Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Silhouettes - a perfectly titled new Klaus Schulze album

Quite a few years have passed since the last Klaus Schulze studio album, if we don't count renamed re-releases of material that essentially has seen the light as Contemporary Works Vol. I and II.

Silhouettes is perhaps his most introspective and calm album for some time, and as some have commented on the almighty internet that it is "disappointing", perhaps it is useful to first enumerate what we do not find on this album.

There are no hour-long multi-layered jams, no fiery Moog solos, no sampled phrases leaping at us at any moment, no high-octane sequenced percussion grooves, not even high-octane sequencer runs... No world music-esque Middle or Far-Eastern vocals, no cello or other instrumental improvisations.

So expectation management aside, what does one find on the new album?

It is a quite balanced affair. Four concise pieces of 15-to-20-odd minutes length lend to the album a structural balance, too.

Each piece has a construction that takes us from a calm exposition to a more dynamic part with Berlin School characteristics, and then to a calm conclusion.

The title track is quite fitting, as the lush pads create a pleasant and atmospheric sonic mist, in which the gently introduced sequencer patterns never dominate - they just sparkle and shine through this mist, with subtle touches and variations.

Chateaux Faits de Vents, or Castles Made Of Winds, continues this airy feel, we get an atmospheric intro with the instantly recognizable pad sounds and chord changes... and it leads to a mid-section with gentle sequencer patterns. The variations are subtle and perfectly suited for a meditative listening, we are not treated to any sudden moves or unexpected turns.

Der Lange Blick Zuruck, or The Long Look Backward, is similar in terms of its structure and the characteristics of the sequenced layers in its middle part. The choral sounds before and after the scintillating metallic sequenced parts are giving this track, too a quite ethereal feel.

In some ways, one could say that the sequencer work on these tracks is sharing some DNA with the floating, fluid, sparkling motif that returns from time to time in the track Sebastian im Traum, on the double album Audentity.

Quae Simplex, or That Simple, is the most energetic track - not just in its opening, as this is the only piece that starts with confident sequencer lines, but also in the fact that it contains classic and non-sequenced sounding drumming, which is jamming along the layers of sequenced motifs. In many ways, this is the track that looks back to an earlier sound and style - we can think of the '70s Schulze studio and live releases that featured drum tracks of this type.

There is, though, a stronger similarity at work on this album and it may be contributing to some of the more negative takes seen so far.

In its gentle layers and soft sequences, it reminds us in a very nice way of the feel of the double album In Blue for instance, or the more introspective parts of aforementioned Contemporary Works.

However, the similarities with the sequencer work on Shadowlands or Big in Europe are surprisingly, perhaps even too, strong. Down to the actual patterns we hear, the sounds they trigger and the time signatures, it really gives a strong deja-vu, or deja-entendu, feel from just few years ago. In some parts we may have the feeling that certain sequencer lines were straight transplanted from another album's sonic layers and even kept the same synthesizer patch selections for them.

However, if one dissects it too much, it ruins the overall feel and imagery of the album... so if one is bothered by these very strong similarities, perhaps best to treat the album as a standalone venture into a calmer, contemplative realm that we have not really heard from grand master Schulze for many years.

In that respect, it is one of the best and most comforting, gentle albums he's ever made.

It is, hopefully, not overstating that one hopes the great Berlin School master will continue treating us to many more such polished and confidently beautiful albums in the future.