Klaus Schulze obituary

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<span>Photograph: Interfoto/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Interfoto/Alamy

Musician and composer whose music covered many genres, including classical and jazz, mainly expressed through electronic means

Klaus Schulze, who has died aged 74 after suffering from renal disease, released more than 60 albums in his lifetime. He was often the recipient of such accolades as the godfather of techno music, was considered part of the Berlin School of electronic music and was credited with being an inspirational figure in ambient and IDM (intelligent dance music).

Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe him as a versatile and gifted composer whose music encompassed ideas from many genres, including classical and jazz, which he expressed through mainly electronic means. Though he started out as a rock drummer who was briefly a member of Tangerine Dream, he always knew that he “wanted to play with harmonies and sounds”. The revolutionary arrival of synthesisers in the early 1970s gave him the tools that could express his bubbling musical ideas. The film music composer Hans Zimmer used one of Schulze’s pieces as part of his score for the movie Dune (2021), and described his work as “the perfect balance between the soul and technology”.

Born in Berlin, Schulze gained musical experience in his teens playing drums and sometimes guitar and bass in a variety of local bands. He recalled that he began playing drums because of the influence of his older brother, who introduced him to jazz sticksmen such as Art Blakey and Buddy Rich. In 1967 he joined the rock trio Psy Free, alongside the guitarist Alex Conti and organ player Joachim Schumann, then in 1969 Schulze joined Tangerine Dream.

Schulze during a concert in Berlin, 2009.
Schulze during a concert in Berlin, 2009. Photograph: Jakubaszek/Getty Images

The group was in a fluid, formative phase and Schulze was replaced by Christopher Franke in 1970, having had his ideas for adding experimental sounds rejected by the bandleader Edgar Froese. However, he did play on their debut album Electronic Meditation, a free-ranging mix of jazz, rock and electronica.

He found the role of the drummer too restrictive. “As a drummer you are the backbone of a rock group, but not the soloist who performs his own musical ideas,” he said in a 2015 interview. Schulze then joined with Manuel Göttsching and Hartmut Enke to form Ash Ra Tempel, with whom he made the album Ash Ra Tempel before leaving to pursue a solo career.

In 1972 he released his first solo album, Irrlicht, now considered a noteworthy moment in the history of ambient music. Schulze recorded it using a broken organ and the sound of a symphony orchestra played backwards, but for his next album, Cyborg (1973), he took a leap into the future by deploying an EMS VCS3 synthesiser, a pioneering instrument also used by such luminaries as Pink Floyd, Jean-Michel Jarre and the Who.

After taking time out to record an album with the so-called Krautrock supergroup Cosmic Jokers (1974), Schulze displayed increasing artistic confidence and a growing command of his new medium, as reflected in such milestones of electronic music as Timewind (1975) and Moondawn (1976). These exhibited a mastery of delicate textures that would evolve and blend over the course of extended compositions filling a whole side of an LP. Track titles such as Floating and Mindphaser indicated the effect Schulze wanted his music to have on his listeners.

In 1975 his horizons had expanded further when he went to Tokyo to produce progressive rockers Far East Family Band. Their keyboard player Kitarō later became a superstar of New Age music, and always gave Schulze credit for inspiring him to embrace the world of synths and electronica. In 1976, Schulze’s burgeoning status found him performing on Stomu Yamashta’s Go album alongside Steve Winwood, Paul Buckmaster, guitarist Al Di Meola and percussionist Michael Shrieve. The musicians performed the material live, prompting the album Go Live from Paris, with a further album Go Too appearing in 1977.

During the 1980s Schulze began taking advantage of digital technology alongside older analog equipment such as the Moog synthesiser

Schulze’s evocative, artfully layered music lent itself to soundtrack work. Body Love (his seventh solo album, 1977) was the soundtrack to Lasse Braun’s titular pornographic movie, and a Volume 2 followed. He would also create soundtracks for movies such as Barracuda and Next of Kin, but a more significant achievement was his album Dune (1979), inspired by Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel. Here, Schulze adopted an almost neoclassical approach, mixing cello and Arthur Brown’s vocals into his often eerie electronic soundscapes. When Zimmer composed the soundtrack for Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 film of Dune, he based one of the pieces from his Dune Sketchbook album on Schulze’s composition Frank Herbert, from Schulze’s album X (1978). “Klaus Schulze’s music has never been as relevant as it is now,” Zimmer commented. “The world has finally caught up to a true pioneer.”

During the 1980s Schulze began taking advantage of new digital technology alongside older analog equipment such as the Moog synthesiser, a shift detectable in albums such as Dig It (1980) and Trancefer (1981). On his own Innovative Communication label he released work by artists including Popol Vuh and Software. In the 90s he temporarily became infatuated with the use of pre-recorded sampled sounds, as heard on the album Beyond Recall. As the new millennium dawned, Schulze leaned more towards classical music and jazz, mixing these with contemporary electronica techniques.

Schulze engaged in a variety of collaborative ventures. Between 1994 and 2008 he teamed up with Pete Namlook to record 11 volumes of The Dark Side of the Moog, each one adapting a song title from Pink Floyd (for instance Wish You Were There or Obscured By Klaus). He also worked with Code III, Earthstar, Rainer Bloss and Lisa Gerrard from Dead Can Dance, with whom he also performed live, and in 2000 he reunited briefly with Ash Ra Tempel. In 1979 he released Time Actor, the first of a series of albums he recorded as Richard Wahnfried, the name apparently an oblique nod to the composer Richard Wagner.

In 2005 he began reissuing his earlier works, including previously unreleased material. In 2013 he announced that he was giving up performing live concerts. A new album, Deus Arrakis, is due to be released in June.

He is survived by his wife, two sons and four grandchildren.

• Klaus Schulze, composer and musician, born 4 August 1947; died 26 April 2022

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