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Conrad Schnitzler: Archival Electronics (with Wolfgang Seidel, Gen Ken Montgomery, Steve Schroyder, and Patrick Gresbek)

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A pivotal figure in the birth of electronic music, Conrad Schnitzler was an original member of the EM seminal bands Tangerine Dream and Kluster back in the early 1970s. Since that time, Con has enjoyed a prolific solo career. Over the years he has collaborated with numerous musicians.

While Con regularly produces a series of new electronic albums (self-released on CDR), widespread interest has blossomed in many of his older (now long out-of-print) releases.

Below, some archival collab releases are reviewed. One must understand, these releases are not reissues of old albums, but rather unreleased material generated during collaborations.

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KONRAD SCHNITZLER & WOLFGANG SEIDEL: 10 kW/h (limited edition boxset on Ricochet Dream )

Back in the Seventies, Schnitzler and Seidel released two collaboration albums under the name "ConSequenza". This box set includes 10 CDs plus a USB with another hour of material. All of this music is unreleased material by Schnitzler and Seidel recorded from 1973-1977.

A blend of abstract electronics and haunting tonalities, melody plays only an incidental role in this music. The main gist is experimentation of an ilk that conjures vistas of mechanical conflict, forces expressing inhuman sentiments which distinctly achieve a bewitching demeanor as eerie noises clash with harsh pulsations. The result is often abrasive, often enthralling, as shrill electronic pitches slither through a miasma of pensive tonal bellows. Imagine futuristic metal monoliths scraping against each other, communicating messages in a sonic language that mankind will never fathom. These alien auralscapes are rife with intensity as atonal cacophonies rage and seethe, generating tension that refuses to relent. Coarse impacts serve as non-rhythmic punctuations in these grating compositions.

And yet, for all its embroiled structure, this music possesses an elusive harmonic character that becomes readily apparent once one is immersed in the experience. Moody panoramas are created, dazzling constructions of sound whose abrasive mien is matched by their capacity to mesmerize. Mortal perspective becomes dwarfed by the awesome scope exhibited by these songs.

Over the course of the eleven hours of music contained in this set, not every song manifests such unbridled intensity. There are tracks that lean more toward a dark ambience, albeit a gritty ambience prone to flashes of agitation. Such brooding passages are littered with mechanical grumbles and a fair share of electronics outbursts.

Two discs offer arrays of short tracks that are actually presented as seamless epic compositions. An unearthly loop is established and left to run while auxiliary electronics season that flow with ethereal embellishment. These sidereal effects provide constant subtexts for the central pattern, sometimes offering urgent punctuation, other times generating pulsating threads that spiral through the mix and blend with the nucleus to create a lusher sonic presence. Often accumulative, these layers compound until what you hear is a throbbing density that glistens with delightfully eerie charm.

Keyboards play a minor-to-nonexistent role in this tuneage. The electronics are generated by machinery and controled by dials and switches. Each sound has been carefully crafted, for this stuff predates sampling computers. There is a profusion of "bloops," noises that bear no resemblence to any natural terrestrial sound.

While there are occasions of natural instruments (like strings and real percussives and guitar and fanciful flutes, even a droning organ), these instances are generally awash in dominant waves of electronics. The presence of these traditional instruments serves to inject a sense of humanity into the otherwise artificial temperament displayed by the music. The tuneage establishes an evocation of man struggling to be heard amidst the mechanical voice of modern culture. Or maybe this music is a testament to mankind's fusion with machinery, a merger that looms in everyone's future as technology continues to overtake every aspect of daily life.

This music is clearly targeted for sensibilities that enjoy electronic overkill. There's a distinct charm to this relentless noise, for it is not just bedlam. Each passage is meticulously organized to balance drones with squeals. Each stretch of grinding intensity shimmers with intentional design. Emotions are stimulated and toyed with, arousing responses that might seem like tension to some but are acutely delightful to others.

If the prospect of eleven hours of unbelievably intense electronic music appeals to you, then this release is an ambrosial treasure you do not want to ignore.

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CONRAD SCHNITZLER & GEN KEN MONTGOMERY: Duets (limited edition CD on GD Stereo)

This release from 2010 offers 58 minutes of piano music with urban environmental enhancements.

The material on this CD has a curious history. It starts in 1996 when Con sent Gen Ken a CD of some solo piano music. Through a series of coincidences (detailed in the Duets liner notes) Gen Ken found that Con's piano music fit perfectly with noises occurring outside his apartrment. So he set up a cassette recorder to document these "magical moments." When Con heard the tape, he loved the recording. And so the Duets release came to be.

So what you have here is basically piano music juxtaposed with seemingly random noises, much of which sounds like a person puttering about in their apartment. The individual components are only of analytical interest--the resulting music possesses an entirely separate sonic identity.

The piano melodies are relatively gentle compositions, with much of the notes isolated and apparently meandering in a hesitant manner. The mood generated by these sparse piano stylings is one of languid distraction.

The environmental sounds consist of sporadic impacts and (as previously alluded) random putterings about. There are snatches of conversations and birds chirping and passing automobiles and banging bricks.

The overall effect created is one of listening to someone listening to piano music with the outside world intruding upon the experience. The interplay of these elements is the gist of this abstract collaboration.

Included in the packaging are a set of 12 cards featuring computer manipulated images by Guido Englich from the On Their Way video by Gregor Schnitzler from 1985.

To see a review of Gen Ken Montgomery's own music, go here.

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CONRAD SCHNITZLER with STEVE SCHROYDER & PATRICK GRESBEK: Minced Valves (limited edition CD on Ricochet Dream)

This release from 2010 offers 60 minutes of primordial electronic music recorded in 1977.

Four of these tracks are Schnitzler alone, and these exemplify his quirky style of electronics: blooping sounds that defy earthly description mixed with sharper punctuations--blips that serve as faux beats. While possessing traces of a flowing nature, the music tends to be eccentric with elusive melodic definition. Swishing oscillations generate an ethereal foundation which functions as a backdrop for electronic weirdness.

The rest of the pieces are collaboratons by the three performers. These display a looser structure with airy tonalities establishing a milieu of haunting clouds that are seasoned with piercing pitches that course through the eerie vapors like rogue laser beams penetrating a murky cellar. A sense of psychedelic dreaminess is conjured and maintained as the tunes pursue their sedate paths. While possessing a basic melodic character, the songs create a moody presence that combines spectral atmospheres with a cosmic environment, more like ambience with a toothy undercurrent.

A few pieces employ rhythmics in the form of synthesized sounds harnessed to approximate tempos. A variety of these beat tracks blend with each other to establish a bouncy feeling that is then tempered by the emergence of pleasant squeals which serve to contribute a lilting embellishment to the synthetic percussive nucleus.

During the Seventies synthesizers tended to be cumbersome apparatus requiring extreme presettings to achieve coherent sounds. Thus this music exhibits a primordial demeanor that evokes an extinct flavor that is altogether mesmerizing for electronic aficionados, a glimpse into bygone days that is remarkably entertaining for the mastery shown by the musicians.

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