Source: Neumusik, nr.5, p.42-44, 1981
Author: Gary Scott
Popol Vuh are special, there’s no denying that. Over the past decade they have produced a remarkable series of beautiful albums. One of the things that make them so special is the way they have stayed true to their own musical ideals; they haven’t changed because of fashions or trends. Also there has always been an element of mystery about them and their music. As the American paper ‘Wax paper’ put it. “But who Florian (Fricke) is and where he comes from remains a mystery.” I met Florian Fricke recently in Munich and during the conversation some light was shed on Popol Vuh’s music.
It wasn’t an ideal meeting - I don’t speak German and Florian only speaks a limited amount of English, having never been taught it. We talked with the help of a young friend of his. So what follows is not an interview, but more an impression and an interpretation of what was said. The conversation moved freely from one subject to another with Florian talking about what he wanted to. As a result many questions I would have liked to have asked I couldn’t. What I‘ve tried to do is put what was said into a logical sequence.
In the early 1960s when Florian was 16 he became great friends with Werner Herzog (the film director), who was then 18. They shared similar ideas and beliefs, they dreamed of changing the world as Fricke put it. One day, while in the large library at Munich University, they came across a religious book of the South American Maya people. The book struck a chord in both of them, and it’s had its influence to this day. The name of the book - ‘Popol Vuh’.
In the late 1960s Florian bought a large Moog synthesizer. At the time he was living in a big old house in the Bavarian mountains. He often played all day and night experimenting with new sounds he was able to produce. It was some time later that someone from United Artists heard of him and suggested he make a record. The result was the first Popol Vuh album, ‘Affenstunde’, which Florian made with Frank Fiedler and Holger Trulzsch.
After the second album ‘In den Garten Pharaos’, Florian more or less gave up playing electronics. The reasons he gives are that the music was too easy to make, having no depth, and he felt that it wasn’t being used for its own worth (if it had any). It was being used as a launch-pad for drugs trips - and easy way out.
He now feels that all electronic music is cold and unemotional, especially when you compare it to what can be achieved using other instruments. (An old argument, but this was the first time I’ve heard it from someone was actively involved with electronic music). Synthesizers are toys, like ‘Space Invaders’; he sees the current fascination with them as being the same as his children playing with their toys.
In 1975 he sold his Moog to Klaus Schulze - becoming the famous ‘Big Moog’. Florian thinks Klaus’s music is very commercial and suitable for secretaries and housewives.
In a very early Herzog film ( which was made in Greece) Florian played the part of a German soldier who played nothing but Chopin on the piano all day. When Herzog had finished shooting ‘Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes’ he was in Rome trying to put it together using music by Ennio Moricone as the soundtrack. However, it wasn’t working out. Then a mutual friend suggested that there was only one person who could write music for such a personal film - Florian Fricke. Within hours of hearing from Herzog he was driving to Rome from Munich to start work. ‘Aguirre’ was an important film for both of them: for Herzog international recognition, and for Popol Vuh some commercial success, especially in France.
During the making of ‘The Enigma of Kasper Hauser’ in 1974, Herzog was at Florian’s house while he was playing the piano. He was improvising and just starting at the wall in front of him. Herzog passed comment on the fact that he was playing ‘blind’. A few days later Florian got a call to go to the set. A part had especially written for him as Florian the blind and orphaned piano player.
Herzog and Popol Vuh work well together. Herzog has the rare skill of being able to use music intelligently, to create more than just mood and atmosphere, but to help the film flow. In my opinion their best collaboration to date has been ‘Nosferatu’, a beautiful film.
‘Sei still’ - ‘Singing with the Angels’
Florian has himself been making films.’Sei Still, wisse ICH BIN’ was made last year in Israel. It was shot around the Dead Sea and in the Palestinian mountains. The main role is taken by former model Verushka, who plays a man. The premiere was in Munich on 16th May, three days before we met, and reaction to the film was good. It will be shown on German television shortly, and may even be shown in this country at the Findhorn community’s Autumn festival.
The music for ‘Sei Still’ is closer to the type Florian would ideally like to do. He believes that the human voice is the greatest instrument there is; it contains more emotion and feeling than any other. His greatest joy, he says, is improvising at the piano and singing from the heart. He feels closer to God, or rather his idea of God, than at any other time now. At moments like this he feels he is ‘playing with the angels’. His music has always been religious and believes in a ‘new age’ when Man will be at one with nature and himself. He believes not in the ‘cosmic’, but in ‘earth’, in natural beauty and harmony. Now is a time to be optimistic. You only have to listen to tracks like ‘Garten der Gemeinschaft’ and ‘Lass los’ to see this and also what he means by ‘playing and singing with the angels’.
Renate Knaup is one of Florian’s favourite singers, but for ‘Sei Still’ he felt her voice was too powerful, so he wrote the music in such a way that she couldn’t sing in her normal voice; she had to sing ‘like a child, like Heidi’.
Florian’s next project, which will take about a year to complete, is to be what he calls his ‘Opera’. He hopes to be able to make the film in Greece, and he may even use Greek singers on the soundtrack.
Popol Vuh live
Popol Vuh don’t play live. Florian feels that it would not be possible to sustain the kind of intensity that he music would require. For short periods yes, but not for a full concert. Touring would take up too much time; writing, recording, film making and his family are more important.
Florian recently worked with a group of orphaned and ‘problem’ children, getting them to sing spontaneously, to good effect. They were set free, he says, from their problems, and were communicating for the first time. He has tried this with a group of telepathic adults but the results were not as good.
The re-issues of ‘Affenstunde’ on I.C. last year means little to him except that it enables him to do his current projects better (ie more money).
He likes all types of music himself, as long as it has feeling and emotion. Blind Faith were a favourite band of his, with Steve Winwood being high on his list of favourite singers.
Daniel Fichelscher has recently been working on an Amon Düül II revival album - a return to ‘72-‘73. Al Gromer has given up the sitar and started a punk band (!! ED). Robert Eliscu is an American who has been solo oboist for the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra as well as the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
Werner Herzog is currently in the Amazon with Mick Jagger and Klaus Kinski making ‘Fitzcarraldo’.
An english translation of ‘Popol Vuh’ has been published by the University of Oklahoma Press at 8.25.
Island Records have been in touch with Florian about the possibility of a record deal. It seems that the review in Sounds of ‘Sei Still’ interested them a great deal. Also ECM are interested in signing them.
I was to have met Florian a second time, two days later, to see the film of ‘Sei Still’. However, to cut a long story short, he wasn’t able to make it and I never saw him again. We spoke briefly on the phone and then I had to come back to England. As you can imagine I was a little disappointed, but somehow it seems only right. The mystery, in part, continues. Thanks Florian.