The Transcendent Music Of Popol Vuh
By Gary Bearman
Part 4 of 4
Sing, for Song Drives Away the Wolves (1993)
This is another title that many don't consider an official Popol Vuh album, making its exclusion from the SPV catalog understandable.
I am assuming that now that Popol Vuh had new exposure on a new label with a new audience, they understandably wanted to make the world aware of what they'd been doing for the last 20-plus years. Sing, for Song Drives Away the Wolves is essentially previously released material from Seligpreisung, Einsjäger & Siebenjäger and Cœur de Verre that has been remixed, partially re-recorded and updated with additional instrumentation. Perhaps that's not enough to be an official new Popol Vuh album by many standards, but for completists like myself it's an essential title, containing some nicely updated and even improved versions of familiar classics.
Oddly enough, while the first seven songs are updated versions of previous works, track eight is the entire sidelong "Einsjäger & Siebenjäger" from the 1974 album of the same name, only now renamed as "You Shouldn't Awake Your Beloved Before it Pleases Her." Fricke was obviously wise enough to know that this song needed no modern manipulation to make it stand out to a new audience.
City Raga (1995)
On City Raga, Fricke and Fichelscher are joined by Guido Hieronymus on keyboards and electric guitar, Maya Rose on vocals and the Children's Choir of Kathmandu.
On the back of this CD, another one not re-released on SPV, there is a letter from Maya Rose to Florian Fricke, and a return letter from Anna Fricke, daughter of Florian, in which it's stated that they sampled her voice from a cassette she once gave him, and they apologize for not getting her express permission to use it, but all attempts to find and contact her had failed.
To my ears, this is where Fricke's desire to be contemporary, gearing his music especially towards a younger generation, did not work in his favor.
The influence of Hieronymus on this album is extensive, and while doubtlessly Fricke found the new electronica of the time (the album has been labeled house, mystic house, techno, etc.) fascinating, it just doesn't sound like Popol Vuh. The album loses the striking originality that made Popol Vuh's music so timeless, and instead sounds a lot like what other people at the time were doing. When you add the fact that Maya Rose's voice doesn't really do it for me like Djong Yun and Renate Knaup's do, it makes for an album I personally find difficult to listen to.
One might wonder why the sudden return to synthesizers. Fricke cleared this up when asked if there was an ideal combination of electronic and acoustic instruments. He said, "Yes, due to the sampling technology. Now it is possible to store natural sounds working with electronics in the studio, before it wasn't. 25"
All that said, the mellower tracks like "Last Village" and "City Raga" I find more palatable than the more techno electronica of "Wanted Maya," "Tears of Concrete" and "Running Deep." The one bright spot on the album is the lone song that has Daniel Fichelscher listed as co-composer, and that's "Morning Raga." This song almost sounds like it could have fit on "For You And Me," perhaps as a dramatic closer.
Shepherd's Symphony (1997)
The line-up of this album says a lot about it. This is the first album since 1971's In Den Gärten Pharaos to include Frank Fielder (on synthesizer), and the first album since 1974's Seligpreisung (not including Yoga) to NOT contain Daniel Fichelscher. Joining Fielder is of course Fricke and again Guido Hieronymus on keyboards and guitar.
The best thing I can say about Shepherd's Symphony is that it's a decided improvement over City Raga. Still, we're deeply into the realm of electronica here, moving between techno, world and ambient with lots of synthesizers, sampled voices and other hallmarks of those genres. This again is an album dominated by Hieronymus. As an example, Fricke is listed as playing piano on this album, but I'm hard pressed to hear a piano anywhere, figuring it must be pretty buried in the mix.
At this point, I really find myself missing the days where Fricke eschewed electronic music for the more organic, and while some of the sampled voices and percussion does have a tribal feel to it, it's not the same as when they were truly making tribal music of their own. Where before Popol Vuh led the way, here they are following the current trends, and where before there were no points of comparison with what other musicians were doing, here we are in known terrain where others have done similar things, often better.
Still, Shepherd's Symphony is not an unenjoyable album. The final track, "Yes," interestingly samples some of the tribal voices from "Die Singenden Madchen von Ho, Ziavi" on the Cobra Verde album to good effect. It's nice to hear some echoes of the past by this point.
One thing that must be admired about Popol Vuh and the work of Florian Fricke was a constant striving to re-invent himself and their music, so in this I must admire Fricke having the continuing courage to keep trying new directions and not just repeat what has been done before. Just as there are those who may only like their first two cosmic space albums, those who only like their 70's material before they started getting more mellow and mystical, and those who only like the more meditative side of the Popol Vuh catalog, there are likely those out there who would only appreciate City Raga and Shepherd's Symphony.
While this album has been reissued on SPV, there are no bonus tracks.
Messa Di Orfeo (1999)
This is an unusual Popol Vuh release. Released in 1999, it contains material of Popol Vuh playing live at the Time Zones festival in 1998, in addition to some studio recording. It's unusual in that Popol Vuh were a group that almost never performed live as Fricke didn't feel it would be possible to sustain the level of intensity needed for a full concert, and he preferred to spend the time he would have taken touring with writing and recording.
The line-up is Fricke (now playing keyboards as opposed to piano), Fiedler on video (this being an "audio-video-light-installation" with "choir-recitation-voice-keyboards"), Maya Rose on vocals, Guillermina De Gennaro doing recitation and Johannes Fricke as "artist assistance."
Johannes Fricke commented that Florian Fricke "was working on something that he called "Good Rooms;" architectural spaces charged with healing energy via sound. This happened two times in Italy in the late 90's, during the "Messa di Orfeo" installations. 26" This explains why the recitations on this album are in Italian. While I have no doubt that in its original form this was something to behold, perhaps something is lost in the translation from multi-media art presentation to pure audio.
Things start off with a mellow Maya Rose vocal number called "Deep in the Ocean of Love," and while admittedly I would have enjoyed it more if Renate Knaup sang it, it is still interesting. Then we move into "Strofa 1," and of the nine tracks on the album, five of them are "Strofa 1-5," essentially vocal recitations with mellow keyboard backing. These tracks are very tranquil and pleasant, if unremarkable.
Other tracks like "Nascita dell' ape" and "Dall' origine al divenire" are actually very effective ambient pieces, very reminiscent of the ambient pieces on Fitzcarraldo and Cobra Verde. And then there's the longest track, the 13:41 "Primo Movimento." This is again an ambient keyboard piece, similar in sound to "Nascita dell' ape," but perhaps it goes on a bit longer than necessary.
It's nice to hear another album from Popol Vuh where beats per minute are not a mitigating factor, and this is a distinctly more enjoyable album than the previous two, if a bit odd. It works well as a background ambient piece, and while it might not elicit the same emotional and spiritual highs of albums such as Brüder Des Schattens and Spirit of Peace, it is still a pleasant enough listen.
Death And Rebirth
The world lost a legendary musician and artist, when in on December 29, 2001, Florian Fricke passed away in his sleep a few days after having a stroke at his home in Munich. He was 57.
Future Sound Experience (2002)
The album Future Sound Experience came out in 2002, shortly after Florian Fricke's untimely death, and it is another controversial release. The album was "arranged and produced by Gerhard Augustin," and it's very unusual indeed.
Future Sound Experience contains eight tracks with some ambient music that probably wasn't recorded by Popol Vuh. The extraneous ambient sounds are really just the glue that holds it together though, with the main focus of the album on sections of Popol Vuh tracks from their entire career that drift in and out of the mix. While there are separate tracks, they all connect, giving one essentially nearly 70 minutes of uninterrupted music.
According to SPV and Johannes Fricke, "Future Sound Experience is a compiled mix and no original album. It is not an original Popol Vuh album. It shouldn't be on the market."27 It is an understandable point of view, and on the other hand it's a extremely unique and enjoyable listen, one that might even serve as a good introduction into the realm of Popol Vuh music, even if it's not a "proper" album.
Speaking of other albums that aren't "proper" releases, that is to say, albums of original material, Popol Vuh have had many, many compilations of their music released over the decades. These include Discover Cosmic Music, Perlenklange, Gesang der Gesange, The Best of Popol Vuh, On the Way to Himalaya, Nicht Hoch Im Himmel, Soundtracks from Werner Herzog, Movie Music, Popol Vuh - Florian Fricke, The Best Soundtracks from Werner Herzog films, etc..
Even SPV has thrown their hat in the ring of Popol Vuh compilations with its title 70's Progressives. It's a good a starting place as any into the world of prime period Popol Vuh music, and it boasts some beautiful packaging, as do all the SPV releases in digipack format.
Johannes Fricke and the Fricke family are working to make sure the music of Popol Vuh is kept available for a long time to come. When asked recently about his father's musical legacy, he stated, "In its completion it is a quite special, complex music, produced and recorded without any commercial force, angle or interest behind it. Similar to a wildlife preserve, we want to preserve Popol Vuh's music to keep it alive and as complete as possible. In times when the music market has become a true monster, special music, for example the albums Hosianna Mantra or Einsjäger & Siebenjäger become more fragile. 28"
Johannes continues; "Florian once said, that "we hear so much, that we don't hear anything anymore, and we see so much, that we don t see anything anymore." So, many good things from the past we don't see or hear anything about anymore, due to corporate profit strategies, have to be protected very carefully, or even have to be re-discovered again. Regarding Popol Vuh, we will help as much as we can here. We have the clear intention to make his music widely accessible, at least during the next decades. That's the vision, to keep it alive. Myself particularly, I adore the early Popol Vuh electronic Moog recordings Affenstunde and In the Garden of the Pharaos as precursors of ambient or space music. We've already gathered a few good remixes in the last years, and hopefully can release the best of them soon in conjunction with Popol Vuh original electronics. This may become a good album with some unexpected, special appearances, also addressing a younger audience. 29"
I will leave the final words to Johannes Fricke when asked, in his best estimation, what Florian Fricke's music meant to him. "Assumingly, music was his life. For him, music had been a tool to unite musical traditions and the law of harmony with, if you want to call it this, spiritual laws or spiritual knowledge, apart from any religion. He was interested in expressing, via music, that cultures should encounter each other on the spiritual plane, not via wars or conflict, no matter which religion or which race you belong to. In this sense, he had something like an early transnational approach. To address the soul of people with his music was a goal. Florian was also well aware of healing aspects of music as harmony, rhythm and frequency. He did much research on that in his free time, studying old texts, etc. It was his intention to transfer these healing aspects into the compositions. You can feel that somehow in the music, can't you? You feel good when you listen to it. 30"
I would like to thank Phil Smee, Armstrong Whitworth, Strange Things Are Happening magazine, Ed Pinsent, Edwin Pouncey, The Sound Projector, Darren Bergstein, Augustin Luviano-Cordero, i/e magazine and Gerhard Augustin for allowing me to use small portions of their articles and interviews. I would especially like to thank Johannes Fricke, SPV, Thomas Ziegler, Jennifer Downing Tan and Jason Gross for their invaluable assistance.
1. from the article "Deutsch Nepal - A Fleeting Dabble in German Music 1967-1975" by Armstrong Whitworth (Strange Things Are Happening magazine Vol. 1 #4, September/October 1988)
2. from the article "Fricked Out" by Agustin Luviano-Cordero (i/e magazine #8 1994)
4. from the last interview with Florian Fricke by Gerhard Augustin February, 1996 from the SPV website
5. from the article "Fricked Out" by Agustin Luviano-Cordero (i/e magazine #8 1994)
6. from the SPV website
7. from the last interview with Florian Fricke by Gerhard Augustin February, 1996 from the SPV website
8. from the article "Deutsch Nepal - A Fleeting Dabble in German Music 1967-1975" by Armstrong Whitworth (Strange Things Are Happening magazine Vol. 1 #4, September/October 1988)
9. from the last interview with Florian Fricke by Gerhard Augustin February, 1996 from the SPV website
10. from the SPV website
11. from the last interview with Florian Fricke by Gerhard Augustin February, 1996 from the SPV website
13. from the article "Popol Music: A Clearer Vuh-Point" by Sandy Robertson (Sounds magazine September 26, 1981)
14. from the article "Fricked Out" by Agustin Luviano-Cordero (i/e magazine #8 1994)
15. from the last interview with Florian Fricke by Gerhard Augustin February, 1996 from the SPV website
17. from the SPV website
18. from the article "Fricked Out" by Agustin Luviano-Cordero (i/e magazine #8 1994)
19. from the last interview with Florian Fricke by Gerhard Augustin February, 1996 from the SPV website
20. from the article "Fricked Out" by Agustin Luviano-Cordero (i/e magazine #8 1994)
21. from the article "Communicating With Chaos" by Edwin Pouncey (The Wire magazine #144 February, 1996)
22. from the article "Fricked Out" by Agustin Luviano-Cordero (i/e magazine #8 1994)
23. from an e-mail from Johannes Fricke
24. from the article "Fricked Out" by Agustin Luviano-Cordero (i/e magazine #8 1994)
26. from an e-mail from Johannes Fricke
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