The story of one of the most legendary albums in German music history begins in March 1938 in the city of Danzig, when the boy Holger Schüring was born in the middle of the pre-war turmoil. During the Second World War, Schüring lived in the city, which became a Russian occupation zone after the end of the war. According to his own statement, he set fire to a Russian soldiers’ camp in 1946, forcing the Schüring family to flee to the American occupation zone. Unfortunately, nothing is known about the following years. It was not until 1960 that the name reappeared. Schüring‘ first own composition “Mellow Out”, a two-minute jazz instrumental, was recorded. He was also the leader of a small amateur jazz band. In the three years 1963 to 1966 Schüring studied composition at the Musikhochschule Köln under the brilliant composer Karl-Heinz Stockhausen. There he met his fellow student and long-time companion Irmin Schmidt . In addition, he had his first encounters with tape music, the music in which samples are looped on tape loops, sometimes played backwards or completely alienated. He also learned the techniques of Musique Concréte. The following two years after Stockhausen Schüring worked partly as a music teacher, among others at the Artland-Gymnasium in Quakenbrück. In 1967, Schüring played sessions with the beat band The Remo Four, which broke up towards the end of the year. At the beginning of 1968 the time had come: Together with his student buddy Irmin Schmidt, Schüring founded the group The Inner Space. This is also where the surname Czukay appeared for the first time . From free jazz came the drummer Hans “Jaki” Liebezeit , who had previously drummed with the Manfred Schoof Quintet . Guitarist Michael Karoli, who had learned guitar from Czukay , joined as did former Stockhausen student David C. Johnson. At that time he was a freelancer at the Cologne studio for electronic music of the WDR. He formed the fifth cornerstone of the quintet. The management of the group was taken over by Hildegard Schmidt, the wife of keyboarder Irmin Schmidt . From the recording of a concert, the single “Agilok & Blubbo” / “Kamera Song” was released on the Vogue label. In 1968, The Inner Space recorded the music for the film Kama Sutra – Vollendung der Liebe (Kama Sutra ), which was released in German cinemas in 1969. “Kamasutra” / “I’m hiding my Nightingale” was released on the Metronome label. On the single Irmin Schmidt was noted on the cover and the labels. The rehearsals as a band took place at Schloss Nörvenich near Cologne. Manfred “Manni” Löhne joined the band at short notice as singer, flutist and percussionist. Hildegard Schmidt met the black sculptor named Malcolm Mooney in Paris , who soon joined the group as a singer. Due to the increasingly rocking orientation, Johnson left the band very soon. On the advice of Malcolm Mooney , the group changed its name to The Can. In the course of the same year, “The” was dropped and henceforth only called Can. The work for a first album filled the band in addition to concerts. At the same time, Czukay was working on his own solo recordings with the help of Rolf Dammers, of whom unfortunately almost nothing is known. In 1969, Can’s first album was released under the name Monster Movie . The small Munich private label Music Factory, which was located in the district Schwabing Nord / Studentenstadt, released the album under the number SRS 001 in an edition of about 600 copies. At the same time Czukay was finished with his album experiment and also on Music Factory came with the number SRS 002 and under the band moniker Technical Space Composers Crew (T.S.C.C.) the album Canaxis 5 on the market. The cover in plain black and white contained Canaxis 5 only two songs.
The track “Ho-Mai-Nhi (The Boat Woman Song)” on side one begins with about 10 seconds of sacred choirs, which end in a tape loop, which is replaced by other, repetitive and overlapping loops. After about a minute, the singing of two unknown Vietnamese women begins, which Czukay had sampled from the 1965 album sampler Music of Viet Nam (Folkways Records FE 4352). Actually, the name “The Boat Woman Song” is wrong. The voice samples of the women are real from the “Love Song (Doh Dam Tara)”, a sage by the Cham People, which can also be found on the Viet Nam album. On a good 21 minutes, the mentioned ribbon loop samples with the singing of the Vietnamese women can be found in a hypnotizing form. In a way, the track can be described as one of the first world music songs. The last minutes of the piece are purely instrumental and let you hear the tape loops mentioned at the beginning again and again, while the song fades softly. The song on side two, the twenty-minute “Shook Eyes Ammunition”, has nothing of the ribbon loop samples with female vocals. It is more in the tradition of Stockhausen in the sound-synthetic process. A hypnotic, cool mood-spreading sound carpet that swells up and down with shimmering overtones and is crowned by an Asian-sounding stringed instrument that is only accentuated. Already on the first repressing (Spoon 015) from 1982 the song is renamed “Canaxis”. On later reprints, Czukay‘s very first recorded song “Mellow Out” is included as the third track. There, the number five next to Canaxis has also been deleted in the album title.
In the same year 1969, the record company Liberty became aware of the band Can and the group was offered a record contract. The Monster Movie LP was re-recorded, first pressed with the old cover with the new LBS 83437 number (Prom Productions), and then released with the new blue covers on Liberty Records. At the same time, singer Malcolm Mooney returned to the USA on the advice of his psychiatrist and Can was without a singer for a short time. For a concert in Munich, the band hired street musician Kenji “Damo” Suzuki as a replacement for Mooney. It did not only stay with the short-term concert connection Can/Suzuki. In this “classical” Can line-up, the following LPs were recorded. The records Soundtrack and Tago Mago were made at Nörvenich Castle. In the meantime, the band built up their own studio in a former cinema in Weilerswist near Cologne. This was titled Inner Space Studio. The first record recorded there was the Ege Bamyasi LP with the superhits “Spoon” and “Vitamin C”. After the LP Future Days recorded in June 1973, Damo Suzuki left the band. On the three subsequent studio records Soon over Babaluma, Landed and Flow Motion Schmidt, Czukay and Karoli shared the lead vocals. The two records Limited Edition and Unlimited Edition contained previously unreleased pieces. In January 1977, the album Saw Delight was released. Holger Czukay was only used here as a sound tinkerer (electronics, noises, wave receiver) and singer. His bass part had previously been taken over by the Englishman Rosko Gee, who came from the group Traffic. The following two albums, Out of Reach and the self-titled Can, both from 1978, were recorded without Czukay ‘ help. In 1979 Holger Czukay ‘s second solo album was released. The first, however, under his name Holger Czukay. With On the Way to the Peak of Normal, Holger continued his solo career. In 1981, the Can album Can Delay 1968 was released on Spoon Records, on which the first sessions from 1968 can be heard. In the following years, Czukay recorded several solo albums and released albums in collaborations with some well-known musicians. The Edge (U2), Jah Wobble, Conny Plank, Phew, Brian Eno, David Sylvian, Dr.Walker , to name a few. As particularly worth mentioning among them I recommend the album Full Circle from 1982, together with Jah Wobble and Jaki Liebezeit. On it is the track “How much are they”, a nice example of tape loop sound. In 1981, the first album of an English synth-pop duo was released, on which Holger Czukay plays French horn, among others. Jaki Liebezeit can also be heard on it. The album was titled In the Garden and was by none other than the Eurythmics. The next milestone in Czukay’s career was the ’87 television film War of Sounds, commissioned by ZDF, in which Holger Czukay played both the leading role and was responsible for the soundtrack. Two years later, Can Reunion made headlines in the original 1968 line-up. In the line-up with Malcolm Mooney, the group recorded the album Rite Time.
In the 2000s, Czukay and his wife Ursula Schüring, known as U-She or Ursa Major, played several projects together and toured in various countries, such as the USA or Israel. When the Inner Space Studio moved from Weilerswist to the Rock’n’Pop Museum in Gronau in 2007, where the Can Studio was faithfully rebuilt, the discovery of tapes with about 30 hours of unreleased studio, live and concert recordings ensured the release of the 5-LP box The Lost Tapes. Among other things, the melody of the television play Das Millionenspiel from 1970 can be heard.
On 5 September 2017, Holger Czukay was found dead by a neighbour in his apartment in the former Can studio in Weilerswist and was buried on 14 September 2017 at the Melaten cemetery in Cologne next to his wife Uschi Schüring, who had died only five weeks earlier. His grave is diagonally opposite that of Can bandmate Jaki Liebezeit, who had died a few months earlier in the same year.
Holger Czukay was without question one of the most brilliant musicians Germany has ever produced. One of Czukay’sgreatest admirers was former German President Walter Scheel. In the music scene, quite a few musicians refer to Czukay’swork.
Looking back, the album Canaxis 5 can be considered the first world music album as well as an outstanding work in the history of tape music.
Technical Space Composers Crew – Canaxis 5
1968 – Music Factory – SRS 002
A1 – Ho-Mai-Nhi (The Boat Woman Song)
B1 – Shook Eyes Ammunition