The story of Krautrock — a story that is largely the product of English and American mythologizing rather than insider historical knowledge — has been told and retold. But at its core sits a handful of vitals who are worth revisiting. In the late ‘60s, Germany gave birth to a generation of underground musicians whose bold innovations in post-psychedelic sound exploration, synthesizer manipulation and groove research would go on to exert a deep and broad impact on the evolution of modern music. Post-punk, techno and house, indie, the ambient movement, hip-hop, even new age, have all been touched by the movement.
Kosmische Musik, a less commonly used moniker, is considered more or less interchangeable with Krautrock. But as culture critic Erik Davis points out in Krautrock: Cosmic Rock and Its Legacy, the phrase’s more refined utterances tend to encompass those German musicians who were preoccupied with “an alternately meditative and ferocious dissolution of boundaries that invoked, through sound or function or packaging, the unearthly otherworlds that link outer and inner space.”
Though it’s up for debate, the group most closely associated with this heady mission has long been Tangerine Dream. Since achieving lift-off with the 1967 opus Electronic Meditation, the ensemble has undergone countless personnel changes and shifts in style, yet founder Edgar Froese’s interest in interstellar drift continues to be the primary focus.
Another veteran proponent of Kosmische Musik is Hans-Joachim Roedelius. In addition to his sprawling solo discography, Roedelius’ work with Cluster and Harmonia (the latter of which also featured fellow Moogfest performer Brian Eno for a spell) has proven to be wildly prescient in the way it blends rock music with elements of avant garde electronics, free improv and minimalism.
Krautrock’s chromosome is nestled deep inside Moogfest DNA. From The Field’s icy, motorik-flavored techno to The Flaming Lips’ discordantly peculiar permutation of space rock, there’s probably not a single musician in Asheville this weekend who isn’t familiar with Kraftwerk or Can or Faust. That said, the two artists who embody the Kosmische spark are the ambient-drone voyagers Tim Hecker and Oneohtrix Point Never. — J.F.
To fully understand just how far out T.D. ventured at the peak of its powers, Lester Bangs’ 1977 concert review "I Saw God And/Or Tangerine Dream" is mandatory reading. Amazingly, less than a decade later the group had shifted its attention to Hollywood soundtracks, among them Risky Business, Legend and the most underrated vampire movie of all time, Near Dark. Recent releases, including the Hiroshima and Nagasaki series, are decidedly new age. But hey, all deep-space explorers need to return to Earth some time, right? — J.F.
Roedelius the solo artist began producing music in the late 1970s, not long before Cluster’s first split. He’s intensely prolific, with a back catalog of more than 30 titles. His aesthetic, a mix of abstruse studio experimentation and chamber-like piano music, has grown increasingly more refined and contemplative with time. The German label Bureau B has reissued many of Roedelius’ early records, including the first volumes in the Selbstportrait series — amazing stuff. — J.F.
One of the more curious, but not totally unexpected, developments in the evolution of Krautrock and Kosmische Musik is how many of the movement’s original proponents now create what can only be tagged “new age music.” The Lunz project is a collaboration featuring Hans-Joachim Roedelius and keyboardist and Windham Hill alumnus Tim Story. The pair have dropped a string of albums since 2000, all of them documenting their delicate and muted take on modern ambient music. Despite the new age vibes, not all this music is "feel good." The 2008 record Inlandish, for example, is marked by a kind of existential barrenness. — J.F.
Tim Hecker’s music has been called a lot of things over the last decade. Drone, ambient, noise and microsound are just a few of them. But when you spend time with a record like Ravedeath, 1972, released earlier this year, the composer’s connections to classic Kosmische Musik make themselves as plain as the Milky Way on a brilliantly clear night in the Smoky Mountains. Hecker, much like Cluster, is a true synthesist, one who possesses an uncanny knack for blending electronic and acoustic sound sources. This, in turn, leads to an exquisite fusion of inner and outer space. — J.F.
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