Interview with Klaus Schulze  

"A Leap in the Dark"

October 1996

Q: How did you first get involved in electronic music? And, what were your influences when you started experimenting and what were the instruments and devices you first used?

KS: It all started about 25 years ago, a quarter of a century. I suppose you could call it an accident. In the years before, when I still went to school, I had some guitar training, and then I played acoustic guitar for about six years. Also I fooled around with the electric guitar, playing music of THE SHADOWS or THE SPOTNICKS. Then I started with drums. My brother was a drummer with a jazz band, so I thought that drumming would be more pleasant than playing guitar. After that I was drumming in the avantgarde/free rock trio PSY FREE, then TANGERINE DREAM, and in August 1970 I founded ASH RA TEMPEL. One day I said to myself "okay, it's all pretty and normal music, but if I want to do something special, I should change instruments." That was when I started with keyboards, at the end of '71. I didn't know anything about keyboards, I didn't know which note was re or sol. Remember, that "keyboards" at this time meant either piano, electric piano or organ. I had just an old, small, used, electric Teisco home organ. I also had my drumming experiences, and I had a few special ideas: A kind of dream that I couldn't explain then, or now. So I started something new, and I developed and improved, because I love to make music. At this time I was studying mainly German literature, but I said "forget it. I want to do music". It was a very emotional decision. A leap in the dark.

Q: You first made your name as a drummer. Did this influence your music?

KS: Drumming was very important. Although I was very tired of the sound of a drumset in the early seventies, and did not use any drums for my first albums, I only realized later, that the perfect rhythm is very important. It is one of the four or five essentials in music. I learned a lot about a "perfect rhythm" from MICHAEL SHRIEVE, with whom I worked in STOMU YAMASH'TA's GO project. A few years later, Michael visited me in my studios, stayed for a while, and taught me some essential things about rhythm. These were things that I didn't know, even though I was more or less a professional drummer in the late sixties and early seventies. A rhythm should be like the heartbeat, like breathing. As Michael put it: "You should be able to walk with the rhythm." And indeed, we actually walked through my studio, with the sequencer rhythm going. From this moment on I had a different and much better understanding, a better feeling for rhythm.

Q: What were your musical aims when you started your solo career and what instruments and tools did you choose in order to fulfil them?

KS: My "musical aims" when I started? I have never heard an artist give a satisfying answer to this kind of question, so let's just say, I was too lazy for regular work. And besides, you get more girls when you are an artist. Don't laugh. This is important for every young man (and probably vice versa, but I can only speak for myself). When one is 19 or 20 years old and doing music, one does not think seriously about "aims". It's only later, many years later, when you're one of the few who succeeded, that people ask you about your original "aims". They were simply: doing music and having fun with it, or because of it. Of course, after the first, second, and third album, I certainly thought about my aims. I don't remember them, but they were surely different from today's. Or maybe not?
My early instruments were what was available and cheap: My electric guitar, an echo machine, tape machine, broken guitar amplifier, and an old electric Teisco home organ. With this equipment, with some strange ideas, and not knowing where my work will lead me, I did the first two albums. Oh, yes, I had the help of a classical orchestra that I asked to play for me. I recorded them with a cheap little microphone, the type that came with the first cassette recorders. I sent the (badly recorded) sound of the orchestra through the few tools that I had, or I played the tapes backwards. I overlayed my organ and strangely created other sounds onto these recordings, and, voilà: Irrlicht and Cyborg were made.

Q: When did you start using synthesizers? Which machines have you used and what relation did you build with them?

KS: The first synthesizer to make it to Berlin was the EMS "Synthi A". At first, I had the same model in a wooden chassis, called "VCS 3". Later I exchanged it for the suitcase model "Synthi A", that I still have and still use in concerts as well as on my albums. Later I purchased all the other synths that are famous and a part of history today: the Minimoog, the ARP Odyssey, and so on. (A complete up to date list is available.)
What "relation" did I build with them? I'm not sure if I quite understand what you are trying to ask. Perhaps I can put it this way: There were two important things. First, what's available? In case of synthesizers, there was not much of a variety available back then. Second, what do I need if I want to make a specific sound? See what I mean? I had to take what was there, and I had to use some self-invented "tricks" to get what I needed and wanted. Times were different from today. Music shops had still trumpets and guitars in their windows instead of the keyboards and computers displayed today. People, journalists, and other musicians were laughing about us crazy people who dared to work with synthetic sounds and instruments...

Q: As your solo career went on, did you feel as if you were experimenting on your own or as part of a movement? If so, was it a rock, or classical, or what other kind of movement, involving which musicians?

KS: Movement? I was my own movement. As just said, I was pretty much alone. When you listen to my albums, you'll quickly notice, that I play neither rock nor classical music. This doesn't make my artistic life any easier. Most people prefer what they already know. There were just the handful of true fans who found a liking for "this new music", and there were a few other musicians, whose music was also different. Because they also used mainly the same instrumentation, we were classified together as "Electronic Music". These people were of course TANGERINE DREAM, VANGELIS, WALTER CARLOS, TOMITA, partly EBERHARD SCHOENER, and later also KITARO and JEAN MICHEL JARRE. From the very late seventies on, when it was clear that these "crazy" people had some success, many more followed. Hundreds of them in USA, England, France, Germany, Spain, The Netherlands... Of course, this was also because of the sudden availibility of cheap electronic instrumentation. The first ordinary "Korgs" came on the market and thousands jumped on them...

Q: What do you think about the evolution of electronic music, both in Germany and abroad, in the seventies and eighties? Did any musician really impress you?

KS: At first, I supported some amateur artists. I liked the fact that there were suddenly others who seem to value what I had invented.
I founded a synthesizer school and I founded my own label for electronic musicians, called "Innovative Communication" (IC). But soon I had to learn that there is no market for this kind of second-generation electronic music, and most of these second-hand "Schulzes" or "TDs" are more or less just copying. Why should the public buy them, when they can have the original Schulze and Tangerine Dream? I gave away the record label "IC" in 1983, and since that time I have nothing to do with what happens on IC.
This boring electronic "hobby music" got bigger and bigger in the eighties, but it remained unnoticed by the public. Many founded their own little labels, because no one else wanted to sell or buy their albums. Sometimes I had the impression that there are more weekend synth players than there are customers for this music. Their music got more boring every year, and they spoiled the former avantgarde image of my music.
This stopped in the nineties with the "Techno" fashion, with "Trance" and "Ambient". Young people who did not grow up with the STONES and THE BEATLES but were comfortable with electronic music, brought some fresh air into this already smelly electronic music scene. I like this and I appreciate that these young people remember me and call me "The Grandfather of Techno", "The Pope of Electronics" etc. and that they are keen to work with me. Of course I also like to work with them. For example my recent album has been released on the label that is owned by the German Techno duo SNAP.

Q: In 1979 you moved to totally digital equipment: What did this mean to you in terms of both, musical and practical aspects?

KS: For many years I have been working mostly with computers. Certainly, the techniques did change in the course of time, and my music did change during the long years from 1970 up to today. This is a normal development: I change, the audience changes, the instruments change, the fashions change... That's normal in life.
Sampling technology was a radical step. If I think about it for a while, it's more radical than the step from analogue to digital sounds. In the change from analogue to digital, only the sound quality was changed, was improved. Sampling is completely different. It's a new way of creating a piece of structured noise, of music. It's another step. The sounds that we had to create ourselves during the seventies by doing it the hard way, with heavy and expensive equipment, are suddenly very easily available, and in addition there are much more of them available.
But during a concert I still like to play the Minimoog, and the audience loves to hear it. The sound of the Minimoog is like a signature, a recognition signal for my Electronic Music, like the electric guitar is for Rock'n'Roll, the honking saxophones for R & B, the Hawaii-guitar for Hula music...

Q: Why did you start recording under the name RICHARD WAHNFRIED? Did that project have different aims from your solo work?

KS: Yes of course, the "Richard Wahnfried" project (now just "Wahnfried") is different from my solo work, mainly because other musicians are involved. For each album I chose other people. I don't tell them what to play. It's a true collaboration. This is quite different from my solo albums, where I am the boss (if some others are involved). I took the WAHNFRIED idea from Stomu Yamash'ta and his GO project, except that the members of GO had to play Stomu's compositions. I took the idea and made something else out of it: a group with changing members.

Q: What are the main achievements in your career since 1992?

KS: You'll have to ask the public for the answer to this one.

Q: What would you point out as your most representative records ever and why?

KS: That changes from time to time, partially because my catalogue continues to grow. Every artist, including me, will always answer this question in the same way: My latest album. Otherwise I wouldn't have made it! From the older ones I like Moondawn, "X", Audentity, and En=Trance. I cannot really say which is my favourite. To be honest, I always listen to the newest record I have made. Very rarely do I listen to older records like Moondawn. It is as if you had ten girlfriends during your life, and somebody asks you: which was the best one?
If I do listen to my older records, I always notice that this sound would be great on that album, or that on this. That is why I never remix my albums. A remix would be stupid, because composing has something to do with my mentality and the tools at the time of recording. Sometimes people ask me if I can do another Moondawn, or another Mirage. If I would do it, it would not be the same because of the time gap, and because of digital sampling and other technical progress. The memory would be in 1975, but the technology is in 1996. Also, the magic of the original recordings would be destroyed. Irrlicht should be different from Are You Sequenced?. I'm no restorer but a still active musician. I have still enough new ideas and the power to realize them. There is no need to look back and fool around with my older stuff. My direction is not backwards, but always: Go ahead!