This Blogbook entry stems, in part, from a few moments of downtime taken during a recent business trip to Toronto, Ontario, occurring inside one of my favorite record stores anywhere, Rotate This, located at 186 Ossington on the west side of Toronto. As the music curated within shifted from some vaguely reminiscent, but strange, amalgam of garage rock and freak-folk to the more recognizable danceable thump, almost motorik, Sturm und Drang of Not Waving’s (a/k/a Alessio Natalizia) October 2017 release titled Good Luck, my mind fondly reminisced about the brilliant and experimental music coming out of the Federal Republic of Germany during the later part of the 1960s and thereafter.
Looking back through the pages of music history, I now see this idiosyncratic period of German rock music as more national in its origins, rather than arising out of any particular burgeoning local scene. Where bands like Can, Neu, Kraftwerk, Exmagma, Tangerine Dream, Harmonia, Popul Vuh, Cluster, Faust, Embryo, Jane, Cosmic Jokers, Amon Duul II, Ash Ra Tempel, Nine Days Wonder, La Dusseldorf, Grobschnitt, Klaus Schulze, Guru Guru, Wolfgang Dauner, and Et Cetera created some of the most original, psychedelic, frenzied, rhythmic and unrelenting groove-driven music heard to this very day. All were happening during a period of unprecedented artistic freedom where record producer Konrad “Conny” Plank, composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, conceptual artist Joseph Beuys, record company Metronome Musik GmbH, recording studio Hansa Tonstudio GmbH, the Creamcheese Club, live music venue Zodiac Free Arts Lab, and record labels Brain and Ohr exerted considerable influence over the sounds of the day.
To this very day, I still consider David Bowie’s Station To Station album, released in January 1976, to be one of music’s most significant long-lasting achievements. Station To Station, perhaps Bowie's most frighteningly constructed record, marked his first attempts at Krautrock and European electronic music with the likes of the title track and TVC15. It was during the April 1976 German leg of Bowie’s Isolar Tour (a/k/a The Thin White Duke Tour) in support of Station To Station that the seeds were sown for Bowie’s infamous near 11-month long encampment in Berlin starting in the Fall of 1976. Where Bowie, despite alleged periods of unhinged madness, debauchery, and chaos, created genre-defining music, think Low, Heroes, Lodger, and The Idiot, with Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, Tony Visconti, Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, and others.
Thus, returning me, in circumlocutious fashion, to the subject of this Blogbook entry, the City of Berlin. Let me preface the remainder of this entry by acknowledging that Brooke and I have never been to Berlin, at least not physically, but we have read about it, studied it, and experienced its art, architecture, fashion, and music without having enjoyed the privilege of actually being there. From a designer’s perspective, from a music lover’s perspective, and from a cultural perspective, we intend to one day experience Berlin fully by following through on JFK’s post-Berlin Wall suggestion “Lasst sie nach Berlin kommen.” Loosely translated here as Berlin welcomes you.
To a person born in the 1950s, especially someone whose Father spent the majority of his military service years in various outposts located throughout occupied Germany during the very early years of the so-called Cold War, Germany, especially Berlin, always seemed more like a cultural curiosity, a symbol of unspeakable barbarism. My Father's time in Germany was presumably also the catalyst for one of my childhood nicknames, dummkopf; but I digress. To western eyes, from the start of World War II until the early 1960s, Germany and Berlin were seen as enigmatic, but repugnant, historical exclamation points, rather than geographic and cultural destinations, or as the former gatekeepers of the German Romanticism or Expressionist movements. In the years following the Yalta Conference signaling the end of World War II and the split occupation of Germany by the United States, the UK, France, and the Soviet Union, the four zone occupation of Berlin, all culminating in the Soviet’s erection of the Berlin Wall encircling West Berlin in August 1961, a divided Berlin existed in a constant state of chaos and disruption. However, it wasn’t always this way.
Before Hitler and his Nazi shit-show obliterated the Weimar Republic and engulfed Europe in tumult, war, atrocity, and political, social, and economic upheaval on a global scale, Berlin, and the rest of Germany were in the midst of a remarkable social and cultural renaissance, sometimes referred to as the German Expressionist movement. It was a time of underground culture, unbridled eroticism, The Blue Angel, Nosferatu, the Einstein Tower, Garconnes, Fritz Lang, Dominas, Aleister Crowley, Otto Dix, Alfred Flechtheim, Sex Magic, Kurt Weill, Bertolt Brecht, Pandora’s Box, Anita Berber, Weisse Maus, George Grosz, Josephine Baker, S&M Clubs, the Opium Slumber, Der Reigen, Alfred Einstein's Berlin years at the Prussian Academy of Sciences, and the Bauhaus Building. German artists, in particular, those located in Berlin, ushered in a period of high creativity and innovation in architecture, interior design, literature, dance, music, fashion, theatre, cabaret, silent cinema, painting, and sculpture.
Fast forward to Berlin of the 21st Century and the year 2017, notwithstanding Germany’s nascent political crisis, Berlin is thoroughly entrenched as a city of artists, free thinkers, and New Romantics. We see unimpeachable evidence of this in publications like Texte Zur Kunst, Sleek Magazine, Berlinartlink.com, artistic platforms like Berlin Art Parasites, publishing houses like Korbinian Verlag, the always cutting-edge Berlin University of the Arts, areas like Friedrichshain, the ever-growing “glitter tribe” burlesque community, the resurrection of Berghain and its Panorama Bar, Pinky’s Peepshow, La Fete Fatale, bands like Samsara Blues Experiment, the artistry of Werner Herzog, the work of Berlin-based artist Chiharu Shiota, the paradox that is the Urban Nation Museum, literary works like Leonhard Heironymi’s Ultraromantik and Simon Strauss’ Sieben Nachte (translation Seven Nights), the Gemaldegalerie, the social incubator that is Das Eckwerk, and the graffitti and street art found in areas like Kreuzberg and Lichtenberg.
We would be remiss if we failed to mention the pioneering work of Byung-Chul Han, the Korean-born, Berlin-based philosopher, and author who is a professor at the Berlin University of the Arts teaching cultural studies and philosophy. Han’s 2016 series of talks given at the University which examined a new romanticism captivated overflowing audiences of students, and distinguished artists of all genres, architects, authors, and philosophers.
Through its storied history, Berlin has been like a caliginous kaleidoscope of dark shadows, a city of historic relics and new architectural treasures, a cultural capital, a repugnant Nazi lair, a former stronghold of Soviet artistic repression, followed by the who gives a fuck cross-pollinating artistic and creative anything-goes free-for-all that took place following the fall of the Wall in 1989. One day, Raven Vanguard will surely heed Berlin’s siren’s call.
Now it is time to recognize Raven’s Cultural Vanguardist of the Month. As you know, October’s Cultural Vanguardist was the uber-talented Sera Solstice; for November, we decided to honor two musical artists who we consider to be modern day icons, Diamanda Galas, and Scott Walker.
Diamanda Galas is considered an experimental artist and an acquired taste by most music publications which dare to examine her body of work. No doubt her oeuvre is challenging at times, but she is willing to make social statements that elude the grasp of most artists working today. She is equal parts pianist, performance artist, jazz chanteuse, avant-garde improviser, high-gothic priestess, blues crooner, ritualistic shaman, painter, and visual artist. Standout musical statements include Defixiones, Will and Testament; The Litanies of Satan; Malediction & Prayer; Plague Mass; and Sporting Life with Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. Here is a video of her rehearsal for her piece titled Espergesia and we highly recommend that you visit her official website.
Like Diamanda Galas, Scott Walker, born Noel Scott Engel, is considered an experimental artist. But Walker, at one time, was considered a pop icon of sorts while in the 1960s trio, The Walker Brothers. The three Walkers, who were not brothers, had a series of hit singles and Top 10 records in the mid-60s and during their mid-1970s reunion. Walker also enjoyed a successful career as a solo pop artist from 1967 through 1974. However, it is not Walker’s pop music that we recognize here. Instead, we honor him for his work starting with the last Walker Brother’s reunion album titled Nite Flights released in 1978, his solo follow-up album titled Climate of Hunter released in 1984, up through his recent soundtrack for the film The Childhood of a Leader released in 2016. Other essential releases during this period include Tilt; his soundtrack for the film Pola X; The Drift; Bish Bosch; and his 2014 collaboration with the experimental band Sunn O))). Here is Walker’s 2012 official video for his song Epizootics from Bish Bosch released on 4AD Records
On December 15th we will be placing our order for Walker’s personally curated book of original lyrics titled Sundog from Faber & Faber publishing house in London.
We will be sure to check back in before the new year with our ravings on a yet to be determined topic. Until then, we recommend that you spend some time discovering, or reacquainting yourself with two of our favorite record albums, Yes’ trailblazing 1972 release titled Close to the Edge, and Eric Dolphy's Out To Lunch. Yes' CTTE album blew my mind when I picked it up upon release in September 1972, and to this day it remains a record that, to my ears, reveals the limitless possibilities of music. It still baffles me that five young men, ranging in age from just 22 to 27, could create an artistic work of this magnitude.
Dolphy's masterpiece did not enter my universe until about a year or so after my mind-expanding exposure to CTTE, and at a time when I first began to discover artists like Mingus, Ayler, Coltrane, Coleman, Sun Ra, and Davis. Very much like CTTE, Out To Lunch was about moving music forward outside of its comfort zone. I suspect Out To Lunch, and CTTE will someday be subjects of a future Blogbook entry or two. The free, angular but jagged, dissonant, and futuristic-sounding Out To Lunch was recorded for Blue Note in February 1964 just before Dolphy departed the United States for a brief European tour as part of Mingus' Sextet. Dolphy decided to live in Europe following the tour to record and play music with some of Europe's more adventurous musicians. Out To Lunch was not actually released until just following Dolphy's 36th birthday on June 20, 1964, and his tragic death in Berlin on June 29th. Dolphy's unexpected and premature departure robbed generations of music fans of the thrill of experiencing the new directions in which he was surely heading.