Can – The Lost Tapes
The German avant-rock pioneers Can’s Inner Space studio in Weilerswist, Germany was sold to the German Rock N Pop Museum recently. The Museum bought everything, including the army mattresses that covered the walls to dampen sound.
Whilst dismantling the studio in order to transfer it to Gronau, the home of the Museum, over 30 hours of master tapes were found with barely legible labeling. Intrigued, Can main-man Irmin Schmidt and collaborator (and Schmidt’s son-in-law) Jono Podmore dug into it all, discovering years of valid archived material. These are not outtakes, they are tracks that had been created for soundtracks to movies that never eventuated, tracks that never made it to albums due to space constrictions and tracks that were part of Can’s ongoing sonic experimentation.
This last point is illuminating. Can often worked in an open-ended way – keeping the tapes rolling while they jammed, experimented, tried ideas and followed their tripped-out muse wherever She may lead them. Very much in the spirit of those heady times – late 60s to early 70s – Can seemed to be often more about the journey than the destination.
In his notes to the recent released Can/The Lost Tapes, Irmin Schmidt says that these tracks were “more about the atmosphere of creating” than “aiming for the masterpiece”. What we hear on their 12 superlative studio albums (pretty much all masterpieces, especially Tago Mago – see my review here) is the tip/s of the Can iceberg. The music that sprawls across the three CDs of The Lost Tapes is the iceberg.
Irmin Schmidt further explains “Obviously the tapes weren’t really lost, but were left in the cupboards of the studio archives for so long everybody just forgot about them. Everybody except Hildegard, who watches over Can and its work like the dragon over the gold of the Nibelungen and doesn’t allow forgetting.” I don’t know what he is talking about either, but with Can it is always best to just go with their spacey flow and to hell with logic.
And what a spacey flow it is. “Millionenspiel” (“The Game of Millions”) – recorded when the band was still called Inner Space – opens with a surreal musical shadowplay before drummer Jaki Liebzeit sets up a tense Motorik rhythm and the band is off, shards of glassy organ stabbing through the groove. “Deadly Doris” nags over an equally insistent mechanized beat, with early singer Malcolm Mooney improvising autistic vocals over the top. (In a piece of serendipity, Can were more than lucky to find, after Mooney left Can on the advice of his psychiatrist [!], the equally free-minded and liberally creative Damo Suzuki). Repetition, mechanization, noise – these are the elements that Can brought to rock’n’roll from 20th century modern classical or Art music (and a surprising amount of the music we listen to today owe these Teutonic Space Knights a tacet debt for that).
The Lost Tapes sees an already wildly liberated band operating largely on their own terms – free in the main from the constrictions of putting out ‘product’ or meeting a deadline – and able to just create as they wished. What is remarkable about these tracks, considering the freewheeling nature of the times and the Anarcho-Hippie culture that Can swam in (Germany, perhaps for historical reasons had a particularly unbridled and highly politicized Hippie culture) is their discipline. Very few appear to be whacked-out jams, despite their flavour being that of improvisation – the band breathing, rising and falling over the entire length of extended tracks such as the 17 minute ‘Graublau’. Like Tago Mago’s wonderfully snaky “Halleluhwah” or noise collage “Peking O” the extended pieces have their own logic, however oddly unfolding it may be.
A treat – as if an Aladdin’s Cave such as The Lost Tapes is not enough in itself – is the inclusion of recordings of three live tracks – “Spoon”, “Mushroom” and “One More Saturday Night”. Apart from the applause and slightly muddier sound, these fit in beautifully with the studio tracks, as they are cut from the same psychedelic cloth – that magic Can mix of discipline, free improv, leaping in the deep end and that uncanny telepathic bond that all great Rock groups have.
Check out more (and take a listen to some Lost Tapes tracks) on the Mute Records website here.