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Electro Violet

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Album Review

The monolithic, comprehensive 2015 box set Electro Violet collects nearly everything German composer Irmin Schmidt has released outside of his work with pioneering Krautrock group Can, including solo and collaborative albums, several volumes of recordings taken from his film, television, and theatrical scores, and even an opera. Unlike Can's recordings, which were typically edited down from lengthy, all-night improvisations, Schmidt kept a regular, daytime studio schedule in order to compose his own work. His two best-known solo albums, 1987's Musk at Dusk and 1991's Impossible Holidays, both feature contributions from Can's drummer Jaki Liebezeit and guitarist Michael Karoli, and while the familiar Can groove is certainly present, the albums sound much sleeker and almost loungey, featuring lush instrumentation draped with strings and saxophones, and tinges of reggae and other tropical rhythms. The 1981 album Toy Planet, a collaboration with Swiss musician Bruno Spoerri, is as playful and imaginative as its title suggests, ranging from proto-techno ("Two Dolphins Go Dancing") to the trainbound ambient journey "Rapido de Noir." Perhaps the box set's most surprising disc is Gormenghast, which presents an hour's worth of material from Schmidt's three-hour opera based on English author Mervyn Peak's Gormenghast novels. The English-sung opera, which took six years to compose and premiered in 1998, blends operatic and choral vocals, synthesizers, samples, and a collage of non-musical sounds and noises such as breaking plates and rolling pebbles, which are seamlessly incorporated into the compositions. Schmidt co-produced the opera with Jono Podmore, a British electronic musician who records drum'n'bass and trip-hop under the name Kumo, and his addition of thumping techno beats and smashing jungle breaks to operatic vocals sounds jarring and bizarre, but thrilling. The duo followed the opera with 2001's beat-heavy Masters of Confusion, which featured a similar sense of playfulness and theatricality while lacking the full-scale opera production, and 2008's darker, more experimental Axolotl Eyes. The remainder of the box set is devoted to six discs of songs taken from the dozens of film and television scores and plays that Schmidt has composed since the late '70s. The pieces range from graceful, intimate, atmospheric pieces to lush smooth-pop songs reminiscent of his solo albums, with a few silly moments such as "Zombie Mama" thrown in. The earliest recordings, recorded after Can's late-'70s breakup and originally released on Schmidt's first two Filmmusik LPs during the early '80s, come closest to that band's sound, particularly on tracks like the funky title theme to "Endstation Freiheit" and "Decision." The later volumes of Filmmusik feature regular contributions from Kompakt regular Justus Köhncke as well as Podmore, but they generally tone down or abandon the rhythmic elements for more melancholy, nocturnal moods, bathing them in an ethereal, glowing echo. The massive box set is a lot to digest, but it's an astonishing body of work, and well worth devoting time toward.


Born: May 29, 1937 in Berlin, Germany

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

German-born musician Irmin Schmidt began his musical career studying under modern composers Karlheinz Stockhausen and György Ligeti before ditching classical concepts to help begin the revolutionary experimental rock act Can in 1968. Schmidt served as keyboardist, organist, and synth player for the band and remained with them until their dissolution in 1979. To make a living after Can he composed and recorded music for film and television, often aided by other ex-Can players and usually releasing...
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Electro Violet, Irmin Schmidt
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