Extract from Biography
Monday, 2 October 2017
To celebrate reaching 40% of our target funding, here's a further extract from the biography section of the book, covering the years of Phantom Band (78 to 84) aka Stunde Null. If you enjoyed this then please pass it on! Further extracts from other sections of the book will appear as we progress with the funding.
Alongside a burgeoning career as a session drummer (playing on albums for Brian Eno and Michael Rother among others), from a fluid and at times chaotic scene of Cologne musicians Jaki formed his own band with Dominik von Senger, Helmut Zerlett, Rosko Gee and Olek Gelba: Phantom Band. Initially, as with Can, they began with experiments with sound: tape manipulation, drum machines and effects pedals; and long “scientific” discussions and experiments with musical method, drawing on Jaki’s deepening ethnological research and own practice. These became increasingly intense: in sessions Jaki was demanding and highly critical. The nihilistic scent of punk rock was in the air then suddenly it was Stunde Null – Zero hour.
“Stunde Null war sehr bitter” (Zero hour was very bitter) remembers guitarist Dominik Von Senger. Jaki insisted that everyone had to completely stop what he had learned or done previously. Taken seriously by the young musicians who were now frozen in their tracks, they stuck with the brutal regime to see where it would lead. In the pitiless search for the new, everything was to be questioned: why are we recording? What is music? Why is that repeated? Melodies were outlawed; everything must be logically and intellectually watertight. Emotion was of no consequence: “Wer mit Herz spielt hat keinen Verstand” (He who plays with his heart has no mind) – everything had to make sense. The choice of words itself was provocative. Stunde Null was the name given in German literature to midnight May 8, 1945: the fall of the Third Reich and the end of World War II. A point in time used to define the beginning of a new way of life for Germans, distanced from their Nazi past.
Through daily sessions in Weilerswist, this scorched earth became the beginnings of a systematic rebuilding of music theory rooted in the ergonomics of drumming that developed into the Dot Dash system. Beats were codified as filled or empty circles, like programming an early drum machine. These circles would represent a beat or a rest, left hand or right, strum up or down, on or off. Simply alternating between these wasn’t enough, as reducing by a factor of 2 would lead to 1: to stasis. No music. But with even a slightly more complex pattern (but never with more than 2 identical dots in succession), using repetition, reversal, half-time, double-time etc. whole pieces could be developed, as the patterns could be applied to chords and harmonic structures and even dynamics. The deadlock was broken and the music could flow again although as Dominik points out: “Every single dot was hard work over years”.
Rosko decided it was time to record and so while he was briefly away in London the band recorded their parts individually under Jaki’s watchful eye, Rosko adding the bass lines and vocals on his return. The results, recorded and mixed by René, formed the band’s eponymous first album in 1980. Rosko left the band after the release of the album freeing up 2 roles: vocals and bass. A new singer, Sheldon Ancel (aka Kelly) was found and instructed in the method. He appeared on 2 Phantom Band albums and Holger’s solo albums too – but what of the bass? Significantly it was decided a bassist was not required – Überflussig! Jaki was finally free of any unwelcome interference with his bass drum.
Phantom Band toured and recorded three albums between 1978 and 84. The band split amicably and as with Can, the musicians maintained contact and worked together for the rest of Jaki’s life. Jaki believed that the system they had created enabled everyone to construct music themselves, and so was happy that the other members of the band were now free to spread the word.
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