Conrad Schnitzler: Pioneer of German experimental music

 

Over four decades on from its first rumblings, the Krautrock music that cameout of Germany at the tail end of the 1960s and into the '70s has become one of the touchstone genres for alternative bands around the world. While not as well-known as members of Can, Faust or Kraftwerk, Conrad Schnitzler was one of the early catalysts of the German scene and a founder member of two of its most influential groups, Tangerine Dream and Kluster.

Having played cello, violin and typewriter on Electronic Meditation, the largely improvised, mostly instrumental debut album recorded by Tangerine Dream in 1969, he suggested that his bandmates Edgar Froese and Klaus Schulze forsake traditional instruments and embrace electronic keyboards and sequencers. With Froese the only constant, Dream went on to define "kosmiche musik", become one of the best-selling acts on the Virgin label in the mid-'70s and create make critically acclaimed film soundtracks, while Schulze achieved substantial solo success throughout continental Europe.

The three groundbreaking, limited-edition albums Schnitzler recorded as Kluster with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius between 1969 and 1971 brought him into contact with the engineer Conny Plank, another influential Krautrock figure, who collaborated with Brian Eno and produced seminal albums by the British groups Ultravox, Eurythmics and Killing Joke. "I didn't want the music to remind of the normal," Schnitzler said of his early work. "My criteria were not folk music, not rock music, not pop songs and not dance music."

A more maverick – and prolific – figure than his contemporaries, he made over 90 self-released albums, though his reach remained limited until the age of the internet, even if his ideas inspired successive generations of musicians.

Born in Düsseldorf in 1937, Konrad Schnitzler changed the spelling of his name and became known as Con. He remembered the sound of the bombing during the Second World War and retained a fascination for the industrial noises that surrounded him as he trained as a mechanic, worked in factories and toiled in the engine room of a cargo ship. He studied painting and sculpture with Joseph Beuys and applied some of his mentor's principles to music-making. "Everything is art," he said in 1980. "By the way, I'm not a musician. I'm an intermedia artist and composer."

Having visited underground clubs like UFO in London in 1967, he started the Zodiak Free Arts Lab in West Berlin. Though the venue only lasted 18 months, it had a huge impact and hosted several acts subsequently associated with Krautrock, including Agitation Free and the fledgling Tangerine Dream. The Zodiak's unusual performance areas, one painted black, the other white, matched the mood of the free-form music Tangerine Dream made with a vast array of instruments, contact mics and effects devised by Schnitzler, sound manipulator extraordinaire. "Schnitzler was a real madman," Schulze recalled. "He wanted to destroy everything."

Schnitzler let Roedelius and Moebius continue as Cluster after 1971. He shaved his head and performed on the streets as a battery-powered, one-man electronic band, complete with cassette decks and mixer attached to his leather jacket and a speaker on top of a helmet, turning himself into a "living cloud of sound", as he put it. His radical outlook encompassed Cassette Concerts performed by several decks, not necessarily in his presence, a technique now commonplace among avant-garde composers. "I never leave my hometown, I do l'art pour l'art. I don't need popularity. I don't like to answer questions," he wrote in 2001. He died of stomach cancer four days after completing his final work, 00/830. Before his death, he sent his own hairs to nine locations around the world, including Sefton Park in Liverpool, to be buried there as part of the Global Living Project.

Konrad Schnitzler, musician: born Düsseldorf, Germany 1937; died Dallgow, Germany 4 August 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project