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Popol Vuh - Affenstunde CD (album) cover

AFFENSTUNDE

Popol Vuh

 

Krautrock

3.15 | 101 ratings

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ALotOfBottle
4 stars The bitter influence that World War II left on Germany proved awfully difficult to get rid of. It was up to the first post-war generation to make a change. 1968's protests in Europe helped the contemporary youth to unite and creating a completely new subculture or a class of young, intellectual, open-minded individuals with left-wing political views, who rejected the musical influence of British and American psychedelia in search of their own identity. One of such people was Florian Fricke, a student of piano, composition, and directing at the Conservatories in Freiburg and Munich. Being a disciple of the composer Rudolf Hindemith, the brother of slightly better-known Paul Hindemith, helped Fricke in expanding his musical horizons. At that time, he also became fascinated with musical styles such as free jazz and ethnic music. In 1969, he purchased one of the very first Moog synthesizers to appear on the market. The same year, he founded the band Popol Vuh, whose name derived from an ancient Mayan manuscript (the title translating into The Book Of the Community), together with Holger Trülzsch, a percussionist, and Frank Fiedler, who dealt with the technical aspect of the group's sound. Their debut album, Affenstunde was released in 1970 under the Liberty label.

The album comprises two side-long epics: "Ich Mache Einen Spiege", which is divided into three movements, and the title track, "Affenstunde", respectively. The first part of the first suite, contrarily named "Dream Part 4", opens with a static drone including various swirling electronic and pre-recorded effects passing through. These give somewhat of an industrial effect , often sounding like technical devices. This part remains quite unchanged except for very slow frequency pulses, sometimes influencing the sound in making it a bit heavier, sometimes much lighter. Next up, "Dream Part 5" is devoted to showcasing Holger Trülzsch's percussion abilities. A person credited as "Bettina" plays Indian tabla, which really enriches the overall feel of the track, adding a very exotic, Eastern flavor. At the same time, it also points the way towards Popol Vuh's future influences. The rhythmic pace of Part 5 is steady with numerous variations. "Dream Part 49" follows the previous movements with silent, slowly pulsating sounds of Florian Fricke's Moog III synthesizer, which at times bring the sound of mellow church organ to mind. Once again, the texture remains rather static, however, towards the end, the instrument appears as if more "self-assured", becoming slightly louder at the ridge of the synthesizer wave, before descending into complete silence.

"Affenstunde" begins slightly more confidently with a steady tabla rhythm accompanied by a dark "cloud" from Fricke's synthesizer. As the piece slowly grows, one is able to hear distant effects struggling to break through. Suddenly, the beat fades away and the synth is left alone. Then, Florian Fricke plays a striking modal solo with a beautiful timbre of Moog's distinctive triangle-wave based on a static drone. This is really where his instrumental abilities come through. Tabla and various percussion instruments appear once more, but not really in the form of laying down any rhythm, but rather accompanying Fricke in his solo part, adding a bit more variety, and working in favor of dark, soporific, foggy atmospherics. In this wonderful way, the piece slowly starts to fall silent, as if falling asleep and wanting to say "good night, I sincerely hope you have enjoyed your journey."

The 2004 CD reissue of the release on SPV recordings offers one more bonus track, "Train Through Time." The piece lasts for ten minutes and is kept in a very similar fashion as the tracks from the original issue of the album, showcasing the fantastic percussion work as well as many fascinating effects from Florian Fricke's Moog.

How are musical revolutions started? It often comes down to one groundbreaking album - a one-of-a-kind. bold, uncompromising musical statement created by one or more unorthodox, forward-thinking musicians. And Affenstunde undoubtedly deserves a title of a groundbreaking work. Its peaceful, quiet nature paved the way for genres such as ambient or drone. It's not without its flaws, for sure, but is definitely worth acknowledgement and appreciation. Above all, Affensunde is at least partly responsible for laying foundation for a revolution of the German youth culture. This is not an easy work to appreciate, one might highly likely find it boring and requiring minimal musical abilities. However, I would not say this album is about showcasing skill, but rather about building atmospherics and drawing different sonic landscapes. That being said, it does require a considerably different approach from the listener. Anyhow, Popol Vuh's debut is a truly essential krautrock album and is very highly recommended!

ALotOfBottle | 4/5 |

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