Found in Outer Space
"Can" was a German experimental rock band formed in Cologne, West Germany, in 1968. Later labeled as one of the first krautrock groups, they transcended mainstream influences and incorporated strong minimalist, electronic, and world music elements into their often psychedelic and funk-inflected music.
Can constructed their music largely through collective spontaneous composition—which the band differentiated from improvisation in the jazz sense—sampling themselves in the studio and editing down the results; bassist/chief engineer Holger Czukay referred to Can's live and studio performances as "instant compositions". They had occasional commercial success, with singles such as "Spoon" and "I Want More" reaching national singles charts. Through albums such as Monster Movie (1969), Tago Mago (1971), Ege Bamyasi (1972) and Future Days (1973), the band exerted a considerable influence on avant-garde, experimental, underground, ambient, new wave and electronic music.
Early years: 1968–1970
The roots of Can can be traced back to Irmin Schmidt and a trip that he made to New York City in 1966. While Schmidt initially spent his time with avant-garde musicians such as Steve Reich, La Monte Young and Terry Riley, he was also eventually exposed to the world of Andy Warhol, Hotel Chelsea and, perhaps most importantly, the Velvet Underground. In his own words, the trip "corrupted" him, sparking a fascination with the possibilities of rock music. Upon his return to Cologne later that year, an inspired Schmidt formed a group with American avant-garde composer and flautist David C. Johnson and music teacher Holger Czukay with the intention of exploring his newly broadened horizons.
“When I founded the group I was a classical composer and conductor and pianist making piano recitals, playing a lot of contemporary music but also Brahms, Chopin and Beethoven and everything. And when we got together I wanted to do something in which all contemporary music becomes one thing. Contemporary music in Europe especially, the new music was classical music was Boulez, Stockhausen and all that. I studied all that, I studied Stockhausen but nobody talked about rock music like Sly Stone, James Brown or the Velvet Underground as being contemporary music. Then there was jazz and all these elements were our contemporary music, it was new. It was, in a way, much newer than the new classical music which claimed to be 'the new music'.”
The band used the names "Inner Space" and "The Can" before finally settling on "CAN". Liebezeit subsequently suggested the backronym "communism, anarchism, nihilism" for the band's name. In mid-1968, the band enlisted the creative, highly rhythmic, but unstable and often confrontational American vocalist Malcolm Mooney, a New York-based sculptor, with whom they recorded the material for an album, Prepared to Meet Thy Pnoom. Unable to find a recording company willing to release the album, the group continued their studio work until they had material for what became their first release, Monster Movie, released in 1969. This album contained new versions of two songs previously recorded for Prepared to Meet Thy Pnoom, "Father Cannot Yell" and "Outside My Door". Other material recorded around the same time was released in 1981 as Delay 1968. Mooney's bizarre ranting vocals emphasized the sheer strangeness and hypnotic quality of the music, which was influenced particularly by garage rock, psychedelic rock and funk. Repetition was stressed on bass and drums, particularly on the epic "Yoo Doo Right", which had been edited down from a six-hour improvisation to take up a mere single side of vinyl. Liebezeit's tight but multifarious drumming was crucial in carrying the music.
Mooney returned to America soon afterwards on the advice of a psychiatrist, having been told that getting away from the chaotic music of Can would be better for his mental health. The liner notes of Monster Movie claim that Mooney suffered a nervous breakdown ("caught in a Can groove"), shouting "upstairs, downstairs" repeatedly. He was replaced by the more understated Kenji "Damo" Suzuki, a young Japanese traveller found busking outside a Munich café by Czukay and Liebezeit. Though he only knew a handful of guitar chords and improvised the majority of his lyrics (as opposed to committing them to paper), Suzuki was asked to perform with the band that same night. The band's first record with Suzuki was Soundtracks, released in 1970, a compilation of music made for films that also contained two earlier tracks recorded with Mooney. Suzuki's lyrics were usually in English, though sometimes in Japanese (for example, in "Oh Yeah" and "Doko E").
Classic years: 1971–1973
The next few years saw Can release their most acclaimed works. While their earlier recordings tended to be at least loosely based on traditional song structures, on their mid-career albums the band reverted to an extremely fluid improvisational style. The double album Tago Mago (1971) is often seen as a groundbreaking, influential and deeply unconventional record, based on intensely rhythmic jazz-inspired drumming, improvised guitar and keyboard soloing (frequently intertwining each other), tape edits as composition, and Suzuki's idiosyncratic vocalisms. Czukay: "(Tago Mago) was an attempt in achieving a mystery musical world from light to darkness and return."
In 1971 the band composed the music for the three-part German-language television crime mini-series Das Messer ("The Knife"), directed by Rolf von Sydow.
Tago Mago was followed in 1972 by Ege Bamyasi, a more accessible but still avant-garde record which featured the catchy "Vitamin C" and the Top 10 German hit "Spoon". Czukay: "We could achieve an excellent dry and ambient sound... [Ege Bamyasi] reflects the group being in a lighter mood."
It was followed by Future Days in 1973, which represents an early example of ambient music, as well as including the pop song "Moonshake". Czukay: "'Bel Air' [the 20 minute-long track which took up the whole of side two on the Future Days original vinyl LP] showed Can in a state of being an electric symphony group performing a peaceful though sometimes dramatic landscape painting."
Suzuki left soon after the recording of Future Days to marry his German girlfriend, and become a Jehovah's Witness. Vocals were taken over by Karoli and Schmidt; however, after the departure of Suzuki, fewer of their tracks featured vocals, as Can found themselves experimenting with the ambient music they had begun with Future Days.
Much of Can's music was based on free improvisation and then edited for the studio albums. For example, when preparing a soundtrack, only Irmin Schmidt would view the film and then give the rest of the band a general description of the scenes they would be scoring. This assisted in the improvised soundtrack being successful both inside and outside the film's context. Also, the epic track "Cutaway" from Unlimited Edition demonstrates how tape editing and extensive jamming could be used to create a sound collage that doesn't gel perfectly, and that the flashes of genius in the improvisation needed to be cut from long, unconsolidated recordings.
Can made attempts to find a new vocalist after the departure of Damo Suzuki, although no one quite fit the position. In 1975, folk singer Tim Hardin took the lead vocal spot and played guitar with Can for one song, at two gigs, performing his own "The Lady Came From Baltimore". Malaysian Thaiga Raj Raja Ratnam played four dates with the band between January and March 1976, all of which were recorded, and did considerable studio work with them. Another vocalist, Englishman Michael Cousins, toured with Can in March (France) and April (Germany) 1976. Audiences in France disapproved of his presence and literally spat at him while on stage. There are eight recordings of Cousins performing with the band.
BBC Radio 1: 'In Concert' FM Broadcast
London, Paris Theatre, Recorded: 1973-02-19
★ Holger Czukay - bass
★ Irmin Schmidt - keyboards
★ Michael Karoli - guitars, violin
★ Jaki Liebezeit - drums
★ Damo Suzuki - vocals
01. "I`m So Green" + "Spoon" (Improvisation) 35:24
02. "Tatgirdid Janit" 22:16