Hans-Joachim Irmler on Popol Vuh’s Revisited & Remixed 1970-1999
Hans-Joachim Irmler is one of the founding members of the krautrock outfit Faust. Asie from his solo work, Irmler currently performs together with Einstürzende Neubauten percussionist FM Einheit and Berliner post-rockers To Rococo Rot. He lives in southern Germany where he also runs Klangbad Studios.
It is difficult nowadays to use the term ‘krautrock’ without confusing people: everyone seems to have a different definition. I can certainly speak for Faust, and because I knew Florian Fricke so well, I think I can do so for Popol Vuh too. Generally, the term ‘krautrock’ describes an entire spectrum of stylistic eclecticism within German progressive rock in the early seventies. Aside from the prog aspect, I think the main common denominator amongst krautrock bands was the insight that Germans couldn’t compete with the great American of British beat bands. We understood that this wasn’t part of our musical roots – especially because the Nazis had spurned anything jazz- or blues-oriented. No, what we Krauts brought to the table of international musical progress three decades after the war was sonic experimentation and the concept of rhythmic repetition.
At least in Germany, krautrock is still waiting to be discovered and embraced by the masses. It’s like a long forgotten treasure chest. I know Popol Vuh’s Florian Fricke suffered terribly from not being taken seriously in his home country. Neither his success in the UK nor his fame with Werner Herzog’s film scores were enough to satisfy his need for broader recognition. In my mind, I somehow link his untimely death to this disappointment.
This posthumously released Popol Vuh compilation will hopefully bring some awareness to some of the finest German music ever recorded.
This release comes with a bonus disc of remixes, including tracks by Mika Vainio of Pan Sonic, Mouse on mars, Thomas Fehlman and Moritz von Oswald, who’ve all done a good job in processing old into new. But far more than remixes, it’s the original pieces that stand their ground with adamant authority. Take ‘In den Gärten Pharaos’ from Popol Vuh’s 1971 album of the same title. At seventeen minutes long, this song is nothing less than majestic. And it doesn’t sound dated in the least. On the contrary, every single layer of percussion of Moog-III sound is interwoven in the most progressive and elegant possible way. Fricke’s use of melodies – or should I say his deconstruction of melodies – was visionary.
I know that when making music, Florian had very specific strategies. Shortly before his death in 2001, he came to visit me in my studio to discuss the possibility of collaboration. He left me with a tape containing the rough layout for a new Popol Vuh piece. I was surprised that there were such straight ahead melodies on the tracks, but he assured me that they would eventually be replaced.
Essentially the melody lines only served as a guideline for what was later to spliced, taken apart and put back together again in classic Fricke fashion. To my ear, there’s plenty of Popol Vuh in acts like Aphex Twin of Basic Channel.
Listening to this compilation was the first time in several years that I had listened to many of the Popol Vuh tracks. What surprised me was how easy it was to listen to Revisited & Remixed 1970-1999 in one go. At times, I had to remind myself that this was a compilation and not a proper album release – the songs fit together that well.
On a final not regarding the remixes: honestly, they’re mostly good. But for me the standout tracks is Mika Vainio’s remix of ‘Nachts: Schnee’. Vainio is the only artist to stay true to the structure of the Popol Vuh original. From what I can tell, the only thing he seems to have added is what I’d describe as ‘electronic slaps’, which appear out of the blue to hit you right in the face.
Listening to Vainio’s remix, I thought to myself: if Popol Vuh were still around and making music today, that’s exactly what they’d sound like. It was the listening to the continuation of a path Florian had laid out some forty years ago. If only he’d lived long enough to hear it.
"Popol Vuh is one of my favorite bands of all time. I'm not really sure how I came across Popol Vuh years ago, but they have consistently stuck with me as one of the most atmosphere-filled music groups that's able to conjure up such an incredible feeling, a meditative feeling, with simple but with awesome melodies, hypnotic". (2013)
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