Friends, these are exciting times here at Pound for Pound. First, I remembered Eberhard Schoener's 1973 Music For Meditation LP, a criminally underrated, staggeringly beautiful piece of electronic music from 1970s Germany. It stands up there with the best of the experimental music made in that country that decade and serves as a key work in any pre-history of Ambient music (if we begin that history with Eno's Ambient I). It also serves as a transition point, as I think we are going to move out of that time and place for now and look at works that have looked to the East for inspiration and explicitly engaged with the practice of meditation. These posts will serve to complement our first Interview, which will be posted early next week! I'll bother you more next week about it, but as a quick preview, we spoke with a yogini about her practice, the music that informs it, and a lot more. I think it's pretty fucking great; hope you are as excited for this new aspect of the site as I am.
Okay, enough self-promotion, back to the music. Eberhard Schoener is definitely not a name you come across much from this fertile period of German music, which is probably the result of a small discography that saw him shifting genre-wise. Born in May 1938,. he began as a classical violinist and conductor of chamber and opera music in his early years, becoming the leader of the Munich Chamber Opera in 1966. His acoustic world was changed forever when he came into contact with the music of Wendy Carlos, as he quickly fell in love with new Moog synthesizer in the late 1960s. His first LP, Destruction Of Harmony - The Living Sound Of Synthesizer Based On Bach & Vivaldi, combined the two worlds, serving as his attempt to do a more interpretive version of something like Switched-On Bach.
Music For Meditation originally came out on Ariola Records in 1973 as Music For Meditation I/II, with the title changing slightly with nearly each release in the next decade. According to its foldout, the music was recorded in the summer of that year at Bavaria Studios in Munich. It was recorded on 16 channels and quadrophonically mixed; he declares that "Quadrophonics was not used for technical effect, but was rather demanded by the conception." Quadrophonics, of course, was the 1970s version of surround sound, in which four speakers were placed at opposite corners of a room, each reproducing signals that were independent of the others. It was interesting to see Schoener thinking about the spatial aspects of music and the experience of the listener. While that sort of spatial thinking seems to have been prevalent with so many of the important experimental artists of the time, from Karlheinz Stockhausen to LaMonte Young to the Grateful Dead, it doesn't seem to come up often when reading about the krautrock and kosmische scene. Get in touch if you know of experiments on this front that I am missing, as it is a thread that we need to come back to here at some point, among like 5000 other things.
Anyway, Meditation I/II is classic German experimental music of that time, 2 album-side length tracks that are sonic journeys into uncharted landscapes. For those who have been reading, this is closest in soundscape to Tangerine Dream's Zeit; for those who know a lot about this stuff, he knew Florian Fricke well and it is clear that the early Popol Vuh albums—Affenstunde and In Den Garten Pharoas —were big influences. Whatever was his inspiration, it worked, as this is essential music. Schoener uses white sound, sine, triangle, pulse and saw-tooth waves; he explicitly notes that "No 'live' or concrete sounds were used in the music." On Side A, our dude uses these waves not to shoot us out into the cosmos, but rather to submerge us 20,000 leagues under the sea. Opener "Meditation I" comes to us from a vast ocean late at night, giving us a seventeen and a quarter minute castaway of ominous drones, melancholy strings, submarine bells, waves crashing, static, and silence. All along there is this deep, heavy pulse that you almost don't notice, like the waves or your breath, a bassy anchor that holds all of this together.
Side B comes back to dry land, although I am not sure that we are on Earth when we do. My guess is that we end on a planet near Tangerine Dream's Zeit. Wherever it is, this new landscape of "Meditation II" is an arid one, as that dubby, aquatic feel is gone and we are left mostly with resonating synth notes that just hang in the dry air for long stretches. As minimal as the first track was, this one feels even sparser to my ears. Schoener almost seems to give each note total focus, like a meditator with her breath, giving each room to emerge, staying with it as it develops and then letting it fade away, before turning his and our attention to the next one. There are these beautiful moments throughout the 18+ minutes when a gong is struck that send shivers up my spine, providing a gentle, definitive moment of calm counter to the sharper, wavering filtered synth notes. I am not sure either one of these would make a great soundtrack to meditation, but as I've noted, there are parallels between the music and the practice of meditation. In particular, both exist on their own time, unhurried by the demands of the city that awaits outside. This is their power for me these days.
Those two tracks are below, from the 1992 CD reissue. That one also included a bonus second disc, featuring his 1984 LP, Sky Music / Mountain Music. On this one, Schoener brings these synthetic landscapes into conversation with natural ones. For "Sky Music," "Tuned whistles and small bells are attached to the chests of carrier pigeons; the birds are then released into the air. The currents of the air—in this case as they have been generated in BMW's Wind Tunnel—cause the whistles and bells to vibrate, thereby producing the sound of the organ." The result is a sky organ. I'm not sure how much of that comes through on the song, but there is a lushness and warmness to this one that provides a nice contrast to the first CD. "Mountain Music"'s nature/culture dialectic is much clearer, as it begins with recordings of a blackbird, bullfinch and wooden sounds. It evolves into a relaxing, New Age-y section of ethereal synths mixed with the found sounds before finally ending with the sounds of nature again. Ironically, these two tracks seem much more suited to actual meditation than disc 1. Either way, this is an amazing release, deserving of a much wider audience.