- At first glance, there's little to suggest that former Cosmic Joker, Ash Ra Tempel drummer and Klaus Schulze collaborator Harald Grosslkopf's first solo album, 1980's Synthesist deserves a reissue. Of all the albums to emerge from the Berlin scene in that era, it doesn't seem as totemic nor as dynamic nor as visionary as that of its peers. It's no grand musical statement along the lines of Manuel Göttsching's E2-E4, not as melodically evocative as the solo albums recorded by guitarist Michael Rother and not the synthesis of pop and experimentation that was Bowie's Berlin trilogy. It's not really a rarity, either. In fact, were Grosskopf not coated in silver body paint for the cover, it might've slipped through the cracks entirely.
In no small way, Synthesist's seeming unremarkableness becomes its most defining attribute, what makes it resonate some thirty years on. Recorded in a friend's flat in Krefeld, Germany in the summer of 1979 with a Minimoog and a few other components, the drummer made a curious keyboard album that presaged many musical directions not only in the nascent new decade, but somehow thirty years on. The ambitious and oddball RVNG imprint originally tracked down Grosskopf to have him participate as part of their FRKWYS series (which to date has paired mutant musicmakers like Excepter to Foetus's JG Thirwell and Psychic Ills to Juan Atkins), only to have there not be an exact fit.
Not that Grosskopf doesn't synch up with the current scene; if anything, Synthesist was too prescient, its dizzying arrays of synthesizer serving as precursor to 21st century bedroom artists. After its sounds became antiquated by digital interfaces in the intervening years, Synthesist's analog textures experienced a renaissance amid artists who draw heavily on such scrapped vintage equipment, so that Grosskopf's then groundbreaking sounds were somehow fully synthesized into the sensibilities of multiple acts. So instead, RVNG presents the original album along with Re-Synthesist, a tribute paid by artists drawn primarily from the RVNG and Olde English Spelling Bee rosters, acts like Oneohtrix Point Never, James Ferraro, Optimo's JD Twitch, Stellar Om Source, ARP and Blondes.
Soaring opener "So Weit So Gut" has bubbling jetstreams arc across the stereo field as the melodic line slowly takes form and the cymbals resound. The ambient dirge of "B. Aldrian" follows and would slot in alongside side two of Bowie's Low, its evocative landscape changing its contours from Saharan sands to oasis, with chirps, calls and gurgling sounds emerging. Jar Moff speeds through their version at a faster clip only to have a drum machine slow it back down while CFCF's go at the song adds Balearic guitar to its warm analog baths. ARP keeps the cop show chug of "Emphasis" intact and adds a bit more kick, only to have white noise creep in to overtake the track, while Twitch's "Emphasize" isolates percussion from the original and erects a pounding monolith, all spires of squalls and glassy ticks that veer towards Chris And Cosey territory.
With subsequent listens, what becomes evident is that the artists have very little wiggle room to improve upon the original. Despite the innumerable layers of synths, Grosskopf's serpentine melodies are not the result of stumbled-upon noodling but are in fact expertly crafted, to where folks like Blondes and Bronze do best to get out of their way and just put a meaty beat behind the music. Ferraro, under his Keyhole Voyeur alias, sounds like he used a third-generation cassette dubbing of the original album as his starting point for his playful reworking of "Transcendental Overdrive," while on "Trauma 2010" OPN's Daniel Lopatin gamely toys with frequencies: piercing highs, shimmering dreamlike mids and deep rumble woven together. A cool project and release that—if not absolutely crucial—makes what was once old sound wholly renewed for a new generation.
01. So Weit, So Gut
02. B. Aldrian
05. 1847- Earth
07. Transcendental Overdrive
08. Tai Ki
01. Bronze - So Weit, So Gut
02. CFCF - B. Aldrian
03. Jar Moff - B. Aldrian
04. Arp - Emphasis
05. JD Twitch - Emphasize
06. Blondes - Synthesist
07. Snoretex - Synthesist
08. Stellar Om Source - 1847 - Earth
09. Oneohtrix Point Never - Trauma 2010
10. Keyhole Voyeur (AKA James Ferraro) - WISHMASTER (Transcendental Overdrive Zone)
11. Pink Skull - Tai Ki