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"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno

Mojo APRIL 2015 - by Ian Harrison

KING OF THE MOUNTAIN - POPOL VUH: KAILASH

The late Florian Fricke's solo piano adventures, 1972-89, plus Himalayan travelogue OST and DVD.

Florian Fricke's Popol Vuh are widely known for the strangely moral soundtracks he recorded for the films of Werner Herzog in the '70s and '80s, several of which starred the unhinged evil-doer that was Klaus Kinski. The latter pairing made punishing celluloid examinations of obsession and insanity, including Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre: Wrath Of God: in the creative partnership, Fricke made a strange third man.

A Bavarian-born, conservatory-trained pianist of independent means, the well-travelled Fricke's post-hippy embrace of broad, particularly eastern spirituality went deep. He named his vehicle for a Guatemalan creation myth in which fourfold god creates humanity out of cornmeal dough (he also once said he found inspiration in imagining "how the young King David played his harp"). His mystic impulse, however, seems to inform this latest set of rarities only partially.

Disc One, Piano Recordings, brings together rare and unreleased solo performances. It begins like a more brow-furrowed relative of Eno's Music For Airports, with coolly shimmering, unadorned themes of exploratory intrigue. There's a sense that thee are preparatory sketches, with The Heart echoing the coda of Brüder Des Schattens - Söhne Des Lichts from Fricke's score for Herzog's 1979 film Nosferatu The Vampyre. It makes for intimate listening: on Earth View and the third part of Spirit Of Peace, you can hear Fricke breathing and humming with distracted concentration as he follows the songs to their conclusions. Also puncturing the glacial calm, Garden Of Pythagoras finds him giving it some welly (transcendentally speaking) on a discord-skirting builder that ultimately finds salvation, with a taste of Beethoven's Ode To Joy. It's a welcome illumination of an unfamiliar side of Fricke's work and its lack of the explicit religiosity found elsewhere in his work is refreshing.

This is not the case on the second element of this package, which is the soundtrack and DVD of Kailash: Pilgrimage To The Throne Of Gods Fricke's film about his "spiritual voyage" to a twenty-two-thousand-foot sacred mountain in Tibet, known by Buddhists as the navel of the universe. The shift from Disc One to Two is not altogether comfortable. The Garden Morya and Nomads Move may have been written with the most elevated intentions, but their collaging of melismatic sampled voices and synth washes take us to somewhere approaching new age territory: on a purely aural level, mountain fastnesses are better evoked on later songs, ascending on the synth/choral Valley Of The Gods and the grand vista of Transhimalaya.

It is, though, better to hear the whole within the accompanying film, a wordless, often visually stunning portrait that includes scenes of hard lives, religious observance and the remarkable, desolate landscape of Tibet. Fricke, who died after a stroke in 2001, always said he wanted to create magic; here, numerous moments deserve that description.


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