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Can: sometime after the LPs were canned
All about [Can by] Schmidt
Can - a quartet of the first remasters

Can, the pioneer-cum-giants of Teutonic rock, have just released remastered versions of their classic albums, ‘Monster Movie’, ‘Tago Mago’, ‘Ege Bamyasi’ and ‘Soundtracks’ on The Grey Area of Mute/Spoon. The albums were all reworked from the original master tapes and were attended and supervised by Holger Czukay, Irmin Schmidt and Jono Podmore [he and I.S. have a side-project, Kumo], so that they finally sound on CD how they were always intended to sound.

Formed by two former Stockhausen students, Czukay and Schmidt, fired by the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Captain Beefheart and The Velvet Underground - introduced to by Czukay’s pupil, young violinist/guitarist Michael Karoli [sadly passed on in 2001] - abandoned their careers in academia to form a group which could utilise and transcend all musical styles by blending electronic and experimental, popular and serious elements for a unique cocktail.

Together with Jaki Liebezeit (on drums) and American singer Malcolm Mooney, Can recorded ‘Monster Movie’ in a castle near Cologne in 1968. Japanese singer Damo Suzuki took over fronting Can for ‘Tago Mago’ and ‘Ege Bamyasi’ to further exploration and establish bridges amidst classical, avant garde, progressive pop deviations by embracing sampled sounds, ethnic tunes and, later, funkier beats long before their contemporaries could realize what was going on.

These quartet of remastered discs follows the recent success of the DVD release, ‘Can DVD’, which marked the 35th anniversary of the founding of the group. [All four CD releases also play on SACD players and SACD compatible DVD players and include exclusive unseen photos from the period and new sleeve notes.] So, with a list of questions ready we approach Irmin Schmidt for reactions, thoughts, memories…

“We’ve always wanted to remaster these tapes and I’ve been planning it for a long time because our catalogue was mastered at the time when there was no real technology to do it. In the 1980s there was a lot of excitement about the new medium but the sound wasn’t corresponding to the original, vinyl, quality. It is now back to where it should be, restored to the sound of when we first did it.”

“I, and a lot of other people, thought that the vinyl sound was better… So, there were no real disagreements in the studio, we all had the same idea about the sound, me, Holger and Jono, were of one opinion. This is only the beginning and we intend to remaster all of the 14 or 16 albums and the next four will appear in about six months time. Every record ever made by Can will be re-issued.”

The sound of surprise

Can ceased to be an active community 15 years ago, officially. Their last studio album of new material, ‘Rite Time’, appeared in 1989, after 10 years of separation; despite the members remaining good friends, guesting on each other’s solo projects, there were no more reunions. With Karoli’s untimely death there is obviously no more chance but, during the remastering sessions - did it make Herr Schmidt think of how they could sound nowadays, after all the experiences, maturing and enhanced broad-mindedness?

“Well, for me it is unthinkable that we could do anything without Michael. He was so important for us but I can easily imagine what we could be doing because all through my solo work Jaki and Michael have been by my side. I plan to do some more recordings and Jaki will be there; and also, Holger is on a quite different track right now…”

“Michael was also one of my closest friends and I can’t imagine anything bearing Can name but the old music. I’m not a very sentimental person and working on this project is purely professional.”

“When we’ve finished these reissues we plan to do a new ‘Anthology’, not like the old one but in 5.1 and with different track-listing.”

A cerebral carnival

Back in the day there were technical limitations but were there any restrictions, interference from the record company?

“No, never; we never accepted any interference. We needed to be free to realise what we imagined but, at the same time, if there was a reasonable idea, we wouldn’t be against it just because it originated with the record company. One idea that came from the record company, United Artists, was ‘Limited Edition’, a compilation. A boss from UA came to our studio and we played him all these little funny pieces we had and he suggested we put them on one record, a limited edition and cheaper.”

“Its print run was 25,000, I think, and it sold out in a week!? A couple of years later we had ‘Unlimited Edition’.”

That was then but now Irmin is busy with his opera [‘Gonemghast’, a new production was recently staged], and performing a special show in Paris with Kumo at the beginning of the month; in meantime he’s been occupying time by composing soundtrack music to some 15 films/TV plays over the last 3 years and is currently planning to start working on a supplant to the Kumo’s debut album, ‘Masters of Confusion’, from 2001.

The New Yorker critic Whitney Balliett once defined jazz as “the sound of surprise” but that can equally be applied to the inimitable Can.

Can albums ‘Monster Movie’, ‘Tago Mago’, ‘Ege Bamyasi’ and ‘Soundtracks’ are released 11 October on The Grey Area of Mute/Spoon