Eberhard Schoener – Inconsiderable time (Part 1)

A while ago I found this article on Eberhard Schoener, created by (Dutch) Paul Lemmens. Paul tells about his discovery of Eberhard Schoener’s music in a German record shop and it struck me, mainly because I too have discovered many Electronic Music artists and albums in record shops in Germany. I was familiar of Eberhard Schoener’s music since the broadcasts of the live shows, together with Tangerine Dream in the Munich Zirkus, somewhere in the 70’s. I was impressed by the combination of Moog synths, orchestra and vocals by Sting and Andy Summers. Only some years ago I was able to find an old record of Schoener – Video Magic.…. in a 2nd hand record Store in Düsseldorf. Does this introduction matter? Probably not, but sometimes you get some nostalgic vibe you try to give some explanation. Anyway: I liked the article by Paul and I thought it might be a good idea to translate it in English and share it with you. The translation is by Google, so please blame them 🙂 Let us know when a translation is not appropriate. Note that all (c) are with Paul Lemmens. You can find Paul’s website here. We have added some images and video clips for illustration purposes.

Somewhere around my twenties I went with a friend to Germany, Aachen. It was, after all, just across the border. At the same time, strangely enough, I had never been there. After a short bus journey we arrived in the center. Of course a ‘Schalplattenladen’ had to be visited as well. We found a nice shop at a market. Of course you can pick up anything and everything from a store like that, but I found an LP – it had just been released – by someone I had never heard of, with the same musicians. The cover was not very pretty, a kind of bush, but it was about the title: Bali-Agúng with a gamelan orchestra and one Eberhard Schoener who played Moog Synthesizer and Mellotron. Without hearing a single note I bought the record, couldn’t miss it, right? At home I was even more pleasantly surprised than I could have imagined in the store. The sounds, the infinite, languid atmosphere of a jungle captured in sounds with fragments of gamelan and a hypnotically slow synthesizer. The record made an impression and actually still does when I hear it again. The last CD release included a DVD with a documentary about the making of Bali-Agúng . Magnificent. But what about that Eberhard Schoener? Actually it is not a very well-known name, but with seventy-two releases it is not a small one either. Schoener worked with The Police before they were, worked with Jon Lord (keyboard player of Deep Purple ) made film music and music for popular German Krimis like ‘Der Alte ‘ and ‘ Derrick ‘. A book has been written about him by his wife Stefanie: ‘Grenzen gibt es nicht’. But that book is also hard to find, let alone for sale. And so there is hardly anything about him on the world wide web. It gets even weirder when you know that almost nothing of the man has been put on CD and LPs are hardly for sale. An intriguing figure.

Schoener (1938- ) was born in Stuttgart and soon learned to play the violin. He is training as a composer/ conductor. His career starts with conducting small ensembles and orchestras that mainly perform operas. Opera was his preference. In 1965 he therefore founded the ‘ Kammeroper München’. But it didn’t stop with the classic sound. In 1968 he started a so-called ‘laboratory’ for electronic music as part of Bavaria Studios . In this capacity, Schoener bought one of the first Moog Synthesizers in Germany. Such a big one, with more ‘boxes’ and lots of wires. His Moog later went to Florian Fricke and then to Klaus Schulze. Schulze still owns it. The Moog was later replaced by the Fairlight CMI, a device that makes it very easy to make samples.

With the help of the Moog synthesizer, Schoener created his own, sometimes slow sound world. Today they would call it ‘new age ‘ or meditative music, back then it was mostly experimental .
Music for Meditation (1974) is an account of this. The record has two long tracks, each one LP side long. The album was recorded on sixteen tracks and mixed quadraphonically. A nice idea, being in the sound, but the experience of that was only reserved for a handful of people. He was far ahead of his time in creating peace through music. He not only got his inspiration for this project from his travels, but also from Claude Debussy, Olivier Messiaen and Karlheinz Stockhausen . Schoener about this project: “That which is phenomenal in this music is not found in its form but rather in the individual reaction of each listener. That means: the conception of Meditation allows active participation through singing or playing. Meditation should – like a window – open the approach to ourselves .”

A few years earlier, 1971, he made his first record: ‘ Destruction of Harmony – The Living Sound of Synthesizer Based on Bach & Vivaldi ‘. Like a true Walter/Wendy Carlos, who already made his/her version in 1968, ‘ Switched on Bach’, Schoener indulges in the classics. Only his album is not always harmonious. It is more often something in the direction of ‘Bach and Vivaldi into space ‘, with plenty of room for noise and other synthetically generated sounds.

Schoener is very interested in other cultures. In 1970 he travels to Bali and becomes acquainted with the gamelan. After flying back and forth a few times, he tries to integrate that music into his own music. The impact of this can be found in Bali-Agúng (1976). This happens long before the term ‘world music’ becomes known to the general public. The mix of electronics and music from other countries is still relatively new. Someone like Holger Czukay , a student of Karlheinz Stockhausen , was also involved in this. Czukay made an album called ‘ Canaxis 5’ together with Rolf Dammers under the name ‘Technical Space Composer’s Crew’. In it they used Vietnamese music, but from LPs from Folkways Records. Schoener took it ‘however’ and took his entire trade to Bali.

Despite the contacts in Bali and working with the Moog, Schoener remains involved in classical music. For example, he conducts the Bayerisches Staatsorchester with work by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: ‘Der Schauspieldirektor ‘. The voice you hear belongs to Peter Ustinov . The album appears in 1976.
In the same year another LP with his conducting work by Mozart is released: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: ‘ Bastien Und Bastienne ‘, with the participation of Brigitte Lindner , Adolf Dallapozza , Kurt Moll and the Bayerisches State Orchestra .

In contrast, the aforementioned Bali-Agúng was released in 1976. Schoener falls under the spell of Bali through a friend, Johannes Schaaf. The Swiss artist Theo Meier introduces the two to ‘Prince Agúng Raka ‘. He is the leader of two villages, Saba and Pinda, as well as the leader of the gamelan orchestra there and dance instructor to his son. Schoener looks and listens carefully around and discovers that the musicians of the gamelan orchestra hardly know in what measure they are playing, 4/5 or 7/8 or something else, but ‘just’ do it: “ They just watch this very difficult music flow into their souls .” Their music slips through their fingers into the instrument. The principle of their music making is based on intuition.” Children learn this because they sit between their father’s legs and move their hands along and almost literally feel how the music is made. What Schoener also learned was that time is unimportant, gamelan orchestras sometimes play for six hours straight, being impatient helps not with that. Because of his open attitude he became a good friend of Prince Raka . After some time they both wanted to do something ‘new’, a musical collaboration. For the next trip, Schoener therefore took his Moog, a cameraman (Russel Parker), two technicians (Ernst Rothe and Ludwig Probst ) and drummer Pete York (1942- ).

Just a little trip about this special drummer. York played in the Spencer Davis Group, then with his own band Hardin & York, then for a while with Eric Clapton and countless other bands. In 1987 he starts a project: ‘ super drumming ‘, a series of short tours with a varying, group of excellent drummers, including: Ian Paice , Louie Bellson , Cozy Powell, Gerry Brown, Simon Phillips, Billy Cobham, Bill Bruford , Dave Mattacks and Jon Hiseman . A special company.

Back to Saba. Schoener had already learned that the musicians of Saba can react very quickly to each other, but also that a gamelan orchestra does not work according to the principles of a Western orchestra with a conductor in front. ‘Just do it and see what happens’ works better. Thus, upon his arrival, York sets up his drum kit and begins to play. The whole drop has now run out. At first everyone starts laughing, but then the musicians start nodding and playing along and after a while everyone goes back to their own lives and work. They have been found to be competent and therefore accepted. The biggest compliment: they are left alone.
Together with Prince Raka , Schoener is working on a way to play and communicate together. With a lot of hand gestures, garlic English (Schoener), just letting things happen and a lot of laughter, a great collaboration is born. Later, Schoener returns to the city to set up a space in Bali Beach Hotel as a studio. There is electricity in the hotel so that the Moog can be used. Then York and the whole company come from Saba with instruments and all to the hotel and the recordings are made for what would eventually become Bali-Agúng . The ‘fusion’ of Eastern and Western music works very well. The extra Moog layer gives depth and, as mentioned before, brings its own atmosphere. Exactly the atmosphere you expect from such a record.

‘Rock meets classical music’ happens at an early stage, for example with the Moody Blues, ‘Days of the Future Passed ‘ (1967) and Procol Harum ‘s Whiter Shade of Pale (1967). In Germany, Schoener was late, but still one of the first to do so. In collaboration with Deep Purple’s Jon Lord, who also earned his spurs in that field with the ‘Gemini Suite’ (1971). Schoener conducts his work ‘Windows’ (1974) ‘Sarabande’ (1976) in collaboration with Lord.

The next record is Trance- Formation (1977). It is performed by: ‘ Eberhard Schoener and the Secret Society’. That secret society consists of a colorful feather: Hansi Ströer (bass guitar), members of the ‘ Tölzer Knabenchor ‘, Andy Summers (guitar), Raimund Elleder (keyboards), Orchestra of the Munich Chamber -Opera, Nippi Noya (percussion), Mary Gregory (vocals), Monks Of The Monastery of Sama (a cappella vocals) and of course Schoener himself (Moog, Mellotron, organ, piano, conductor ).

Trance- formation is released on CD in 1991 on the label of Klaus Schulze ( Innovative Communication) and again in 2010 on MIG. The latter includes a detailed description. It says that this ‘trance’ picture was difficult to make in the analog era. This required tape loops of up to ten meters in length. All those loops were led through the studio via ledges on the walls and broomsticks along the walls, so that they could be started at the right time. Noya and Summers were instructed to play along by feel; “ Forget about the beat, forget the tact! Play just as you feel. I want to have a complete obliteration of the bar.” This approach could be traced back directly to what Schoener had learned from the gamelan players in Bali. It must be said, the music takes you into its own ‘consciousness’, in which time no longer seems to play a role. What is special is that Schoener uses the singing of monks on this album and mixes it with synthesizer patterns. He had little success with it, Karl Jenkins (ex Soft Machine) did about the same eighteen years later (1995) with his ‘ Adiemus’ project and became world famous for it.

With the sequencer in a Moog you can make rhythmic rehearsals in your own timbre. Schoener worked long and painstakingly on rhythm tracks thus generated. He called it the ‘Black & Decker effect’. That was completely new and that’s why he was nominated for the ‘German album’ prize. A kind of Emmy or Edison. Once on a visit to New York , he heard a record with a very recognizable piece of rhythm. He asked the DJ and he said something in the style of ‘Munich Sound’. Schoener bought the single and with it Giorgio Moroder’s ‘I Feel Love’, the record with singer Donna Summer. It turned out that the technician from the studio where Schoener had worked had passed the Black & Decker effect on to Moroder . That was rather naive, but in good faith. Later, Schoener tried to get his share of the royalties by filing a lawsuit, but lost because he was not well versed in the legal system in America.

With almost the same line-up as for Trance- formation , Schoener made the music for the film ‘The Book ‘ ( 1977). Schoener had already worked with Andy Summer. Now his acquaintances also joined: Gordon Sumner (bass, vocals) and Stewart Copeland (drums). Sumner would become more famous as ‘Sting’; the trio later as ‘The Police ‘. Schoener recorded two albums with the gentlemen: ‘Flashback’ (1978) and ‘Video Magic’ (1978). I still found Video Magic manageable, because there is more Schoener than Sumner to be heard there. Flashback is a bit too pop and a bit too pre- Police in my opinion . Unfortunately, Flashback has been released on CD (MIG, 2011) and Video Magic has never been. Schoener had a good relationship with all three, but once The Police got going their period in Munich was eliminated. It did not appear in any story or biography; it did not fit the image of The Police , the management thought. Schoener felt quite offended by that denial. Years later, Sting was playing with his own band in Munich and called Schoener to make an appointment and apologize. The old friendship soon returned after that.

In the record stores of that time, if he had ever been present, Schoener disappeared from the bins and with that from my field of vision. We are then in the pre-internet era; the information you could find could only be obtained through music magazines or by visiting record stores. That’s why I only discovered ‘Events’ (1980) years later. Events was a kind of synthesis of the records I already knew. “The music of ”Events underlies a literary concept: A la recherche du temps perdu”. This brings us to Proust: “The precision with which Proust describes his memories, his surroundings and his relationship to people and the way he makes them sensually understandable, let’s me relive situations, friendships and experiences, which I had made in the last years, and created the basis for this album.” I didn’t think it was a bad album at the time, but just like Videomagic a bit ambivalent, sometimes songs, sometimes, but too few, those beautiful synthesizer parts.

In 1980 a ‘regular’ classical album was also released: ‘ Eberhard Schoener conducts The Orchestra Of The Munich Chamber Opera’. Four works; Symphony Classic Op. 25 by Prokofiev , Suite Pour Petit Orchester No. 1 and no. 2 by Stravinsky and Suite De Pulcinella by Pergolesi . Even today little is known about it.

‘Time Square’ (1981) and ‘ Complicated Ladies’ (1982) are two albums with more vocals. Singer is none other than Esther Ofarim . Collaborators include: Morris Pert (ex Brand X, composer, percussion, synthesizer), John Giblin (ex Brand X, bass), Clare Torry (vocals, voice of The Great Gig in the Sky from Pink Floyd’s album The Dark Side of the Moon) and Olaf Kübler (tenor and alto sax). I missed both records at the time and are now unavailable. What I hear about it via YouTube is not really inviting (anymore).
Schoener has quite a CD gap. MIG Records was going to fill that, but after 2010 it’s deafeningly quiet there.

‘ Spurensicherung ‘ (1983) at Bullit in Breda. The album actually picks up where ‘Events’ left off. You could therefore see it as an extension of it, also in the same style and atmosphere. For me, Schoener went more and more towards ‘normal’ music and lacked that special element that appealed to me so much in the early days. Also for this album applies: not or hardly for sale and certainly not on CD.

The magic returned a little more with ‘ Sky Music – Mountain Music’ (1984). Two long pieces with only Schoener on synthesizer. Meditative, natural music and thus in line with Meditation ‘. Both albums were unsurprisingly put together in a CD case by
Kuckuck in 1992 (1992). ‘Bon Voyage ‘ (1986), ‘Des Erbe der Guldenburgs ‘ ( 1989) and other releases in the late 1980s and early 1990s remained hidden for a long time and the same applies to them as for many albums above, not on CD.

Fortunately, that is not the case for ‘Trance Mission (Bali Symphony)’ (1991), a return to Bali Agúng . As if Schoener sensed that things had to change. Long pieces too, sometimes just as dreamy as in the early days. Schoener sees Bali- Agúng , Trance- Formation and Trance-Mission as a triptych. This has to do with his many travels and vision: “But it interested me a planet in relation to music, a planet where both the transmitter and the receiver are in fact equally accessible: the earth.” On Trance-Mission the klangfarben are a bit more colorful due to the use of other instruments and musicians: George Kochbek (bass, vocals), Thomas Schibler (bassoon), Udo Dahmen (drums, percussion), Jens Fischer (guitar), Peter Musser (oboe ) and Anke Wendlandt (vocals) Recordings of the Gamelan Orchestra Of Saba And Pinda have been used again. Schoener himself plays Fairlight synthesizer, DX-7, Oberheim, directs and conducts. Trance-Mission is more than the two other works of the triptych a synthesis, a new sound of its own. Trumpeter Jon Hassell called his work ‘ Fourth World Music’, you could also use that name here.

In 1993, Schoener writes the music for the ‘4th IAAF World Championships in Athletics Opening Ceremony ‘. That naturally appeals to me as a runner and I probably bought the last copy of the CD. The CD is appropriately titled ‘ Harmonia Mundi ‘ and is set up in a typical Schoener style; one big collage of sounds from all over the world. The CD is divided into two parts: ‘ Harmonia Mundi – Music Goes Satellite ‘ and ‘Global Village (5 movements )’. The latter with music from Africa, America, Asia, Oceania and Europe. The first with music from Cairo, Salvador Di Bahia, Bali (yes, with the gamelan orchestra of Saba and Pinda), Sydney and Stuttgart. The world premiere of the piece was during the opening and was brought to the world via satellite: Music goes satellite indeed…

Schoener was increasingly asked for film music and music for TV series, such as ‘ Derrick ‘ and ‘Der Alte ‘; both German crime dramas. Here and there you can find some on record; after all, these are pretty popular series.
In 1996 he once again showed his classical side with the CD ‘Short Operas ‘. Two pieces: ‘Palazzo Dell’Amore Opera Classique ‘ and ‘ Cold Genius Opera Classique ‘ , with the participation of the ‘United Philharmonic Orchestra Budapest. With his last, hard-to-find CD, ‘ Namaste-Puja ‘ (1999), he again seeks the meditative side, but now towards Tibet. One track, ‘ Namaste ‘ is own work, the second a ‘ Puja ‘; is an ‘ordinary’ recorded and unedited mass that took place in Kopan Monastery .

The vast majority of his recent music releases, about thirty CDs, consist of a kind of library of sounds that can be used in films. He releases them on the Enterprises Sonor label. Descriptions on the covers explain enough: ‘ Reisen , Ferien , Urlaub ; Technology, Forschung , Wissenschaft; Mysterios , Psycho & Science Fiction; Liebe , Länder ‘ and so on. Like the rest, hardly available. This begs the question, should you want this? Since I’m not a filmmaker, the answer is simple: “No!”

Schoener won several prizes, including the Schwabing Art Prize for music (1975), Bambi Award for Creativity (1992) and The Lifetime Achievement Award from the Soundtrack Cologne Festival of Music and Sound in Film and the Media in November (2014). And yet he is more unknown than he deserves. Schoener was a man ahead of his time. Those people are not always well understood. Later on time caught up with him and he became an ‘ordinary’ composer of film and TV music. In 2019 it is difficult to choose from the deluge of music, of any genre. Finding something special in there is tricky. That is why I would like to warmly recommend Bali-Agúng here. It is music from a time that knows no time. Come back to that in our hectic times.