Album Review: Klaus Schulze — La Vie Electronique Vols 1.0, 1.1 and 1.2

Over the years, there have been a number of massive archival releases that all but define the phrase “for the completist.” In 2011, the Grateful Dead went back to the source tapes for one of the band’s best (or least-tedious, depending on one’s perspective) live albums, the 3LP Europe ‘72, and released a 73-disc set containing all of the tapes. It’s still available; I just checked Amazon, and you can get it for a mere five grand.

Progressive legends Yes exercised British restraint with their 2015 box set, Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two, a 14CD set chronicling the band’s perhaps best-ever tour. And Seattle grunge rockers Pearl Jam seem to have felt that nearly all of their live shows needed to be available (though not as a box). And in recent years, certain UK labels have released no end of closet-cleaning titles from progressive artists. (Don’t even get me started on bootlegs like the Purple Chick 14CD set of all extant BBC recordings of the Beatles, or the 83CD set [really!] of the Fab Four’s complete recordings from January 1969.)

Forget nearly all of those, though, because a new – or at least new to this format – collection of releases chronicles outtakes, alternates, demos, experiments, home recordings and other leftovers that quite often equal the quality of their official-canon counterparts. I’m referring to La Vie Electronique, a new series of 2LP sets featuring the music of pioneering German musician artist Klaus Schulze.

Schulze is best-known as the prolific musician who played in both Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel, in addition to releasing more than five dozen albums of his own. In the 1990s, Schulze released a series of CD compilations, Silver Edition, Historic Edition and Jubilee Edition; those were recompiled into a single set, 2000’s The Ultimate Edition, a 50CD set.

That staggering amount of music might be entirely too much for even the most ardent fan of Schulze’s work to assimilate, much less enjoy. Happily, One Way Static Records has embarked upon a re-re-reissue of the material, placing it for the first time (or nearly the first; who can keep up?) into chronological order. Better yet, the new releases are on vinyl.

Currently there are three sets, subtitled Vol. 1.0, Vol 1.1 and Vol. 1.2. Taken together, these six vinyl LPs contain all of the recordings found on La Vie Electronique 1, originally issued in February 2009.

As expected, a great deal of the music contained therein is synthesizer-based, but a surprising amount of it features Schulze on organ. Dating from the period 1970-1972, these recordings (in superb audio quality, it should be noted) are often of the hypnotic, elegiac quality often associated with German space rock, krautrock etc. For those uninitiated into this particular corner of the musical world, Schulze’s recordings sound a bit like A Saucerful of Secrets-era Pink Floyd, or at least Richard Wright’s contributions thereto.

There are exceptions. The brief “Interview 1970” lets listeners hear Schulze speak, but unless you’re fluent in German, the 24-second snippet won’t mean much to you. Some of the tracks toward the end of the 6LP collection are percussion-based; let’s just say they’re not nearly as meditative as their synthesizer counterparts on the other records. But they’re worth keeping handy – alongside your Throbbing Gristle and Residents albums – to be retrieved whenever a house guest overstays his or her visit.

But the lion’s share of the material on La Vie Electronique is wonderfully evocative stuff, the kind of thing that succeeds on multiple levels. It works as what kindred spirit Brian Eno famously described as “aural wallpaper,” and it holds up to what Robert Fripp calls “active listening.” Arty for sure, but eminently approachable, La Vie Electronique won’t set your foot a-tapping, but these six records are full of warm, lush and very human electronic recordings. Not only for the completist; highly recommended.