Today's Artists were a German electronic avant-garde band founded by pianist and keyboardist Florian Fricke in 1969 together with Holger Trülzsch (percussion), Frank Fiedler (recording engineer and technical assistance) and Bettina Fricke (tablas and production). Other important members during the next two decades included Djong Yun, Renate Knaup, Conny Veit, Daniel Fichelscher, Klaus Wiese and Robert Eliscu. The band influenced many other European bands with their uniquely soft but elaborate instrumentation, which took inspiration from the music of Tibet, Africa, and pre-Columbian America. With music sometimes described as "ethereal", they created soundscapes through psychedelic walls of sound, and are regarded as precursors of contemporary world music, as well as of new age and ambient. .......N'Joy
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A changeable line-up of musicians led by mystic and keyboard player Florian Fricke (1944-2001), Krautrock icons Popol Vuh were one of the great innovators of world music and exotic ambient.
Known very unfairly in some quarters as purveyors of sitar-heavy "raga rock", the band's sonic trademarks are far more diverse: abstract electronica, devotional music, progressive rock, eclectic vocal blends and pioneering ethno-ambient fusions. You may have already heard their music without realising it: German director Werner Herzog has used it to mesmerising effect in some of his films from the 70's and 80's, most notably Aguirre Wrath Of God and his extraordinary 1979 remake of the silent vampire classic Nosferatu.
Fricke was a brilliant, intuitive musician and one of the first Westerners to seamlessly blend Eastern and Western sounds, in both a traditional rock band context and in a more ethereal and meditative vein. But he didn't do it alone. Guitarist and drummer Daniel Fichelscher - the only other stable longtime member of the group - also made outstanding contributions. He was a supple, melodic guitar player who brought a rock-like accessibility to Popol Vuh's sound and without whom a large portion of the band's music would have been a very different thing. He was also a fine singer, making substantial contributions to the group vocals and chants that became pronounced in the band's music after the mid 1970's.
Where to begin?
At the time of Fricke's death more than two dozen original albums and film soundtracks of varying quality had been released and many more compilations as well. Wading through them can be a maddening experience. There is a tendency to repeat or re-record tracks on successive albums for no apparent reason, not to mention a lot of previously released music turning up on the film soundtracks. The less-than-hi-fidelity sound of some productions also takes a little getting used to. Until very recently the band's back catalogue was a shambles: some put that down to Fricke's personal quirks and aversion to the music business, while Fricke himself on at least one occasion (in a rare 1996 interview) blamed the record companies.
Popol Vuh's earliest music dates from the late 1960's and early 70's and is fairly typical of the exploratory, abstract electronica in vogue among German bands at the time. The second album In The Gardens Of Pharao (1971) is a classic; an intense, eerie melding of electronic tones from the Moog synthesiser and organ with cymbals, vocal tones and half-submerged tribal instruments. That it recalls early period Tangerine Dream is not surprising when you consider it was Fricke who introduced that very band to the Moog synth as a guest player on their album Zeit (1972). But In the Gardens of Pharao is a more deeply sacred music than TD, reflecting his keen interest at the time in Mayan Indian culture and his lifelong spiritual leanings in general.
At one end is the 20-minute "Spirit Of Peace", a spacious and deeply personal creation for solo piano. At the other end is the stunning main theme from Werner Herzog's film Aguirre (ignore the patchy Aguirre soundtrack album released 1974). On this track Fricke reaches the apogee of his work with electronic synthesis. It's breathtakingly, jaw-droppingly beautiful: a six minute sepulchral drone that blends angelic vocal samples played on a Melotron-like keyboard with deeply trance-inducing colours and pulses from the synthesiser. A milestone in ambient sound, "Aguirre" (also known as "Lacrime Di Re") also marks the end of Fricke's short love affair with electronics. A certain vocal sound he'd been attempting to find with electronics unexpectedly turned up in the form of a Korean vocalist named Djon Yon, who would feature prominently on Popol Vuh's next album Hosianna Mantra (1972).
Almost an antithesis to what came before, Hosianna Mantra favours mostly acoustic music that's devotional but doesn't sit within any single religious tradition. It's a timeless, beatless neo-classical blend of Yon's ritual-like vocal improvisations blended with Fricke's piano, silky electric guitar by one Connie Veit (with lots of sustain and echo), sweet oboe by Robert Eliscu of the pioneering world music band Between, and subtle touches of droning tamboura.
Meeting guitarist Daniel Fichelscher around this time radically changed Fricke's musical world yet again. In the next few years there appeared a series of forward-thinking albums made by what superficially appears to be rock line-up but which doesn't sound quite like any other rock music of the 1970's.
Seligpreisung (1973) is the greatest of these, a masterpiece of ambient rock jamming, jazz-style improvising and lovely duets for oboe and piano. The changing time signatures within many tracks are brilliantly handled, the flow uninterrupted. It marks the first appearance of Popol Vuh's trademark jangling guitar and piano combination, a luminous ambient sound that came to define the band's very soul. Fricke's wordless vocals here - usually not part of the PV sound - seem to anticipate the visionary style of Stephan Micus a decade later, being all about sound rather than lyrics. Seligpreisung also displays the band's mysterious brilliance for being able to sound non-Western with little actual reliance on exotic instruments.
Three other albums recorded in this quasi-rock style in the mid 1970's also rate essential listening and two of them feature the welcome return of Djon Yon's vocals.
Das Hohelied Salomos (1975) echoes the sound of Hosianna Mantra but with the additional of drums and more intensely layered rhythm and lead guitars, giving the album a more rocking feel. Some impressive group vocal chants start to appear at this point in the band's career, a direction which would come to full flower in the next decade. For the first time Indian sitar sits upfront on several tracks but it doesn't radically alter the groups sound - suggesting an earlier mastery of Indian and Mid Eastern modes before they ever relied on the actual instruments. The album Letzte Tag Letzte Nachte (1976) is similar, if even more intense at times in its psychedelic rock gestures, and some of Yon's most powerful singing can be heard here. Rounding out the trio is the film soundtrack Coeur De Verre/Herz Aus Glass (1977) which is completely instrumental, allowing Fichelscher to really let fly with some his most celestial, probing guitar playing.
Having explored the possibilities of what a full-time rock combo could sound like, the band moved on once again and by the late 70's was charting increasingly quiet and contemplative waters. The music recorded for Werner Herzog's hypnotic vampire film Nosferatu is actually spread across two different albums released in the same year: the official soundtrack album Nosferatu (1978) plus Bruder Des Schattens Sohne Des Lichts (1978).
The recent CD re-issue of Nosferatu by SPV Recordings compiles all of the music from both earlier releases and is the logical purchase. On these releases the band downplays its penchant for progressive rock jamming to include beatless mood pieces and atmospheric ethno-ambient stylings. Some moments date back to the sessions that produced the eerie electronica of In The Gardens of Pharao; some pieces exist within the classic Popol Vuh blend of piano and guitar; others manage the not inconsiderable feat of making Indian sitar and tambour drones sound rather tense. Towering above them all is Nosferatu's main theme "Brothers Of Darkness Sons Of Light", an example of Fricke's growing sophistication in use of vocals. It opens with dark male vocal chants that seem to blend Tantric, Buddhist and Christian traditions, building slowly with sad oboe and crashing Tibetan cymbals before spilling over into a slow instrumental jam as openly loving and joyous as anything you'll hear from the band.
Consistent with the feel of the previous two albums is the magnificent Tantric Songs (1979/1981) which - just to keep things confusing - currently exists in two different versions. It demonstrates the band's extraordinary gift for tapping a deep, mystical, intangible power and turning it into music without pomp or pretension. The album offers some the moodiest and most ambient of Popol Vuh's music: Fricke's shadowy gothic piano figures, Fichelscher's glittering acoustic and electric guitars, some lovely oboe and touches of Indian instrumentation. It's music unanchored to any particular time period in musical history and awash with religious atmosphere, carried by subtle shifts of light and shade. The original version of Tantric Songs emphasises a slightly wider range global exotica than Celestial Harmonies U.S. version. The latter is more of a "best-of" collection of late 70's material which deletes a handful of shorter tracks to make room for the aforementioned 18-minute classic "Brothers Of Darkness Sons Of Light".
Although output of new material slowed in the 1980's, the decade remains significant for Popol Vuh's exhilarating distillation of vocal sounds - chants, mantras and choral singing - from different ages and cultures.
The film soundtrack Sei Still Wisse Ich Bin (1981) is an "oratorio" that finds the band working with large scale choirs and group vocals. Anyone with a fondness for the soulful qualities of human voice should be suitably knocked out. Backed by flowing piano, guitars, tribal drums and shimmering percussion, the swelling chorales and chants are by turns mournful and joyous, dark and euphoric, dramatic and gentle. The vocal sources are varied - operatic, South American, Christian, Tibetan elements and more. This is profound music, human and divine at the same time, and its rough edges and looseness make it all the more appealing. With perfect understatement, his friend and Celestial Harmonies Records boss Eckart Rahn once said to me in an interview about Fricke: "He knew something". Yes he did, and he managed to get it down on spellbinding records like this.
Four more original releases from the same decade also rate highly. Agape Agape (1983) and Spirit Of Peace (1985) don't consistently scale the heights of Still Wisse Ich Bin with their vocal work but are still essential releases. "Why Do I Still Sleep" is a cluster of simple piano figures so gentle and expansive you may get carried away on its ravishing melody and not return for several hours. Some of the layered vocal chants like "Agape Agape" and "We Know About The Need" are extraordinarily beautiful, while the gentle group jam "Take The Tension High" casts its slow mantra-like spell over 18 minutes. The film soundtrack Cobra Verde (1987) also contains several similar folksy vocal mantras alongside some surprising beatless, string-laden landscapes - the latter more traditionally filmic and not typical of the band, but fantastic and darkly beautiful all the same.
The 90's proved to be creatively far leaner than previous decades, with only For You And Me (1991) proving to be an impressive work. Its clean, crisp production is something of a shock if you previously waxed ears on the band's earlier material. Was the softer lo-fi sound of yore deliberate? Quite possibly.
Certainly the band's creative dynamic was now different. What is not widely known is the reason: Fricke sustained a serious hand injury at some point in the 80's - losing at least one finger to gangrene after a trip the Himalayas, according to Eckart Rahn - and tragically could no longer play the piano. So new member Guido Hieronymus took over the piano playing and also shared the creative duties, a move that fundamentally changed Popol Vuh, with Daniel Fichelscher now less involved than before.
The overall effect of the clean sound on For You and Me seems somehow less mystical but the album is still a lovely, engaging and mostly upbeat collection of world music fusions with just a touch of synth pop. The classic blend of ringing guitars and glowing piano still binds everything together, however, and some of the small group choral arrangements are striking. The band's past resurfaces on the 4-part suite "Om Mane Padem Hum" on which Fricke cleverly reworks the brighter moments from his classic "Brothers Of Darkness Sons Of Light" into something new but equally as warm and optimistic.
With the non-essential City Raga (1995) and Shepherd's Symphony (1997) the influence of Hieronymus on keyboards and arrangements has become overt, with the band now hopping on board the 90's ambient dance bandwagon. At the time many fans were aghast, but in retrospect neither of these are horrible records; they're just underwhelming next to ethno-ambient efforts by more dance-savvy acts of the period like Mayko, Loop Guru, Deep Forest and Delerium. Daniel Fichelscher - sidelined after the arrival of Hieronymus - was unimpressed with all the sequencers and drum machines; he left the band soon after City Raga after contributing guitar to just one track.
The final album before Fricke's death in 2001 was an interesting but unexceptional mix of ambient drones and poetry for an art installation called Messa Di Orfeo (1999). It's significant only in that it suggests Fricke had come nearly full circle to once again embrace the abstract electronica of his earliest work.
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Affenstunde (Monkey-Time) is the debut recording by composer and multi-instrumentalist Florian Fricke's Popol Vuh, named for the sacred Mayan text. It was issued on the Liberty label in Germany in 1970 and has been in print, off and on, in Europe, Japan, and even in the United States sporadically since that time. For those completely dislocated by Tangerine Dream's early experiments in sonic terror and dynamics, Affenstunde is somehow akin yet very different. Fricke's synthesizers are more interested in pulse and circularity, not utter dislocation and shock. The music here all seems of a piece, despite the different selection titles and the single percussion piece on the set, "Dream, Pt. 5" -- primitive hand drums run through the middle of the mix. Other than this selection, the entire album would have made a fantastic soundtrack for Andrei Tarkovsky's film Solaris. The sheer momentum of the title cut, which closes the album and integrates spacious electronic soundscapes, ever deepening tonalities, found taped choral vocals whispering in the background, and percussion is one of the most provocative pieces to come from the Krautrock generation. This is an auspicious debut, which holds up wonderfully in the 21st century.
Popol Vuh - Affenstunde (flac 228mb)
01 Ich Mache Einen Spiegel - Dream Part 4 8:44
02 Ich Mache Einen Spiegel - Dream Part 5 4:41
03 Ich Mache Einen Spiegel - Dream Part 49 7:43
04 Affenstunde 18:30
05 Train Through Time 10:30
Popol Vuh - Affenstunde (ogg 105mb)
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"In Pharaoh's Garden" was the first true work of "sacred music" by Florian Fricke, guiding light of the mythical group Popol Vuh. Consisting of two extended works, his mixture of electronics and church organ with assorted winds and percussives, conjures up visions of the celestial light. Deeply emotional and filled with mysticism, this album marked the dawning of new age music, and still today is a wonder to behold.
Popol Vuh - In Den Garten Pharaos (flac 290mb)
01 In Den Gärten Pharaos 17:38
02 Vuh 19:51
03 Kha-White Structures 1 10:14
04 Kha-White Structures 2 10:09
Popol Vuh - In Den Garten Pharaos (ogg 131mb)
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Florian Fricke pioneered the use of synthesizers in German rock, but by the time of Hosianna Mantra he had abandoned them (eventually selling his famous Moog to Klaus Schulze). While In den Gärten Pharaos had blended synths with piano and African and Turkish percussion, Hosianna Mantra focuses on organic instrumentation. Conny Veit contributes electric guitar, but other than that, Fricke pulls the plug and builds the album around violin, tamboura, piano, oboe, cembalo, and Veit's 12-string, often with Korean soprano Djong Yun's haunting voice hovering above the arrangements. As the album's title suggests, Fricke conceived of Hosianna Mantra as a musical reconciliation of East and West, a harmonization of seemingly opposed terms, combining two devotional music traditions. That notion of cultural hybridity resonates throughout. On "Kyrie" droning tamboura, simple piano patterns, ethereal, gull-like guitars, and yearning oboe ebb and flow before coalescing in a passage of intensity and release. The epic title track adds another dimension to the fusion, emphasizing a Western rock sound with Veit's spectacular playing to the fore, simultaneously smoldering and liquid, occasionally yielding to Djong Yun's celestial vocals. Above all, Fricke envisioned this as sacred music, intimately linked to religious experience; however, as his musical synthesis of disparate religious traditions indicates, he was seeking to foment a spiritual experience beyond the specificity of any particular faith. Indeed, Fricke called this album a "mass for the heart" and that aspect can be heard most succinctly on the melancholy "Abschied" and the gossamer-fragile "Segnung," which blend an austere hymnal sensibility with a more mystical vibe. Julian Cope has said that Hosianna Mantra sounds like it was made in a "cosmic convalescent home" -- an excellent description underscoring the timeless, healing quality of this music, which is far removed from the everyday world and yet at one with it.
Popol Vuh - Hosianna Mantra (flac 173mb)
Hosianna - Mantra
1 Ah! 4:49
2 Kyrie 5:27
3 Hosianna - Mantra 10:22
Das 5. Buch Mose
4 Abschied 3:18
5 Segnung 6:12
6 Andacht 0:46
7 Nicht Hoch Im Himmel 6:23
8 Andacht 0:44
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Released in 1973, Seligpreisung was, if anything, a complete shock after the gorgeous "religious" rock of Hosianna Mantra. Gone are the hypnotic Gregorian chants and overtone layers of drone. In their place is a kind of shimmering, spacy jazz-rock where, despite a few instances of Florian Fricke chant-singing, the effect is one where his piano becomes the steadiest backdrop, playing hypnotic, repetitive chords and phrases while Conny Veit improvises with David Gilmour-like blues guitar phrases over the gently swirling music. Elsewhere, the rest of the group (the same cats who played on Hosianna Mantra) is heard in classically tinged miniatures that float through the mix with a kind of meandering insistence on instantly recognizable Western thematics and standard conceptions of beauty rather than confrontations -- however subtle -- with the East/West space-time continuum. This is not to say that Seligpreisung is a disappointment; rather, it is only a shock for its giant step backward into the realm of the conventional. Perhaps Hosianna Mantra presented an abyss, and as Fricke looked over it musically, he realized that its beauty was unbearable. For whatever the reason, Seligpreisung is a meditative, generally quiet, and lovely album, but it doesn't go near the precipice.
Popol Vuh - Seligpreisung (flac 162mb)
01 Selig Sind Die, Die Da Hungern 6:00
02 Tanz Der Chassidim 3:15
03 Selig Sind, Die Da Hier Weinen 5:08
04 Selig Sind, Die Da Willig Arm Sind 3:12
05 Selig Sind, Die Da Leid Tragen 3:39
06 Selig Sind, Die Sanftmütigen 2:31
07 Selig Sind, Die Da Reinen Herzens Sind 2:33
08 Ja, Sie Sollen Gottes Kinder Heissen 2:42
09 Be In Love 2:42
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Released in 1974, Einsjäger & Siebenjäger (Earth & Sky) is a further rock entrenchment for Popol Vuh. Florian Fricke's piano is more percussively present with its runs and large chord voicings rippling throughout each composition. In addition, Daniel Fichelscher's electric guitar picks up where Conny Veit's left off, taking the bluesy space rock solo style into new territory by incorporating Eastern scales into the main body of his blues phrasing. There are five short compositions on the first side, which merely prepare the listener for the mind-blowing title cut, which takes up the entirety of side two. Here, in addition to the swirling organic percussion and pianism of Fricke and the loping, often singing guitar lines that repeat hypnotically with rock & roll tension, the vocals of the amazing Djong Yun become the catalyst for the other musicians to spiral off into extended improvisations. This is certainly one of the most beautiful albums Popol Vuh issued in the 1970s, and remains a watermark for their trademark of melding beauty and free-flowing composition.
Popol Vuh - Einsjäger and; Siebenjäger (flac 249mb)
01 Kleiner Krieger 1:04
02 King Minos 4:24
03 Morgengruß 2:59
04 Würfelspiel 3:08
05 Gutes Land 5:13
06 Einsjäger & Siebenjäger 19:23
07 King Minos II 1:55
08 Wo Bist Du? 5:42
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