhurried manner. The result is a pseudo-classical structure that endows the flow with a gradual progression from incidental to grandiose.

This release certainly offers a profusion of electronic creativity.

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Originally released in 1986, this 2009 reissue offers 49 minutes of mesmerizing electronic music. Eight-and-a-half of those minutes comprise bonus material not featured on the original album.

A technical note: while called "Concert," this album was not an actual concert...although it was performed live by Schnitzler. Back in the Eighties, Con explored the potential of utilizing prerecorded tracks to approximate live performances. By tinkering with these basic tracks (perhaps its best we call them "channels" for the sake of technical clarity) and letting them interact in varied manners, Con was able to play live versions of his music. Frequently, he would wander Berlin wearing several cassette players, each loaded with a different musical channel on tape, which he would manipulate during his stroll, effectively playing a concert for passersby. Later, Con (who disliked traveling) would employ this system so that friends could stage Schnitzler concerts worldwide without his actual presence. (I attended one of these remote Con Cassette Concerts in 1986, around the time I did the cover art for the Concert album, which has been reproduced for the Captain Trip reissue.)

By this point in the Eighties, Con was employing more of a melodic content in his compositions. With this album, the different pieces all flow together to form a delightful sonic evolution.

The concert starts with dueling layers of electronic bubbling, which are subsequently set upon by cellos and blooping tones, which gradually elongate to establish tension, leading to a passage of celestial ambience. Vibrating rotors rise to vitalize this calm, but a starry-eyed resurgence of ambience occurs, only to give way to contentious tones that squabble over dominance in the music. Their combat results in mesmerizing interplay, generating lively new variations. Keyboards being swatted make an appearance, but a captivating tune develops with glittering notes embellishing an urgently chugging rhythm. This devolves into an exchange of xylophonic melodies. (The music stops here, only briefly, signaling the break between side 1 and 2--remembering that this was originally a vinyl album.) Things resume with crystalline bells and pensive electronic airs which are eventually overwhelmed by piano notes possessing an extreme degree of vibration; these treatments increase, producing a highly dramatic mood. The melody slides into a glassier sound, then gets gritty as ominous tones rise and flex themselves, elbowing aside blooping noises and portentous strains. A haunting edge enters the mix as bell-tones and spooky atmospherics flourish, but inevitably Con's quirky sense of frivolity seeps in and transforms everything into an energized scamper...which reaches quite a frenzy of exuberant pulsations for the concert's conclusion.

The bonus tracks are added without pause, a sort of continuation of which introspective cellos provide deep-voiced and squealing interplay, establishing a classical passage. More drama is added as the notes get fuzzier. This gives way to a rise of cheery electronic chimes which ultimately mutate into a crisply glistening finale of gentle mien.

Con wonderfully weaves these diverse pieces together into a flowing cohesion that is engaging and thrilling.

Interested parties can check out my original comic strip review of this album here.

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Originally released in 1986, this 2009 reissue offers 64 minutes of exciting electronic music. 23 of those minutes comprise bonus material not featured on the original release.

This collaboration fuses Con's quirky sensibilities with Sequenza's energized fluidity, resulting in some very gregarious electronic tuneage.

Electronics abound in diverse modes, slithering between compulsive rhythms and churning guitar effects. Con's usual assortment of blooping eccentricity conspires tastefully with more melodic chords to generate songs that are often grandiose in sonic stature. Besides this elevated density, a certain agility is present too, driving the music into extremely bouncy territory.

Plenty of rhythms are featured, propelling the gurgling diodes with their urgent tempos. Sometimes the beats go clack, other times they pitter away employing softer definition like exposed live wires skittering across the floor.

Guitars and bass contribute aspects normally not found in Con's music. Twangs and thumping swim in a turgid sea of sparkling electronics. One track is comprised of forced coughs interspliced with loops of growled snippets of Spanish conversation.

While retaining a distinct Con flavor, strong pop hints are evident in these compositions. Their exuberance can be infectious as witty riffs seep into the listeners' brain.

The first nine tracks are brief and self-contained. Then follows seven sections that are strung together into a gritty opus of almost ominous character in which piercing vibrations express contention and their struggle for domination results in a mounting tension of delightful intensity.

The bonus tracks return things to the short sharp sweet motif found at the album's beginning. They display a more serious character, though, making frequent use of heavy tones to establish a demonstrative (and highly entertaining) severity.

Interested parties can check out my original comic strip review of this album here.

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Originally released in 1987, this 2009 reissue features 58 minutes of brisk electronic music. Eighteen-and-a-half of those minutes comprise bonus material not included on the original release.

Complex melodies abound here with diverse electronics comprised of numerous layers of rapid-fire notes resounding in a manner that almost stumbles over each other. The beauty is that each intricacy fits perfectly with its sonic brethren, resulting in tunes that bristle with hyperactive vivacity.

Many of the sounds fall into bell-tone territory, although certainly their cadence belongs to no bell of earthly construction. The notes are high, piercing yet sweet at the same time. Keyboards are utilized to harness this energy into brisk melodies. Con excellently forces shrill notes to coexist with bass rumblings, producing a striking counterpoint with each passing instant.

Percussion is present, the beats vibrating with a celestial beauty fostered by their artificial crafting. Xylophonic rolls masquerade as tempos amidst pools of vivid electronic chords. At times, an exaggerated vibration transforms beats into throbbing punctuations with hints of mystic allure.

These compositions bristle with energetic puissance. There's a constant level of hyperactivity going on as the tunes cavort through their melodies, almost as if they fear being cut off before they can finish themselves. With each track being relatively short, this compression is delightfully pronounced. This frantic animation bestows a certain jubilation on the music.

With the bonus tracks, this frenzied pace is harnessed to evoke more sober emotions in the listener. These extra songs exude a tension of cerebral demeanor, a suitable compliment to the rest of the music's whimsical nature.

Interested parties can check out my original comic strip review of this album here.

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BERLIN EXPRESS: The Russians Are Coming

The 13 minutes of this rare 12-inch from 1982 is combined with 34 minutes of "Roofmusic," previously unreleased material by Conrad and Gregor Schnitzler.

Berlin Express is: Peter Baumann (ex-Tangerine Dream), Conrad Schnitzler, and Gregor Schnitzler.

The EP tracks are distinctly different from Con's usual musical style. The melodies are strictly pop with strong electronic sensibilities (albeit heavily authoritative in delivery). The presence of vocals only enhances this techno pop disposition.

Prominent drums establish a crisp urgency that is acerbated by the insistent nature of the electronics, which quite frankly are crafted in an attack mode. The rabblerousing vocals are dedicated to warning of imminent invasion, in English in one track, in German in the second.

The third track explores a more sensuous version of techno pop, with vocodered vocals crooning amid a bubbling soup of engaging electronics. Single-noted guitar outbursts punctuate the flow.

The bonus material continues this pop influenced take as son Gregor's youthful exuberance tempers his father's staid density. Bass and drums are prominent in the mix, and the electronics explore more carefree expressions to create tunes of capricious enthusiasm. Hoarse vocals (some in German, most in English) lend solemn grounding to the fanciful tuneage.

The electronics are pure Con, however: complex and thoroughly unearthly. Multiple riffs are delineated on keyboards, then thrown into a pit of seething synthesized effects. The sounds sparkle and hiss and chitter and snicker, always shimmering with an inner light. For one track, there's even a tasty dose of grand piano striving to elevate the frivolous mien practiced by gurgling electronic bubbles.

This CD offers a rare glimpse at Con's foray into techno pop.

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Schnitzler also self-produces his own music and countless sonic gems are available exclusively from him. To find out more, you can contact Conrad directly here.

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Visit CON-tribute to learn about Schnitzler's doings and releases.

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