Graded on a Curve:
Klaus Schulze,
La Vie Electronique Volume 1.0

Remembering Klaus Schulze, born on this day in 1947.Ed.

Klaus Schulze has released a certifiable ass-ton of music, and only the most severely dedicated have collected it all. For those wishing to own his earliest solo recordings on vinyl, the long wait is over, as the One Way Static label has issued his work from 1968-1970 on the 2LP set La Vie Electronique Volume 1.0. Fully embracing experimentation in a home environment, Schulze’s boldly celestial and drone friendly excursions infuse early electronic, proto-ambient exploration with edge and heft. Today it’s easy to pigeonhole, but at the time it was breaking new ground, or it would’ve been, had it promptly come out; the good news is that it holds up well, and two more volumes are on deck.

This isn’t the debut for the material on offer here, but it is the most concise assemblage of solo Schulze at his earliest. Initially, this stuff was sprinkled non-chronologically by Klaus D. Mueller, who contributes useful notes for this set, into 1995’s 10CD Historic Edition box set, which in 2000 was dropped into the 50CD (that’s right, 50) Ultimate Edition savings-drainer (which also included the 10CD Silver Edition, the 25CD Jubilee Edition and five additional discs).

The maximal method was obviously geared to the diligent fan, but after the Ultimate Edition fell out of print, the notion of following chronology and breaking the music into more digestible sets prevailed; this resulted in the 16 volume La Vie Electronique CD series, which spanned from 2009 to 2015; La Vie Electronique Vol. 1.0 offers the contents of the first 3CD volume’s opening disc across two LPs.

Klaus Schulze wasn’t completely a solo operator. His first group Psy Free, described by Schulze in Mueller’s notes as playing avant-garde/ free rock, never recorded, but he then moved on to Tangerine Dream, and after playing drums on their swell first album, 1970’s Electronic Meditation, just as quickly quit. From there, he formed Ash Ra Tempel with bassist Hartmut Enke and guitarist Manuel Göttsching; helping to shape a terrific self-titled ’71 debut, he made another exit.

It was then that he decided to switch from drums to keyboards and commenced his bountiful solo career (we’ll leave the Cosmic Jokers out of this). The music included in La Vie Electronique Vol. 1.0 finds him making immediate progress, it’s important to stress, without a roadmap. Amongst the selections are two long pieces; the first, “I was Dreaming I was Awake and Then I Woke up and Found Myself Asleep,” has its title divided and assigned to sections of roughly equal length. Altogether, it totals nearly 25 minutes and carries over to side two.

In outbound atmospheric terms, it’s the disc’s strongest entry, made even more impressive through its creation without analogue synthesizers, which Schulze didn’t adopt until 1973. Instead, he utilized a Teisco home organ, a 4-channel mixer, and instruments such as guitar and bass, in what can be described as an electro-acoustic setting.

“I was Dreaming…” certainly drifts, but it also offers tension, a whole lot of pulse, and most notably, rough texture that’s frankly lacking in so much later kosmische-ambient-electronic material (including some of Schulze’s own stuff). The difference only magnifies the reality of home innovation. There are also elements that date these works in a non-detrimental way, like the science-fictive beginning of “The Real McCoy” for example, though the cut eventually taps into organ tones that bring Terry Riley to mind.

Mild similarities to Riley persist in the 26:24 of Tempus Fugit, but its sections “Time Never Dies” and “The Age of Shopping,” which span the third side, are as likely to remind one of the cathedral than the heavenly spheres. This earthbound quality might read as a lessening factor, but just the opposite is true; where so much subsequent work in the electronic-ambient field followed established frameworks, often to less than splendid result, Schulze was innovating, and his experimentation still sounds engaging today.

Side four concludes with a short interview snippet in German that’s helpfully translated in Mueller’s notes, but the set’s 14-minute musical closer “Dynamo,” an entry wielding momentum that’s distinct from the sounds preceding it, shows that Schulze’s formative, pre-synth creations are not just prescient but surprisingly up-to-date.

With additional installments to come, it’s best to not dally in obtaining this limited edition. Folks attracted to the idea of just cuing up a CD or digital files and then letting it flow might be hesitant, but there’s real value in approaching the work incrementally, and this comparatively succinct, orderly serving keeps these early solo motions from getting subsumed in the avalanche of ensuing activity. Everyone will have an individual gauge of how much Schulze they need, but La Vie Electronique Vol. 1.0 is at once an appetizer to a deluxe feast and a light but satisfying meal on its own.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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