JAMES BRITT


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Holger Czukay Article

A little while back I wrote an article about Holger Czukay for a small zine.

The same one that ran my Holger Czukay papertoy.

I figure I should just publish it here.

Holger Czukay

Holger Czukay was born March 24, 1938 in the Free City of Danzig (what is now Gdansk), as Holger Schüring.

That family name was a fabrication (along with an invented Dutch heritage), owing to persecution of Poles by the occupying Nazis.

In 1945, the family was forced to leave Danzig. They went to Berlin, a city by then largely destroyed by war, and then settled in a town near Frankfurt. Despite getting little formal education, Czukay managed to get work repairing radios.

Meanwhile, with the war over Czukay reverted to his proper surname. He was especially pleased that Czukay means “search” in Polish, something that would be a hallmark of his music.

During his teenage years Czukay played double bass in assorted groups, including, in the late ’50s, the Holger Czukay Quintet.

By 1962 his musical interests pushed him back to Berlin, where he studied at the Berlin Music Academy. Before long, though, he was expelled. Czukay then went to Cologne to study with the avant-garde electronic music composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.

His studies with Stockhausen lasted from 1963 to 1966, during which Czukay met future collaborators Conny Plank and Irmin Schmidt. In 1967 he moved to Switzerland and worked as a teacher. There he met a student, Michael Karoli, who would become yet another musical collaborator.

Czukay had little interest in rock music until a student played him “I am the Walrus”, from the Beatles 1967 album Magical Mystery Tour. From there he took an interest in Captain Beefheart and The Velvet Underground.

After Irmin Schmidt finished studying with Stockhausen he went to New York City briefly, hanging with Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and La Monte Young. Hearing the Velvet Underground motivated him to want his own band. When he returned home to Cologne, he reconnected with Czukay, as well as an American musician, David C. Johnson.

In 1968 they formed a band. First called Inner Space, then The Can, they settled on simply Can as the group name.

The group was filled out with additional musicians: guitarist (and former student) Michael Karoli, drummer Jaki Liebezeit. Malcolm Mooney joined as a vocalist later in 1968. By the end of that year Johnson left the group.

Can released their first album, Monster Movie, in 1969. The sound they helped pioneer was to be dubbed “Krautrock.”

Czukay played bass guitar, but was also the sound engineer and tape editor. He had a keen interest in shortwave radio and sound manipulation, which he put to use creating music.

While in Can Czukay also worked on solo projects. In 1969, in collaboration with Rolf Dammers, he released the album Canaxis 5.

Can produced albums up through 1979, with assorted transient members joining the core group. But Czukay was increasingly less involved in the main production of the music. He left Can in 1977, and the group split up soon after.

In 1979 he made the album Movies which employed a technique he called “radio painting”: Recording sounds from a shortwave radio and mixing slices into his music. This idea would later be used to much acclaim by David Byrne and Brian Eno on their 1981 album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.

Among his other solo albums was Radio Wave Surfer, released in 1991, which made use of short-wave radio as a sound-source.

During his career Czukay collaborated with numerous other well-known (and lesser-known) musicians, including Jah Wobble, Brian Eno, and David Sylvian.

Czukay last album was 11 Years Innerspace, released in 2015.

Czukay died 5 September, 2017, at his apartment, which was previously the Inner Space studio he created with Can.

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