PERFECT SOUND FOREVER presents
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE CAN - DISCOGRAPHY
by Holger Czukay (May 1997)
ED NOTE: Holger Czukay died in September 2017. Please see this tribute to him in The Wire magazine, which includes some details about wild, prank-filled stories that happened throughout his life.
CAN's first recording ever was made in June 1968 during our first concert for a modern art exhibition at Schloss Nvrvenich near Cologne. It is called PREHISTORIC FUTURE and was released 1984 on the Tago Mago label in Paris as a limited number of mono-cassettes (2000 pressings). For the first time we recorded samples of the students' rebellion of 1968 in Paris and these became an important part of the concert. From there on we were lucky in obtaining the permission for building up our own studio in Schloss Nvrvenich. This studio consisted of 2 stereo tape-deck machines and about 4 microphones. A musician's amplifier was used as our 'recording mixer'. We immediately started recording film music for a young German film director and through this experience we decided to become a rhythmically orientated 'heavy weight' group in combination with ethnological influences- sometimes at least. And as we were trying to imitate 'primitive sounds' CAN ended up with its Ethnological Forgery Serie and did not even stop at imitating a Japanese No spectacle. Of course we regarded these attempts more from the humorous than from a perfect performance side.
The first regular CAN album was MONSTER MOVIE and the first piece we recorded was 'Father Cannot Yell.' We thought more of a collapsing building in slow motion pictures than becoming heroes on our instruments. Everything was spontaneously recorded by 'instant composition'. 'Yoo Doo Right' was an unusual long piece of music at that time with a rhythm which did not belong to the world of Rock 'n Roll. It seemed more to be played by an electric tribe band with adequate instruments of that time.
The album SOUNDTRACKS became more an in-between project,because it took CAN much more time in finishing the double album TAGO MAGO than we thought. Of course we could not live by our income from live gigs or record sales and so CAN was lucky in doing several film musics. The title tracks of the pictures were released as soundtracks on the SOUNDTRACK album. 'Don't Turn the Light on, Leave Me Alone' was Damo's first recording with CAN ever. This piece expresses Damo's mood at that time I think, after I found him singing or 'praying' loud in the streets of Munich. Jaki and me were sitting outside in a cafe when Damo came near. I said to Jaki: 'This will be our new singer.' Jaki: 'how can you say that, you don't even know him.' I got up from my seat, went to Damo and asked him if he is free for the evening. We were an experimental rock group and we were going to play a concert the night- sold out. Damo said he had nothing special to do, so why shouldn't he sing. The venue was packed that evening and Damo started murmuring like a meditating monk. All of a sudden he turned into a fighting samurai, the audience was shocked and almost everybody left the hall. About 30 Americans were left and got totally excited about what they heard. Among them was Hollywood actor David Niven who probably thought he was attending to some sort of nightmare happening.
TAGO MAGO was CAN's official second album and was an attempt in achieving a mystery musical world from light to darkness and return. The album consisted not only out of regularly recorded music, but for the first time we combined 'in-between-recordings', that means the musicians were secretly recorded in the pauses when a new microphone and recording set up was being established. In that time the rest of the group just played in order to make the time pass by instead of waiting till the technical problems were solved. And there was always one microphone and one recorder on standby position for such cases. Altogether certainly a psychedelic experience, and the studio itself even turned into something new e.g. by changing dramatically the whole illumination.
At the end of 1971 CAN moved into another village with their studio equipment where we rented an old cinema which wasn't any longer used as such.The walls were covered by new walls out of 1500 military matresses and the studio looked like an elephant from inside. We could achieve an excellent dry and ambient sound in there and the interior submitted a cozy landscape feeling with all possibilities of spontaneous recordings. EGE BAMYASI was the first album made in this new environment and reflects the group being in a lighter mood than it was in Schloss Nvrvenich. 'Vitamin C' became the title track of the Hollywood movie 'Dead Pigeon' by Samuel Fuller and 'Spoon' was another title track of a TV-gangster series. Everytime about 30 million people switched their TV on, they heard this and so it didn't surprise when 'Spoon' became a top ten hit in Germany. And 'Spoon' was one of the first pieces banded on tape in combination of an electric drum machine and a drummer who was himself an i n h u m a n machine.
As 'Spoon' was so successful CAN could afford having some summer holidays for the first time in its short history. And when everyone returned back to the Inner Space Studio, the music had this summer feeling too. A lot of editings and cuttings were involved during the production and for the first time I could concentrate myself only on bass playing and didn't function as CAN's recording engeneer at the same time. This became the job for our roadies now. Especially 'Bel Air' showed CAN in a state of being an electric symphony group performing a peaceful though sometimes dramatic landscape painting.
And it was the calm weather before the storm too. Damo got married to a German girl from the Jehovas' Witness religion and left CAN. For the rest of the group it was the feeling of a powerful fist strike into one's stomach. We tried out many other singers,but nobody suited to us anymore. So guitarist Michael Karoli and space organist Irmin Schmidt and sometimes me filled the gap. SOON OVER BABALUMA was the last album which was recorded straight onto stereo without a multi-tracking machine. An era came to an end. But it was also the birth of something new. 'Quantum Physics' became one of the first ambient music pieces with a sort of techno character thanks to Jaki's fabulous machine drumming and Irmin's prehistoric synthesizer 'alpha 77'.
In all these years from 1968 to 1974 a lot of unofficial in between recordings came to existence. This was somehow the other face of CAN. These recordings were first released as a LIMITED EDITION album and later got expanded to UNLIMITED EDITION. This double album witnesses the extraordinary mood of the Inner Space Studio and only in such a place these recordings had been possible. We have tested out other professional studios but none could equal our private home studio which put the musicians in such a special state of creativity.
In 1975, CAN obtained their first 16 track recorder and that gave a lot of change to the groups musical output. LANDED became the first CAN album which got a real mix- a professional mix so to speak. The ambient aspect had its successor in 'Unfinished' and for the first time a guest musician appeared on an CAN album: Olaf Kubler from Amon Duul played saxophone on 'Red Hot Indians'.
FLOW MOTION showed how CAN got influenced by reggae music, though no song of this album is actually reggae music. But I remember attending for the first time Bob Marley in concert and I was really impressed by the drums and bass and the reggae-designed guitar work. The very sinister 'Smoke' reminded me of CAN getting back into the sixties again and 'I Want More' took CAN into the U.K. charts, giving an impression of CAN's danceable power. One of my favourite pieces became 'Flow Motion' itself and this time it didn't matter that nobody was singing. It was the nucleus of the group performing this music as it had been from the very beginning since its existence.
The times were changing. During a TV-recording in England we met the musicians of TRAFFIC and two of them soon visited us at Inner Space. Rebop and Rosko Gee liked the way we were approaching music and so they got involved as the new temporary CAN members leading especially the rhythms into a fluent bombardment. It was the time when I invented a new instrumental scenario for myself which switched CAN to different medias like radio tuning, prepared samples of other ethno worlds, electronic treatments and a different instrumental line up as such. 'Animal Waves' of SAW DELIGHT became a journey into other countries and their musical cultures. All of this was synchronized by an activated morse key. Without our new members from TRAFFIC, this intensive musical flow would have never been established.
And as everything comes once to an end, the CAN album showed a last time the glance of a vanishing star. 'All Gates Open' is synonymous for it. And we could take that title straight. All gates really came open for each member of the band going their own musical way which everyone had dreamed of - until 1987, when our first singer Malcolm Mooney wrote us a letter from the United States asking if we couldn't come together again. Since his departure from the group he got named as an artist without having made an attempt as a singer again. He wanted to know how it feels again standing with the band behind a microphone, which had made him so sick when he had left. We all came together in the beautiful landscape of South France and a new spirit came up with the first recordings. In the meantime the group became slowly matured still remaining the original CAN of the old days with an uptodate musical output. RITE TIME was born and especially 'In the Distance lies the Future' became one of my favourite CAN pieces of all time.
With such an amount of musical material recorded in around 10 years it became obvious that new combinations and shorted versions were finding its way into CANIBALISM I to III. The listener who gets in contact with CAN's music for the first time will get a concentrated impression on certain essential aspects. 'Animal Waves' on CANIBALISM II was never cutted so effectively to the point as it is on this album. And this is only one example.
One thing shouldn't been forgotten: when our first album entitled PREPARED TO MEET THY PNOOM was finished no record company wanted to get hold of that kind of music. So we decided to go on recording and try it again. This was leading to MONSTER MOVIE and we made a private pressing out of it, before a record company wanted to sign us. These very first recordings were later released as DELAY 1968. When I did the mastering in the beginning of the eighties the enigmatic German producer Conny Planck listened to it and got excited saying: 'As long as CAN playes 'Soul' they are unbeatable.' 'Little Star of Bethlehem' is one of the first recordings with inserted overdub parts of the whole group.
1997 becomes the year where other musicians show the timeless aspect of CAN's music in the new remix album SACRILEGE. And this is the Sound of CAN in the nineties.
Go the Holger interview
Or to the Can tribute
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