Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Rock and Roll Eulogies: Holger Czukay

It all comes down to the throb. At the heart of every indispensable experience: that insistence made manifest as periodicity, as repetition. It keeps coming back. It keeps coming back. It inveigles. It urges. It persists. Eventually, the distinction between it and whatever had previously been taken to be “normal,” or “permissible,” or “advisable,” fades away. Its intrusion becomes, at first, simply tolerable. But soon enough it vanishes, like the pendulum of the grandfather clock in my childhood home. Friends would say “how do you live here with that constant ticking?” And I would say, “what ticking?” completely incapable of hearing it. Finally, it becomes necessary. The throb;  the very movement of time, the exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide, the interstellar hum.

Holger Czukay conjured but one thing from his bass: that throb., Holger’s playing is the most primordial retort to the seismic shufflings of Jaki Liebezeit’s drumming. Together, they perform the dialectics of brass tacks and gilded roses. At one end of the tether, Jaki (who died inJanuary) unwinds the coil, spinning Mandelbrot sets of pulses, spaces, and emphases. At the other end, Holger winds it all back up, tightening the twine into an impossible concentration of matter and energy. Like no other rhythm section, the two of them invent the boundaries of a self-sufficient, and practically endless, musical universe. Anyone who loves Can, whether they know it or not, loves Holger and Jaki mostly. In their spars and scrimmages, entire languages emerge, expend their capacities, and die. They construct in time what Borges’ Library of Babel constructs in space.

What’s more, Can as we know them – and let’s not beat around the bush: they are without a doubt one of the six or seven most significant bands to ever make rock and roll – are largely a product of Holger’s structural vision and ability. He recorded their long sessions, listened to and indexed the fathoms of tape, and edited (by hand; pre-digital) the sessions into ur-compositions, throbbing (again) with the inevitability of being born or dying. He had been a student of Stockhausen and had taken the master’s tools and employed them as weapons against the dogmatic, hectoring didacticism of “serious” music. At roughly the same time that Teo Macero was cutting and splicing Miles Davis sessions in New York to create In A Silent Way, Czukay was chopping up Can sessions at their Inner Space studio in Cologne and assembling a new music that was composed after it was performed.

There is little else in the listenable world that survives repetition as Can does. Their own deeply hewn repetitiveness allows successive listens to act more on the music than the music does on the listening. Jaki and Holger did what rivers do, appearing to follow the contours of the land, when in fact the land is forever yielding to the river. Eventually, rivers either head underground or empty into the sea. In the first case, the river carves ever deeper, hollowing stone, blazing subterranean trails that only the river itself can follow. In the second case, the river disappears into something greater than itself; something more powerful, more extensive. I have no trouble believing that either of these cases (or both) describes where Jaki and Holger have gone.