CAN – ‘Ege Bamyasi’ 1972


After the initial success and critical plaudits bequeathed on the last album Tago Mago, as well as the impressive sales of 300,000 for the single ‘Spoon’, CAN should have been in an enviable position. Unfortunately success brought unwelcome pressure, namely from their label United Artists, who rushed the band for a quick follow up album to capitalize on this new found attention.

They also found themselves now locking horns with previous manager Abi Ofarim, who proceeded to set in motion a court injection against the band, eventually leading to Ege Bamyasi release being delayed for three months. Ofarim felt that he was owed some sort of recompense, after being replaced by Irmin Schmidt’s wife Hildegaard during the recording of the last album: it must be said that her interjection had an almost instant effect, changing the bands fortunes for the better.

Lengthy legal proceedings ensued, dragging the band away from their important recording sessions. Irmin actually began to study contracts law, hoping to bring the case to a speedy resolution.

Eventually CAN came out of their courtroom altercation victorious, though with a growing unease and nervousness.

By the autumn of 1971, CAN had recorded four new tracks, ‘Vitamin C’, ‘I’m So Green’, ‘I’m Too Leise’ and the cryptically titled ‘LH702’. The last two tracks were later added to the Limited Edition LP, a bundled together package of cutting room floor sound collages and unreleased tracks originally confined to a small pressing of 15,000, which was later extended into a double album in 1976 and renamed Unlimited Edition.

The first two tracks were a departure of sorts for the group, leaning towards what you may call conventional, almost to some extent poppier, though without totally disregarding their principles.‘Vitamin C’ was intentionally recorded for the private eye drama Dead Pigeon On Beethoven Street, a tongue-in-cheek fast paced tale of an American detective going undercover in Germany. His task, to foil an international gang of drug dealing extortionists and of course the obligatory subplot of avenging his partner’s death.

Samuel Fuller, the controversial screenwriter and film director, was responsible for this slice of shtick, his usual edgy and political charged traits being watered down for this production.

Fuller wrote and directed the much admired and acclaimed The Big Red One, a World War II odyssey in which a group of US marines under the command of an apathetic and grizzled sergeant Lee Marvin make the way up through Europe from Sicily.  All the while the madness and grotesque savagery of war is adhered to in all its gory detail. Fuller was himself heavily decorated for valor during the conflict and was present at the liberation of the concentration camp Falkenau, this film draws on those first hand experiences.

None of this really impedes on ‘Dead Pigeon’, which has its moments but only that – moments!

CAN produce a solid bouncing dose of dance music to the theme tune, lending it the much-needed kudos it lacks on the screen.

Apart from the theme tune and the shelved ‘I’m Too Green’, CAN were caught in a frustrating stalemate. Lacking any cohesive plan of action the guys decided to seek inspiration by moving to a new location. Packing up the studio they moved into a disused cinema in the more sedate town of Weilerswist, just outside Cologne.

Settling in the band began to record some new improvised material, though the process was slow and laborious and infuriatingly delayed by Damo Suzuki and Irmin, who had taken up chess in a feverishly addictive manner; not quite as dire a consequences as that Ralf Hutter’s, whose cycling obsession led to the break up of Kraftwerk. The normally laid back Michael karoli, pulled his hair out waiting around whilst the marathon games were being finished. Amidst this modest setting of friction the tracks ‘Pinch’, ‘Sing Swan Song’ and ‘One More Night’ were thrashed out, thought they still needed more tracks as the labels deadline for finishing the album was fast approaching.

A blind panic set in and they went to work on another improvised jam the night before they were meant to deliver the finished record.

A resulting maelstrom of esoteric sound effects, dragged out instruments and arcane haunting eeriness titled ‘Soup’ crawled out from an alarming late night session, for Karoli it was a step too far, the onset of a near fatal perforated ulcer kicking off after the recording. Though ‘Soup’ stretched to ten minutes, they were still running short so had to hastily drag out ‘I’m So Green’ and ‘Vitamin C’ as well as throwing in the previous single ‘Spoon’ to make up the numbers.

Cobbled together in this way ‘Ege Bamyasi’ should sound disjointed and even half arsed but it doesn’t. The dare I say more conventionally structured songs seem to gel quite well, being punctuated by the longer improvised sound pieces, which sail pretty close to those found on Tago Mago. Due to the court action from Ofarim, the album missed its designated promotion schedule, though they still had some moderate success. The British press especially seemed quite taken with the record, Nick Kent being the most vocal of critics declaring them the saviors of rock.

The strangely distant lands sounding Ege Bamyasi translates as ‘Aegean Okra’ in Turkish, the band name itself meaning life in the same dialect. This alignment and interest in the Asian basin reflects their love, particularly, of the various folk music forms that are native to the region.

Eastern style choral mantras, the passionate lore of the Romani, the Alevi religious traveling bands and the Ottoman era rhythmic infectious backing used in belly dancing, all seep effortlessly into CAN’s psyche. Turkey, the two continents striding behemoth, absorbs cultures from Iran, India, the Balkans and Greece, her shores meeting both the Black Sea and Aegean. The various time signatures, structures, melodies and instrumentation of all these regions combine, resulting in a fertile bed from which our Teutonic audio explorers may take their rich pickings.

Further to the musical and dialectal influences, the okra from our album title is in fact a plant, originally found in West Africa, whose fruit is quite strange and odd looking but finds its way into cooking pots from the USA to China, used mostly in stews.

For all my green-fingered friends out there, okra is part of the Mallow family that includes cotton, cocoa and hibiscus. Its edible cucumber shaped green produce is known as gumbo in the States and Lady’s Fingers elsewhere.

This particular incarnation housed in a tin on the front cover of the album is manufactured by an Istanbul company, who coincidently are also called Can.

The placement like advertisement on the cover is literally a pun, playing on the theme of translation and the interest of world music and is delivered courtesy of the obscure artist Richard S Ludlow and graphics artist Ingo Trauer.

Trauer originally worked on the defining German 60s music show Beat Club as well as going onto to design the album covers for both CAN’s Future Days and Popol Vuh’s Hosianna Mantra.

The back cover features a photo of the band performing at the synonymous 1972 free festival concert at Cologne’s Sporthalle.

At least 10,000 people are reported to have attended this soiree.

Originally the gig was organised to drum up exposure for the group, which it managed successfully enough, though quite a few people who’d never heard the band before gravitated towards the performance just to see where everyone was heading.

CAN’s fourth album transcended any neat categorising, before you could at least label them to some extent as experimental or avant-garde but now they’d progressed to 3-minute dance music pop tunes, which carried a future sounding thrust. They made their sound almost manageable to some extent. In a way you could say this was a greatest hits of CAN, as it features three or four of their most famous and popular tunes, many of which seem to appeal to an otherwise turned off audience.

The big guns ‘I’m So Green’, ‘Spoon’ and ‘Vitamin C’ remain the most sampled and influential tracks the guys ever recorded, even now they sound as invigorating and fresh as the day they were recorded. A push to absorb more world music in their sound proclaimed them as farsighted and ambitious, pushing further away from their initial western rock underground beginnings.

This would also be the definitive Damo/CAN partnership LP, his vocals and presence the most integral yet, the balance changes for good on the follow up Future Days where Damo slips almost off the radar amongst the blissful trance like mire.

In a nutshell Ege Bamyasi sets upon the same course as Tago Mago but at the same time incorporates a more refined sound that opens them up to a new audience.

Just when it sounds like the album is moving along too smoothly a seismic improvisation splits the record in two, just letting you know that they haven’t lost their touch.

A dance record waiting for the 90s to happen, this record aches a certain futuristic coolness and knowing, as though they’d attached a flux capacitor to their battered Mercedes.

Quite frankly I’m suspicious of how they did it, no one should sound that ahead of their time.


CAN making a nuiscance of themselves in 1972.

The Review


United Artists 1972

Recorded at Inner Space Studios during autumn of 1971 and winter of 1972.

Track List:-

Side 1.

1. Pinch   (9:28)

2. Sing Swan Song   (4:49)

3. One More Night   (5:35)

Side 2.

1. Vitamin C   (3:34)

2. Soup   (4:49)

3. I’m So Green   (3:03)

4. Spoon   (3:03)


Personal:-

Holger Czukay – Bass, Engineer and Editor

Michael Karoli – Guitars and Shenai (Indian Oboe)

Jaki Liebezeit – Drums

Irmin Schmidt – Piano, Oragn, Clavioline and Steel Guitar

Damo Suzuki – Vocals


Without so much as a welcoming introduction to ease us in gently, opening tome ‘Pinch’ instantly plows straight into an uninterrupted improvised feel good dose of cosmic slop. Afro-beat grooves roll off Jaki Liebezeit’s drums in an infectious fidgety free-fall cascade and spring-loaded breaks bounce around the room, as Damo Suzuki crouched in the corner lets loose with a half spoken and half poetic prose style vocal. He sounds like an induced oriental Iggy Pop, drawling semi-conscious over his latest mushroom induced haiku.

The leering smothering synth of Irmin Schmidt looms ever present in the background like a grinning possessed industrial crane, encircling the performance waiting for the kill.

A straining disdain effects guitar comes courtesy of Michael Karoli, slipping in and out of the main furor when needed. Every now and then he draws out the odd note, sustaining it, leaving it hanging in the air until the very last second, then falling back down to Earth in wonderment.

Holgar Czukay now piles in with his funk bass runs and well placed underpinning broody notes, counter melodies fondly caress each nuance, providing a loose framework for the rest of the band to work around.

This mid tempo jam only briefly pauses for a quick short moment of downtime, an interjection led by Czukay doodling and scattering the old octave runs on his pumped up bass.

Damo oozes out with-strained mumbled syllables before being pushed to the side by Schmidt’s elbows, which slip onto his organ and wake us up with a shock.

Twiddling obsessively, our dark magi of the keyboards now unleashes a flood of heavy Tesla style atmospherics that ride over the top of the rhythm section, who come back in with renewed vigor, looking for a another fight.

The skies part for a moment as the clavioline dream-scape melodies compete with the now strange sound effects that are being tossed into the mix. These effects evoke comparisons to those acme products used by Wile E Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons, the spring operated traps that make those ridiculous boing sounds instantly come to mind.

Our marathon in avant-garde funk, think the Chicago Art Ensemble and Miles Davies riffing on Stockhausen in a sexy blast of pure bravado, finishes on Damo pronouncing the title ‘Pinch’ as though he’s attending a recital.

‘Sing Swan Song’ follows on with its peculiar watery opening, not too dissimilar to the Foley effects used by Neu!

Sounding like a boat being rowed gently across a misty lake, our rowers navigate the sinister hazards and come to rest upon a shoreline. Damo stands on the banks sweetly serenading the disembarking crew, his ghostly tones almost carried away in the breeze.

Subtle double kick drums and shuffling beats add much needed buoyancy to this down tempo number, the slightly eastern sounding backing conjures up images of traveling mysterious caravans making their way through the Turkish landscape.

Karoli now steps into the fray, gently finger picking his way through the Romani folk songbook with a style not uncommon to that played on the Spanish guitar.

Odd sounding emissions yet again raise form the back-line of Schmidt’s teetering tower of keyboards, rattling sneaky noises and troubling atmospheres create a sombre tone and unworldly presence.

Three quarters of the way in and a build up starts to grow out of the serious mood, the now intense Asiatic classical pickings of Karoli and heavier pedal tapping Jaki crank up the tempo.

Shimmering crescendos abound as echoing lost chants drown out Damo before bringing ‘Sing Swan Song’ to a sleepy end before drifting into the final track on side one.

Noodling half awake snare and hi-hat led drums ease into the first strains of ‘One More Night’, an early hours work out put together in a jet lagged awkward malaise.

The almost fractured time signature is more up-tempo and tight then they’d have you believe, what with Czukay adding a deceptive lazy and pronounced silky bass line to the languid paced song.

Karoli plays some cryptic jazz flourishes in the shadows, skulking like a child being sent to bed early.

Damo half whispers the vocals, repeating the “One more Saturday night” refrain until he grows tired and croons some improvised hymn, making his way towards a soft bed.

Now interjects the sound exploration of Schmidt plugging in his razor and pulling out leads from the back of his clavoline, like a spewing abundance of spaghetti cables being sucked out, the resulting pulse of static filling the air.

Gently and serendipitously the light-footed dawn chorus fades out until, leaving only a transient wisp of sustained effects hanging intentionally in the breeze.

Side two roars into action with a double kick thumping drum bombardment, think New Orleans funk ratcheted up until it bursts through the speakers on an astral chariot. This is ‘Vitamin C’, the sound of the future.

Hip-hop break beats and electro style dance music go toe to toe with poly rhythmic funk.

High/low bass note slides and quick-fingered runs leave behind a solid hook for Karoli to hang some choppy guitar rhythmic flourishes onto.

All of a sudden Schmidt cloaks the performance in a thick blanket of sound collage, encasing the song in a comforting whirling surround, until the end when a multitude of electronic sways of effects play out the final minutes.

Czukay’s high-octane drums slowly blow out as the twirling brewing melodies and Arabian evocative sounding instrumentation now take over, Karoli blowing on an Indian shenai, its mystical spine-chilling oboe tone adding a terse sense of suspense.

Never have CAN sounded quite so vibrant and tightly compact like a coiled spring waiting to be set free. ‘Vitamin C’ encapsulates all the best attributes the band has to offer, in only three minutes they manage to outdo any of their contemporaries. Hell they even make Pink Floyd look timid in comparison.

This is where Ege Bamyasi is pulled apart, sliced in two by the grand ambient improvised ‘Soup’, coaxed in by the lapping on the shore final fade out of the last track.

Materializing from the ether, Jaki’s drums up a break beat special, Damo joining in with a load of babbling almost incomprehensible subliminal lyrics.

A sudden surge and Damo is poked in the back with a sharp drumstick, soon he delivers an angrier torrent of shouting, which rises above the Sun Ra like jazz backing. Czukay weaves in and out of the jam with his bass, never staying in one particular place for long.

Karoli plays a heavily distorted display of preaching guitar solos and wailing bending banshee notes, whilst filling in the gaps is Schmidt’s popping and dripping metallic effects, the room now filled with an ever intense stand off between the musicians.

The mood shifts and is notched up a level as both the bass and keyboards battle for the lead, throwing weighty frenzied octave segue ways at the erupting cavalcade of sound, Czukay keeps up a strong attack. However Schmidt turns the dial to sinister esoteric and throws down the gauntlet.

Sardonic backward tape delays and arcane ritual mantras issue forth from some terrible paranormal entity; this is the companion piece in spirit to ‘Aumgn’, taking on its entire characteristic macabre zeal.

Five minutes of nightmare inducing howling and twisted machine grinding experimentation make for an uncomfortable listening experience; it sounds like the entire E.F.S series of cut up sound exploration from ‘Limited Edition’ pieced together at the same time.

You will need a strong stomach to hold out the entire 10 minutes of this harrying piece of shock, that brings to mind the steamboat ride along the chocolate river in the original Willy Wonka movie. The chaotic and vomit inducing montage of scary images that flash up, along with the wildly ever changing array of vivid colors that spook out the psychedelic acid tripped passengers on the boat, is accompanied by a terse freaky soundtrack – this could be that track.

Fortunately a deluge of silliness and pleasantness enters stage right as cowbells transport us from the gothic palace of dread into the light.

Karoli suffered his perforated ulcer after recording this mess, nearly killing him in the process, he was put out of action for most of 1972, maybe Schmidt and co. conjured up some non-forgiving apparition from the other side.

Luckily the album returns to the bouncy and breezy with the next track ‘I’m So Green’, an uplifting smooth percussive treat that bankrolled the Stone Roses almost twenty years later.

Jaki’s snare is indolent, his hi-hat carries a tight delay and those bouncing kick drums dance around, snugly wrapped in a comforting exotic world music groove.

Damo croons a sweet poppy number, now sounding truly invigorated and on form with a catchy hook, the nearest he would come to a pop song.

Karoli strikes up a strange mix of styles, arching his rhythm bursting riffs around Schmidt’s theremin evocative synth, which adds another dash of Tesla electric charged atmosphere to the bounding jaunty tune.

Ceremonially the band work up a frenzy, Jaki now really going at it with a new found sense of unbounded fanaticism. Oscillating UFO’s take off from Schmidts’s magi sleeves as they head for home.

The private eye theme tune ‘Spoon’, rolls in with Jaki working from left to right across his alchemists drum kit, a puncturing crash cymbal signalling the end of each bar.

Damo swoons and gently tickles the track with a subtle poetic plot.

On the chorus he sings an almost frail delicate eulogy, wistfully enchanting vocals lifting the melody above the clanging backing.

Underpinning this undulating rhythmic crescendo of drums is the counter melodic bass bridges of Czukay and Karoli’s light deft blues guitar pitch.

More of those Asian minor influences creep in, Schmidt adding a touch of quasi-mystical surroundings into the mix.

The rhythmic timing almost falls back upon itself, giving the groove a stop/start kind of feel, almost a one step forward two-steps back repetitive loop.

Fading out gently, ‘Spoon’ effortlessly reaches a conclusive finale and so proves a fitting end to the album.

For a record that was drawn together from various sessions at different times and for different reasons, ‘Ege Bamyasi’ sounds strangely just right. Even with the chasm widening second act of ‘Soup’ ripping apart proceedings, CAN create a pretty well balanced follow up to ‘Tago Mago’, a follow up that mixes the esoteric with dance music to create one of the defining albums of its times.

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