CD Review: Harald Grosskopf – Synthesist & Oceanheart

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About two weeks ago I was wandering Tower Records in Akihabara, looking for the latest Allman Brothers re-release, when I stumbled upon a feature display for someone named Harald Grosskopf. To be honest, I had never heard of him before, but the display caught my eye for two reasons. One was silver-painted portrait that graces the cover of his album Synthesist, and that’s a little hard to miss.

But what really captured my attention was giant text next to it that simply read SYNTHESIZER!!!! followed by a shitlaod of Japanese text that I couldn’t read.

I had no idea who Harald Grosskopf was at the time, but they totally had me at SYNTHESIZER!!!!

There were two albums on display at the store – the previously mentioned Synthesist, and another entitled Oceanheart. After sampling both at the store’s listening station and discovering that they were just as synth-heavy as the exclamation-filled sign promised, I snagged them both up. It was probably the blindest purchase I ever made, an impulse buy made solely off of the promise of a synthesizer and about 10 seconds of listening, but I’m so glad I made the leap. Because both of these records are incredible.

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LOOK INTO MY EYES

Now that I know a bit about Harald Grosskopf I guess I should fill anyone who is reading this in as well. As you can probably gather from his name, Grosskopf is a German musician, best known for his work on the keyboards and drums. Throughout the 70s he worked steadily for a variety of different groups and artists, appearing on a number of critically acclaimed krautrock and new age albums by the likes of Wallenstein, Ash Ra Tempel and Klaus Schulze.

It wasn’t until 1980 that he decided to branch out and go solo with the release of Synthesist. And when I mean solo, I mean solo. The album was composed, produced and performed almost entirely by Grosskopf. The only other credit on the album goes to one Udo Hanten for his contribution of “Space Sounds.”

I want to be a professional space sound person when I grow up.

Oceanheart is a similarly solo affair, with the only additional credit going to a tabla player – which I think is an even more specific skill set to possess than “space sound” producer.

The two albums are rather similar in style and feature entirely instrumental tunes. However, of the two Oceanheart is a little more experimental and adventurous. Two of the tracks top out at over 10 minutes long, and some, such as “Pondicherry Dream” (which features the previously mentioned tabla), are far more percussion-heavy than most of the tracks on Synthesist.

In fact, while Oceanheart was recorded and released in the mid-80s, it sounds much more like an album from the mid-70s, as it seems to be much more influenced by the Tangerine Dream albums of that era, and even some of the krautrock of that period. It’s and interesting combination of sounds, not dance music, not rock music for sure, and not ambient. Of synth albums from that era, I believe it to be entirely unique.

That being said, I think I like Synthesist more. It’s not exactly a brave album, sticking its groove instead in the style fellow German artists like Michael Rother and Michael Hoenig (although with less acoustic instruments). But it’s more upbeat, with an urgent pulsing sound that you might find reminiscent of classic Tangerine Dream tracks like “Phaedra,” although not nearly as long. In short, the album sounds like a greatest hits of styles from German rock and electronic music of the time, combining the highlights of them all with few of the drawbacks (there isn’t much in the way of atonal experimentation or lengthy drone rock here – thank god).

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If John Denver and a KORG had a baby it would be this man.

Both of these albums have become the soundtrack to my morning commute as of late (80s synthesizer music syncs up with Tokyo incredibly well, as you might expect). And if you consider yourself to be a fan of krautrock or 80s synth jams then I suggest you check them out, even if you can’t make it to a Tower Records.

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