Interview with Klaus Schulze  

"I'm a musician, not a technician"

Early 2007

In early 2007 an American asked us some questions for a coming book about "Electronic and Experimental Music". Only snippets of Klaus' answers were used in the (very technically and theoretically oriented) book. Here are the complete answers:

Question: You’ve moved seamlessly through several decades of changes in musical technology, from analog synthesis, to early computer music, sampling, and now laptop synthesis. Please comment on the challenges of keeping up with technology from the standpoint of an artist.

Answer: My interest in technology was and is simple: to use always the best available instruments for my special kind of music. I think, here I'm not much different from a violin player, or from a piano player. I just cannot imagine that Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli would be too happy with a Casio VL-Tone :-)

Q: Can your trace back and describe your first experiments with analog synthesizer sequencers, a technique that helped establish your early signature sound?

A: My "first" was most probably the EMS VCS 3. Before that (and because of a lack of cash) I used some broken tools to create "weird" sounds that remind on synthesizers: an old electric organ, or old guitar amps/speakers. I fumbled with it until I got a "strange" sound out of it, but regularly the tools died an early death. Also I used the little trick to play a tape backwards (but not because I had learned this from the "Musique Concrete" composers - of which I heard later -, but because by an accident: I played the tape from the back by mistake and I liked the idea). Also I used the then available studio "tricks": echo, reverb, tremolo, feedback, phasing ...

Q: Please describe your analog instruments of choice in the 1970s and the challenges of mounting concerts with them.

A: The only problem was the tuning. To get a sound, the first you need is an oscillator that generates a tone. For instance, The ARP 2600 had three VCOs, the EMS also had three. And my "Big Moog" had plenty of these instable oscillators. All had a tendency to drift out of tune, mostly because of changing temperature. Therefore, I had to re-tune these VCOs permanently, even during concerts. It helped a bit when I could connect the synthies to electricity long before the actual concert. Because then, during the concert, they had already the (more or less) constant temperature. And the problem of de-tuning was not so big then.

Q: What was the most significant change in your approach to making music when you changed over from analog to digital instruments during the 1980s?

A: Things got a bit easier. See, for instance, the very disturbing de-tuning because of temperature.

Q: What are your current digital instruments and software of choice and what advantages do they provide?

A: As said above, I try to use always the "best" tools. Which does not automatically mean that I only use the most expensive (or newest) things on the market, but I use what helps me the most, I use what my music requires the most. This also means that a 30-years old Minimoog can still make me happy. And of course, I still use my old EMS Synthi A, in concerts as well as in my studio. I don't make a list here that contain the newest names of tools and computer programs, because when the book is on the market, some of it is surely out-of-fashion, has vanished, or is completely unknown to Americans anyway. In a private talk of the moment, from colleague to colleague, yes, then I like to rave about this or that new tool that I just got, but for the inclusion in a BOOK this momentary (!) private enthusiasm is not the right place.

Q: From the standpoint of technology, what is most different about producing music today than in your analog days?

A: The "standpoint of technology" is nothing that I think a lot about, and "differences" are of course existing, as our whole life is always different, it changes all the time, sometimes to the better and sometimes to the opposite. I don't think as much about these technical things as an outsider may think. Maybe I should point out, that I'm a musician, but not a technician, or historican :-)

Q: How does technology affect the way that you compose music?

A: This is an overall question where the answers could fill an own book (but not written by me). In general the answer is the same as just given: I'm a musician, not a technician. I rarely think much about "technology" - I just use it. Have I told you that I NEVER read the operating manuals? Not 30 years ago and not today.

Q: Please name some of the composers who most influenced your work over the course of your career.

A: Yes, I know, I know, journalists like to play this game :-) Of course, I like certain music, from pop as well as in the "classical" field, for daily listening, from the radio, or in the car. But I don't even have a record collection. Except my own albums, that is :-) For my music I don't see any "influences". When I started in the early seventies, the biggest synthesizer hit was an instrumental called "Popcorn", and I'm certainly not influenced by this novelty song. ? Other big hits of this early time were: "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine in" by The Fifth Dimension, "Get Back" by The Beatles, "Sugar, Sugar" by The Archies, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel, ...and also: C.S.N. & Young, Led Zeppelin III, Woodstock, Jesus Christ Superstar, Shaft, Sticky Fingers, Tapestry, Chicago V, Harvest, American Pie, .... Nice to listen too, but not much that was influencial for my own ideas about music, around 1970. Maybe "Pink Floyd"? ...who were still a bit of "underground" when my generation of Berlin underground musicians heard them (on LPs and in concerts) in the late sixties. Yes, we all admired Pink Floyd.

And with this optimistic note I say Goodbye. And, thanks for listening.