INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Mojo FEBRUARY 2007 - by John Foxx
MIND YOUR LANGUAGE
This month's exhumed glory: ex-Ultravox! man John Foxx hails a former Can member's prescient masterwork of sampling, world-beat and voices from the ether.
Holger Czukay: Movies
Ultravox! recorded our third album in Conny Plank's studio near Cologne in 1978, because we felt an affinity with what was going on in Germany. Those great records by bands like Neu! and Kraftwerk with the clarity of their sound was very much in our minds. Brian Eno was making Music For Airports in one part of the facility and in another room Holger Czukay was making this weird solo record. Holger was recording at Can's studio and mixing the tapes at Conny's. He was also literally spinning the dials to get exotic radio stations and when he found something he liked would put it onto tape, loop them, speed up or slow down just to get the pitch right to fit with the existing music. Holger asked me to listen to what he had done as he was exhausted and thinking of throwing in the towel. "I was very unsure if what I was doing made sense," Holger recalled, "and was worried it might not make sense to other people."
That Holger was using tape like this was no surprise, as he had experimented with loops when studying with avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in the '60s. Even with Can he eventually gave up bass guitar to 'play' telephones and short-wave radios on-stage and on his final album with them, Saw Delight. Leaving Can in May 1977, he bought a TV, put a microphone in front of it and began playing a double bass along to dialogue and soundtracks of old films. "I listened to what I had done and it sounded fascinating. So the Movies project started on that portable cassette recorder."
Working in Can's Inner Space studio at night, Holger began building the foundations of each track within the limitations of his own playing. His guitar skills were rudimentary so he would play single-note guitar parts very slowly, then speed up the tape to get the sound he wanted. Then he'd overdub other instruments, although when it came to the vocals for some songs he took a great leap forward. "When I was with Can we did not have a good singer and at one point I said to the others, Why don't we look into the radio and look for our singer there? With Can that idea did not work, but when I started on Movies I wanted to prove it was possible to work with people you didn't know and who didn't know you. I began recording voices from the short-wave radio and putting them into songs like Persian Love and Cool In The Pool."
I loved Movies when it was released in 1979, the music was very cinematic and a soundtrack to what was probably going on in Holger's head. Persian Love will be with me until I die. It is just beautiful the way he plucked those male and female singers from the radio and weaved the music around their voices. It was the first time that somebody had 'sampled' Middle Eastern sounds on a track. It's so common now. All four tracks on the album are like pieces of weaving to me, and Hollywood Symphony is a suite of beautiful texture with all these small magical fragments of sound mixed in so well that sometimes you can't distinguish between what instruments are being played by Holger and what comes from his captured sources.
It's also a very moving record. Whenever I play it I think of all these lost voices from different places and times we don't know anything about, just caught from the airwaves and put together. It was such a great idea to take those moments - voices, horns, even football commentary - and combine them to make a new kind of global world music. At the same time a track like Cool In The Pool is incredibly funky, which is typical of his musical genius.
Movies laid the foundations for Brian Eno and David Byrne's My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts. Released in 1981, that was the next step and Holger told me that album was clearly inspired by him, "as I played Movies to Brian and that is why he recorded it!"
When Holger played me some early mixes back in 1978 I encouraged him to finish what I thought was going to be a phenomenal album. I remember seeing the master tapes, there was literally one edit per two inches of tape. Holger told me there were around 7,000 splices on it, which was a miraculous piece of craftsmanship. There were no samplers back then and only Holger's skills with tape manipulation made Movies possible. My view is that it was the last peak of analogue music before digital music came in. It was almost telepathic, as if with Movies analogue music was preparing for that transposition. That is why it is a phenomenal record as it predicts digital music, sampling and plunder culture and everything that came afterwards, up to what someone like DJ Shadow is doing today.
Tracks: Cool In The Pool / Oh Lord Give Us More Money / Persian Love / Hollywood Symphony
Producer: Holger Czukay
Recorded: Inner Space Studios, mixed at Conny's studio
Chart peak: n/a
Personnel: Holger Czukay (words, vocals, guitar, keyboard, synthesizer, short waves, bass), Michael Karoli (guitar on Oh Lord Give Us More Money), Irmin Schmidt (grand piano on Oh Lord Give Us More Money), Reebop Kwaku Baah (Chicken Organ on Cool In The Pool), Jaki Leibezeit (drums)