INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Mojo JULY 2016 - by Jim Irvin
IT'S THE REEL THING
He may have left the band but he kept it in the can.
Can had a symbiotic relationship with film. Their first soundtracks were recorded alongside their debut album, Monster Movie. They later established their Inner Space studio in an old cinema in Weilerswist, near Cologne. Also, they pioneered the use of found sounds, decades before hardware dedicated to sampling existed; audio tapes were mixed into their very first show at Schloss Nörvenich, Cologne in 1968. It wasn't too surprising then, that bassist Holger Czukay, after leaving Can in May 1977 and declaring his new instrument was the shortwave radio, should return with Movies, an album of music interlaced with sampled sounds, radio broadcasts and film dialogue.
Rejigged, repackaged and renamed Movie! (Grönland), it underlines how forward thinking Can were and Czukay, a former student of Stockhausen, continued to be. "A short-wave radio is basically an unpredictable synthesizer," Czukay told Fact in 2012. "The radio has a VFO - an oscillator - where you can receive single side-bands - it's like a ring-modulator. And that's more than enough." Using that and a dictaphone to record broadcasts, Czukay wove dialogue and effects into his music. Movie! is a celebration of the pictures conjured by sound.
We shouldn't underestimate the significance of this record. David Byrne and Brian Eno's My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts is often casually cited as the birthplace of sampling, but Eno has acknowledged that it was this album, released in 1979, the year before Bush was recorded, that inspired them to use appropriated material in place of a lead vocal on those tracks. (Dropping dialogue into pop music was neither new nor confined to the avant-garde, Stevie Wonder's Living For The City on Innervisions (1973) being one obvious mainstream example.)
Movie! opens with Cool In The Pool, similar in feel to Can's infectious I Want More, with Czukay's voice and a random trombone providing unlikely motivation to the dancefloor and beyond. The album's most distinctive musical element is Czukay's pealing guitar sound, borrowed from colleague Michael Karoli, which imparts an African flavour and sets up the humid and beautiful Persian Love's sampled saz and keening threnody. Oh Lord Give Us More Money features Karoli himself on guitar and Can's Irmin Schmidt on grand piano, and with the band's brilliant drummer Jaki Liebezeit, who plays throughout the album, this is a Can performance in all but name. The bubbling track is overlaid with sound effects - car crashes, thunderclaps, bells - and dialogue clips, climaxing in a deranged preacher figure shouting the title line, surely a direct influence upon Byrne/Eno and, indeed, Talking Heads' Once In A Lifetime. Hollywood Symphony pulses in a heat haze, like Can's Bel Air, which breaks out into a storm of radio waves and pattering rhythms.
Movie! is a playful, thoughtful record that buoys the mood. It should be better known.