Irmin Schmidt – Villa Wunderbar (compilation)

Irmin Schmidt - Villa Wunderbar

Irmin Schmidt – Villa Wunderbar

With the Can archives now mined to within a tape canister’s width of the earth’s core thanks to last year’s The Lost Tapes and the newly-released vinyl boxset, time has come for some Can heads to start exploring individual band members’ solo and extracurricular works.  It probably makes sense then to start with keyboardist Irmin Schmidt’s wares first, given his wide range of material (from TV/film soundtracks and operas to electronica and classical excursions) and sociability (with erstwhile Can members and Jono Podmore of Kumo/Metamono, amongst others).  Whilst this new compilation is not comprehensive it does at least give us an informative overview of his work since the early-1980s.

Across the first of two discs, we get a welter of recordings stretching from 1981 to 2013.  After opening with a skeletal piano and spoken word piece voiced by British writer Duncan Fallowell (“Dreambite”), the collection zig-zags across varied and sometimes intimidating terrain.  Hence, Schmidt himself sings on the playful space-polka of “Le Weekend” (with Can’s Michael Karoli and Jaki Liebezeit adding effects-splattered guitars and off-centre percussion, respectively); duelling ghostly synths mark out the murky mesmerising “Rapido De Noir”; the warped-reggae of “Love” and the mutant-jazz of “Villa Wunderbar” are saved from ‘80s production values by further welcome Liebezeit/Karoli assistance; the heavy trip-hop noire of “Burning Straw In Sky,” the brutalised post-techno of “Fledermenschen” and the dizzying drum ‘n’ bass-meets-opera of “Ensemble – Joy” represent the envelope-pushing extremities of his latter-day collaborations with the irrepressibly adventurous Podmore.

The second disc of the collection is more a cohesive though somewhat less immediate listen, featuring a selection of film score extracts hand-picked by director Wim Wenders and two remixes of Can songs used his in films.  From the former camp, highlights include the pastoral calm of “Flavia Theme,” the ambient Miles Davis-like “Fresco & Finale (Flavia Theme III & IV),” the folktronica of “Zicke Zick” and the electronically-enhanced neo-classical strains of “Messer Im Kopf,” which all comfortably explain why Schmidt has often been a go-to-man for European film directors.  The two enticing, though not entirely essential, Can remixes comprise of an expansive yet more ambient remoulding of “Alice” (as last found on The Lost Tapes but originally used on Wenders’ Alice In Den Städten soundtrack) and a murmurous reworking of the lesser-known “Last Night Sleep” (from Wenders’ Until The End Of The World flick).

This double-disc compendium is primarily meant as a stepping-stone to a deeper and wider excavation of Irmin Schmidt’s solo catalogue across 2014 and so it ultimately acts a decision-making tool for Can fans considering the acquisition of forthcoming reissues.  That said, as a quick portable insight into a challenging, eccentric, playful and thoughtful body of work, this round-up functions well enough in its own right.

Mute / Spoon