It began with a joke name taken from the Amon Düül psychedelic improvisation ‘Mama Düül and her Sauerkrautband strike up!’ and changed the face of pop. Stockhausen and the Mothers of Invention forced through a filter of glam rock and given a uniquely Teutonic spin. Some of the great Krautrock pioneers had a quality that was ideally suited to film soundtracks and emerged at the same time as a generation of new art house directors such as Herzog, Schlöndorff and Fassbinder who were ploughing similarly experimental fields in a new German cinema. Here are five of my favourites.
DIE KOSMISCHE MUSIK
1. Popol Vuh – The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner
Named after the Mayan Book of the Dead, Popol Vuh are credited as one of the forefathers of ambient music and helped to popularize the Moog. But their soundtrack work perhaps even overshadows such fine records as 1971’s ”In den Gärten Pharaos’. AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972) would be the first of several collaborations between Vuh and Herzog in the seventies and eighties, including such classics of German cinema as HEART OF GLASS (1976), NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979), FITZCARRALDO (1982) and COBRA VERDE (1987). This 1974 short documentary about the ski-jumper Walter Steiner (a carpenter in his spare time) reuses elements from the Aguirre soundtrack to build up layers of drifting synthesisers and haunting guitar.
2. Tangerine Dream – Sorcerer
SORCERER is the best American film about a truck released in 1977. Apart from SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT. A remake of Clouzot’s 1953 film THE WAGES OF FEAR, SORCERER was Tangerine Dream’s very first film project, yet throughout the eighties and nineties the band would go on to produce roughly a soundtrack a year. Though purists complain that their sound became too conventional as they achieved international recognition and signed to Richard Branson’s fledgling Virgin label for their fourth album ‘Phaedra’, this soundtrack pares things down to a dark, foreboding variation on the earlier TD incarnation. Director William Friedkin has claimed that if he’d heard their music before making THE EXORCIST (1972) he would have asked them to score the picture, sending Mike Oldfield back to his estate to shoot poachers.
3. Can – Deadlock
Often thought of as their second album, ‘Soundtracks’ is really a filler compilation released in 1970 as the band recovered from the departure of original singer Malcolm Mooney before discovering a Japanese busker named Damo Suzuki on the street outside the studio. As such this is the only Can record to feature both Mooney and Suzuki. Each track was written as a commission for a variety of specific film projects, many of which are hard to track down now, but the best I’ve managed to see is Roland Klick’s cult German riff on Leone Westerns, DEADLOCK (1970). The Can band go the full Morricone in this theme which accompanies the opening scene.
4. Tangerine Dream – The Keep
The second appearance for the Dreams (as nobody calls them), their soundtrack for Michael Mann’s THE KEEP is overblown and portentous, much like the film itself, but I love it. At times the film plays more like an extended music video for the soundtrack as the plot gets sillier and sillier (and the acting worse and worse). Something to do with the Nazis disturbing an ancient primal entity in a remote Romanian castle, Ian McKellen plays a Jewish historian liberated from a concentration camp to investigate the happenings, don’t ask me where Scott Glenn’s character fits in, I haven’t the slightest idea. Anyway I defy anyone not to just give up completely and just wallow in the mental eighties visuals and this strangely hypnotic score. Like Brian Eno being chased by an angry bee.
5. Neu! – One Armed Boxer II
I’ve spoken before on here about the great Jimmy Wang Yu, the finest martial artist ever to come up with the idea of taping his arm behind his back. In the seventies very few films made in Hong Kong had the budget for original scores, so many of them just blatantly stole whatever music they wanted. How Wang Yu decided that the soundtrack to his “One Armed” series of films was going to be a ‘Now that’s what I call Krautrock…‘ compilation I have no idea, but ONE ARMED BOXER II (1976), a.k.a. MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE features ‘Super’ by Neu! over the opening credits, and later Tangerine Dream and Faust. It’s pretty awesome you guys.