Review on Synth and Software

by Mark Jenkins, 12 January 2021
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Jan Reetze’s hardcover book from Halvmall is about Germany’s “krautrock” scene. But it specifically sets off to show how such an innovative area of music could derive from more conventional pop and jazz, covering the cultural movements behind the music as a whole.

So alongside a foreword by H-J Roedelius – who performed in Kluster, Cluster, Cluster & Eno, Harmonia, and plays solo to this day – you’ll find consideration of early rock ’n roll and jazz clubs, classical experimentalist Karlheinz Stockhausen, and more.

Indeed, the book opens with “It’s all about the music – but wait, is it really?” So you’ll read much about German politics and society from the period (1945-1990).

Helpfully the book opens and closes with maps, one of political and social movements and one of band connections. This really helps to pin down the individual contributions of the Berlin School (Cluster, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Ash Ra Tempel), the Düsseldorf group (Kraftwerk, Neu!, La Düsseldorf), the Köln set (Can), musicians from Munich, and many others.

“Times and Sounds” offers scores of black and white photos alternating from concert pics to album sleeves and posters (mostly pushed right up to the outside edge of a page, which is a bit disconcerting). No color here, but there is a bound-in bookmark – you wouldn’t want to fold the page corners on this impressive tome – and a comprehensive index.

Reetze achieves what he sets out to accomplish, but you have to be interested in the approach. From this book you can learn as much about the Munich Riots as you can about albums by Satin Whale, as much on terrorist Andreas Baader as on composer Eberhard Schoener. But interestingly, as if to redress the balance, the publisher’s website does offer a whole bonus chapter of album sleeves.

For those on a budget there’s an e-book version for only 10€ (about $12.15). This seems to be the first production from Halvmall, and it’s incredibly impressive.