Vocals in Klaus Schulze's music  

Vocals in Klaus Schulze's music

by David M. Cline (1996)

The use of human voice in electronic music has been controversial ever since there was a group of fans numerous enough to discuss the issue. The evidence from KS' music shows that he is committed to the use of voice in his music, despite what fans might think. KS has said "Because my craft is not playing the keyboard but finding and combining sounds, building and using structures, call it symphonies or operas, my craft is to create emotions, moods and atmospheres." Without questions, human voices have helped to create those "emotions, moods, and atmospheres".

Voices of Syn, from Blackdance, was the first track from a solo album to contain lyrical vocals. The low stately vocals added a noble sentiment to the first four and one-half minutes of the song. KS used this part of the track exclusively on the 2001 sampler, released in 1991. Listening in the '70s, these vocals seemed out of place, however, after listening to the '90s release, I feel they fit perfectly. It is interesting that many electronic fans who enjoy vocals in other contexts, such as rock, do not like vocals in their beloved electronic music.

The power of wordless choir music to create an atmosphere was brought to public attention with the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The awesome presence of the monolith was created by the use of two choirs mixed to an eery effect. KS began to use mellotron choir for the Body Love albums (Body Love and Body Love Vol. 2). These choir sounds created a dark atmosphere that complemented the cover of the second release and I imagine the film as well. Mellotron choir was also used for the remix of Moondawn but not found on the original release. However, the original release of Moondawn contained spoken words: the Lord's Prayer declaimed by an Arabic reciter. The tone, pace and background to these words added a human-earthly element before the music floated into space. Both spoken vocals and mellotron choir (on Galactic Supermarket) were used on several of the Cosmic Jokers series. It is not clear if KS had much say in the use of these elements, and even if he did, he has not been complementary of these albums: "cosmic shit" (printed in the notes to Picture Music, a Spalax release). Mellotron choir was also added with great results on "X". These choir sounds predicted KS' use of sampled choir voices to similar effect in the late 80s and 90s.

Arthur Brown's vocal contributed to the second side of Dune, on Shadows of Ignorance. KS' lyrics provided a rare view into his thoughts, as they are sensitive, introspective and spiritual in nature. Some reviews from 1979 were not kind, for example: "This is a disastrous innovation by KS which I hope won't be repeated", was Tom Norton's comment in "Face Out" #6. Despite such reviews, the lyrics are meaningful and are sung in a flowing style that well complements the music. It helps if you are a fan of Arthur Brown's '70s group, Kingdom Come, and accordingly, Alan Freeman discussed this Schulze/Brown collaboration favourable in "Audion" #26. Dymagic from ...Live... showcased Brown's talented ability to improvise lyrics, a difficult task. Arthur Brown's vocals and lyrics were featured on the first Richard Wahnfried album, Time Actor. While interesting on their own merit, the lyrics were Brown's thoughts, and the style is more rock than space music.

The next two Richard Wahnfried projects featured the vocals of Michael Garvens, although sparingly. In general they were well performed and integrated into the mix. On Tonwelle the vocals floated in and out of the background of the song, leaving the guitar as the dominant element. In part, because of their scarcity, the lyrics (present only half of the time) left no lasting impression. On Megatone Garvens sang for only three and one-half minutes of Angry Young Boys, very much in the rock mode. Garvens' singing was certainly competent and along with the strength of the guitar they helped to define these two Richard Wahnfried releases as different from solo KS. Ernst Fuchs on Aphrica was less successful artistically and lyrically. However, this artifact demonstrated KS' ongoing pursuit of artistic expression through the use of human voice in this music. The innovative artist cannot succeed every time. Ian Wilkinson's vocals on the final section of Klaustrophony from Dreams were not annoying, yet were not memorable either.

The presence of lyrics (if understood) forces the listener to consider the thoughts of the writer. Is this what offends fans of electronic music who want to drift off into deep space with their own thoughts? Or is it the fact that lyrics change the sound and its impact on the listener? Whatever it is, the use of vocals in electronic music has rarely been given a chance by the majority of reviewers and listeners. KS' self described craft of creating "emotions, moods, and atmospheres" is greatly enhanced by the use of these sounds.

Starting with the title track of Miditerranean Pads, we have the introduction of Elfi's beautiful vocals. With this release, KS began using the sampler much more, and vocal sounds multiplied rapidly on subsequent releases. Sampled vocals were used first in concert in Dresden and released as The Dresden Performance. Another early example can be found on The Face of Mae West, both released in fall of 1990. Suddenly, operatic vocals, animal sounds, Elfi vocals, and spoken words join the more familiar choir sound. It is very difficult to tell the source of these sounds, acoustic samples, synthesized sounds, combined sounds, all provoking different emotional responses from the listener. Vocal sounds abound and merge into synthesized sounds that resonate vocal timbres and qualities. These various vocal samples are found on all of KS' releases from 1990 up until the release of In Blue (1995), with the exception of Klaus Schulze Goes Classic. [In addition to the use of sampled choir voices all over this album, there is at least one female voice sample on the Beethoven track. -kdm]

Therefore, I won't discuss all of these releases individually. These samples have many effects on the listener, and vary widely between individuals. They may startle, sooth, intrigue, alarm, annoy, or delight, but one thing is certain: they stimulate the listener. KS often uses them to provide transition as well as carry that portion of the musical piece.

As KS commented in an interview published in the May 1992 Audion, "I'm very much into ethnic sampling, you'll hear Arab voices, Russian voices, the Russian mass nearly comes and then it goes into water and thunder... and also a lot of really weird samples and atmosphere". These samples have occasionally provoked reviewers to negative comment. Alan Freeman praised the Royal Festival Hall concert in the live context, yet was critical of previous "weird samples" in his praise of In Blue. Dreams Word #14 praised Royal Festival Hall Vol. 1 and 2, yet did not mention the use of samples or voices in their review. The reviewer in "Beyond the Horizon" (vol. 1, #3) was annoyed by the vocal samples in this set and wrote a guarded evaluation. The same pioneering spirit that inspires young reviewers to praise, may years later be received with contempt by that same aging reviewer who has become complacent in his musical taste. After all, the average listener's thirst for new and different music begins and ends with puberty.

It is interesting that in The KS Circle's reader's poll Picasso geht spazieren from Silver Edition was ranked so highly. Even though that this poll was compiled from only 21 responses, I do believe it reflects encouraging praise of KS' more adventurous work with vocal samples. Picasso geht spazieren was ranked fourth, clearly higher than anything from the Historic Edition, or, In Blue. The use of vocals and other samples is extraordinary in this long musical work. In the third movement, voices seem to come from everywhere across and in and out of the mix. It also sounds like voices are cut up and re-applied like staccato keyboard strokes. [They are. -kdm]. The second highest standing for a track from Silver Edition was the ambitious Narren des Schicksals which contains many sampled operatic voices. Again, at least for the readership of The KS Circle, the more complex and adventurous works are appreciated.

The exception may be Totentag, KS' most ambitious work using vocals. For me, a seasoned KS listener, but a novice at opera, Totentag is a musical adventure with new reward each time I listen. The story is a moving one, although the events are historical and KS did not do the libretto. If KS would move in this direction exclusively how successful would he be? Artistically, I believe he would continue to be very successful. Financially, I believe it would be problematic. If nothing else, it must cost more to produce these ambitious works using live vocalists, and I would bet that the profit margin from In Blue is higher than Totentag. My evaluation of Totentag is compromised by inability to understand the lyrics as they are sung, not that I ever understood the Italian lyrics of classical opera. Totentag provided KS a wealth of vocal samples for good use elsewhere [How true. -kdm].

The reaction to In Blue provides and excellent close to this discussion. In Blue which has choir voices only and no "weird samples" received overwhelming positive reviews, beyond the praise for previous work from the 90s. How does KS respond to the people who said "In Blue is a major return to form"? To an innovator like KS, this must seem like a backhanded compliment. If KS was truly following a"form", I believe he would lose interest and give up on music. Personally, the concept that In Blue is a return to what should be, is an insult to the high quality of the many works in the 90s, which is not to say that I don't like In Blue, because I do very much. One thing I have noticed, you can play Into the Blue for people who have never heard KS and they rarely interrupt their conversation to say "what is this strange music?" In contrast, if you play the first ten minutes of The Dome Event, or Narren des Schicksals to a visiting neighbour, you are guaranteed to have a discussion about the merits of KS' music. In summary, I hope that KS continues to explore his interest in the human voice as musical expression. What we have heard thus far deserves praise and repeated listening.