When they finally make the program that listens intelligently to all the music ever recorded, and traces the tree of its true lineages, absent the blathering of marketers and promoters, we'll find that a very few sturdy limbs were the source of all vital electronic music since the 1960's. Conrad Schnitzler is one of them.
Con died August 4 2001, aged 74. You may not have heard much about his work except that he was a member of Kluster and Tangerine Dream. Krautrock pioneer and all that. So here's the first thing I want to say: Con was by far the most adventurous, the most provocative, the most musically free member of either of those groups, and left them early on. While those guys were pushing rock's formulas out of the box a little, Con was channeling a powerful amalgam of avant-garde electronics, performance art and free jazz too big for the rock idiom to hold. Con was never in the box to begin with.
In 1998 I visited Con at his house in Dallgow-Döberitz, a town just west of Berlin, to talk to him about doing a project with my small electronic label, Orac Records. I'd been a fan for many years, and was nervous because of that and because, well, what kind of guy would be behind these intense, unconventional and sometimes brutal sounds? He stuck out in the quiet suburban train station: a bearlike yet modest physical presence, in black from head to toe, the famous dome. He drove us to his house and we walked around the yard, where big containers of strawberries were in bloom.
He took me down the stairs on the side of the house into the basement, through a small raised metal door with a "high voltage" sign on it and into the studio, a kind of concrete bunker filled with racks upon racks of synthesizers, bundles of patch cords, a nondescript PC. We talked about which synthesizers were his favorites, a big modular that he wasn't really getting along with, and how his computer made mixing and distribution so much easier. He showed me how he transmitted his music out into the world, grabbing a label image here, a sound file there (hopefully matching), a quick jacket print and burn to CDR. His own blue thumbprint and the date on the inside of the paper sleeves signed the disks. Then out with the next day's mail. Con's releases of his solo electronics projects numbered in the hundreds---he needed an efficient machine for self-distribution, and so he made one, with a DIY approach to technology and an artist's attention to detail.
And here I was, clogging up the machine. For my remix project I wanted to pick some of Con's new work. It seemed to me he was making sounds as vital as ever, and it must be frustrating when people are most interested in reissuing what you did 30 years ago. With an artist as prolific as Con, though, picking out something new takes a lot of listening. And how do you do that when you are in the studio straining the patience of your hero and you have hundreds of CDRs of unheard work to pick from? "I give you a finger, and you want to take the whole hand!" he joked---good naturedly, I think. Anyway I didn't know when I would be able to come back, and so I had to do my listening there and then.
I ended up with four CDRs, and burning them gave us some time to talk. Con had picked out found images to put on the covers of his CDRs, always something to do with the music, sometimes obliquely. One cover of a volume "solohaus" intrigued me a lot, a little sort of power station building in a woodland setting. Con talked about how the solohaus was kind of imaginary refuge for him, a place to get away from all distractions, everything in the world, except his sounds. Funny that he still had to dream about this setup, when it seemed to me he had come so close to it in real life.
Two months passed while I did other work and I lined up remixers for the Orac project. When I got back in touch with Con to do his own remix he said "Uoops it feels like years ago!" A day later he sent me the finished mix. Apparently Con inhabited an accelerated time scale compared to the one I'm on.
The records got done, and I was very happy with them. Con and I kept in touch from time to time and mailed a little music back and forth. Last time I emailed in the Fall, he said he had been working all the time as usual, but it was getting boring staying in the basement so much. He'd been using softsynths more on his PC, up in the piano room, to see the outside while he worked. As it happened I had just finished up the Windows version of Aalto, a softsynth I had written, and I was excited to hear what Con would do with it. On Wednesday morning I sent Con a copy of Aalto to try out.
Seven minutes later, Con wrote back:
(:))) Thanks a lot ,I´ll try in the next time.
He passed away the next evening. Before that I had not heard about his cancer and so I was stunned. I wasn't sure what he meant by "the next time." But I heard from his friend Jin that Con was having his good days, and his bad days, and maybe was waiting for the next time when he felt good enough to do some more work. In any case let it be known that here's a guy who, with little time left in this world and while battling cancer pain, took care to respond promptly to a once-met acquaintance / fan.
Con's sounds rocked my world since I first heard them. His energy inspired me even more. He's one of the most important musicians to me, period, and he had to leave us too soon. I don't have as many memories as I would like, and they are already starting to fade over time, so I'm putting these words out there to stand in for them. RIP in electric gardens eternal.
9 August 2011
great story. sad story. inspiring story. i was wondering where i could get hold of these recordings? thank you, and keep up the amazing work on aalto. really looking forward to your hardware projects as well! ideas like the continuum and your soundplane make my mind spin and my heart pound and my soul vibrate so much it hurts.
Intriguing heartfelt article, Randy. I am sorry for your/our (the world's) loss. Surely he would have been fascinated with creative potential of Aalto, as I am. Best regards
wholeheartedly with you randy
Thanks for the kind words.
Jin's Conrad page at http://www.fancymoon.com/con_s/ gives ordering information for CDs through Wolfgang Seidel.
Touching post. I haven't heard about him personally before so thank you for sharing this story with us.
It's so sad that you hear about many great souls that travel this plane upon their departure...
Through death influential beings make the final wave, a last personal act in spreading their legacy and generate new waves..
i discovered con about a month ago and i am now a huge fan . i am waiting for my first con album , a vinyl copy of ''ballet statique'' . wow , aalto would have been the next synth that Conrad would have tried ...
That is a beautiful piece, Randy. Con is one of the most amazing musicians i know. I love his work.