Music beyond time: Jenzeits


Where Monday’s post was about the cosmic music of the 1970s, this one concerns something in the same zone that’s more contemporary. Chad Davis is an American musician who likes to compartmentalise his activities as separate projects with different names. Jenzeits is Davis in kosmische mode, drawing heavily on the Berlin School of electronica and similar music of the 1970s, with a name that collides Jenseits, a title from Join Inn, the fourth album by Ash Ra Tempel, with Zeit, the third album by Tangerine Dream. (“Jenseits” is the German word for beyond, while “zeit” means time, so “Jenzeits” might be taken as a pun meaning “beyond time”. German speakers, however, may see this less as a pun than simply poor use of their language.)

There’s been a lot of Berlin-School pastiching going on over the past few years, the mid-70s albums by Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze being very popular among the period imitators. I’m always referring to Redshift and Node as my favourite exponents in this idiom. Chad Davis is obviously inspired by the same albums but my attention was caught on a first hearing by his homages to the music that Manuel Göttsching was making under the Ash Ra Tempel/Ashra name during the same period, especially Le Berceau De Cristal, New Age Of Earth, and (to a lesser extent) Blackouts. Göttsching was always primarily a guitar player, but by the mid-70s he was combining his guitar work with sequencers and synthesizers to create instrumental electronic music with a different texture to his keyboard-based contemporaries. New Age Of Earth has a hippyish title that might be off-putting to curious listeners but it’s long been one of my favourite electronic albums, with a unique atmosphere that I wish Göttsching had pursued a little further. (The title in German on the back of the original French release is Neuzeit der Erde, literally “New Time of Earth”. Zeit again.) The album’s unique qualities are a product of its blend of processed guitar, keyboards and electronic rhythms, the latter being created by the EKO Computerhythm, an early programmable drum machine which could also be used to trigger other instruments to create sequencer patterns.


New Age Of Earth (1976). Design by Peter Butschkow.

I can’t say for certain whether Davis had this music or instrumentation in mind when recording his third Jenzeits album, Jenzeits Cosmic Orbits, but the similarities were enough to make me want to hear more. One of the frustrations of electronic music historically has been the way the evolution of technology has dictated its form. Tangerine Dream’s music changed according to the instrumentation they had available at any given time; new equipment meant new sounds and musical possibilities very different to the ones the group had been exploring a couple of years before. This doesn’t happen to the same degree with other musicians, especially guitarists who are often happy to play the same battered instrument for years on end. For a listener, the technical evolution of electronic music has often left behind abandoned areas or unexplored avenues. In this respect, the music of Jenzeits is less a series of pastiches than an attempt to further some of these explorations.

There are 12 Jenzeits releases to date, all of which are available on Bandcamp. Some of the earlier ones have also appeared on vinyl and cassette. If a CD box of the entire Jenzeits catalogue appeared I’d buy it in a second but I doubt this will happen any time soon. For the curious, Jenzeits Volume 1 is a good place to start. The last Jenzeits release was in 2020 which suggests we’ve seen the end of this particular project. For those who’d like more (and I still do), an earlier Chad Davis project, Romannis Mötte, ventured into similar territory.


Jenzeits Cosmic Universe (2017).


Jenzeits Cosmic Lifeforms (2017).


Jenzeits Cosmic Orbits (2017).


Jenzeits Volume 1 (2018).

Continue reading “Music beyond time: Jenzeits”

Cosmic jokes and a cosmic conundrum


Tangerine Dream in 1973.

Here’s an item of news that will be of little interest to many readers but I’ve not seen it reported widely so it’s worth noting. (This place is nothing if not a cornucopia of deeply excavated niches, so you can take this as further niche excavation.) The news concerns recordings that Tangerine Dream made with Timothy Leary in 1973…or Leary recordings which were added to Tangerine Dream music in the same year. One problem with writing about all of this is that documentation remains elusive. Bearing this in mind, the details are as follows:

• Tangerine Dream were signed to Ohr Records from 1970 to 1973, a label for whom they recorded their first four albums plus one seven-inch single. During this time they were also featured along with label-mates Ash Ra Tempel, Popol Vuh and Klaus Schulze on an Ohr compilation, Kosmische Musik.

• “Kosmische” is the key word here. Ohr boss Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser liked the word enough to create an Ohr offshoot, Die Kosmischen Kuriere (The Cosmic Couriers), which later became the short-lived Kosmische Musik label.

• Also in the early 1970s, Timothy Leary, on the run from the US authorities, arrived in Switzerland where he and his allies (including Brian Barritt and Leary’s future wife, Joanna Harcourt-Smith) began hanging around with various members of the Swiss psychedelic avant-garde. Among the latter were writer Sergius Golowin, and a pair of artists, Walter Wegmüller and HR Giger.

• Ohr/Kosmische Kuriere/Kosmische Musik was based in Berlin, but at some point after Leary’s arrival in Switzerland R-U Kaiser and a handful of his recording artists met up with the Swiss psychonauts, an encounter that led to a series of musical collaborations: Seven Up, the third Ash Ra Tempel album which featured vocal intrusions from Leary and friends; Lord Krishna Von Goloka by Sergius Golowin, an album of Golowin readings with music by Klaus Schulze and others; and Tarot, an ambitious double-disc concept album narrated by (and credited to) Walter Wegmüller which included contributions from many of the major Ohr/Kosmische Kuriere artists. No Tangerine Dream, however.


Spalax CD reissues from the mid-1990s. Cover designs by Peter Geitner.

• Here’s where things get complicated. At some point while the above were being recorded, R-U Kaiser decided to release a series of “kosmische” jams by Ash Ra Tempel, Klaus Schulze and others which were credited to an imaginary group, The Cosmic Jokers. There are various reports about these sessions, with claims and counter-claims about whether or not permission was granted by the musicians. I can’t comment on the legal history (which led eventually to the collapse of Kaiser’s company) but Kaiser and his wife, Gille Letteman, appear to have been gripped by a kind of cosmic megalomania in 1974. The Cosmic Jokers album was quickly followed by four more releases in the same year: Galactic Supermarket (yet more jams by the same musicians but credited to Galactic Supermarket); Gilles Zeitschiff by Sternenmädchen (in which Gille Letteman and friends recount Timothy Leary’s flight to Switzerland and the meetings with the Cosmic Couriers); Planeten Sit-In (a quadrophonic sampler album created as a promotion for the Kosmische Musik label in conjunction with Germany’s Hobby magazine); and Sci Fi Party, an uneven compilation album which blends various Kosmische Musik recordings into a cosmic slop presided over by the label bosses who dominate the front cover.

Continue reading “Cosmic jokes and a cosmic conundrum”

Weekend links 733


Armenian postage stamps for this year’s Sergei Parajanov centenary.

• At David Hudson on 100 Years of Sergei Parajanov. The director is honoured with postage stamps and endless plaudits but when do we get blu-ray releases of more of the films that created all this attention in the first place?

• Steven Heller helps round off a noir-themed week with a look back at New York, the city where letterers never sleep. See also Berenice Abbott’s Changing New York.

• New music: Natur by KMRU; Associated Tone Services by Associated Tone Services; The Berklee Sessions by Scanner & Neil Leonard.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Hyper realistic pencil drawings of metallic objects by Kohei Ohmori.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: You are there: Les Cabarets du Ciel et de l’Enfer.

Chris Corsano’s favourite albums.

Signs by Daniel McKee.

• RIP Robert Towne.

Ciel Ouvert (1985) by Yello | Ciels Ténébreuse (1990) by :Zoviet*France: | Monter Au Ciel (1994) by Transglobal Underground

Noir dreams and nightmares


Murder, My Sweet.

One of the bonuses of the Big Noir Watch was getting to see just how many dream/nightmare/hallucination sequences there were in the listed films besides those I remembered from previous viewings. The dream sequence is almost as old as cinema itself but the often lurid and melodramatic nature of noir storylines makes dreams and nightmares another recurrent feature of the the landscape. Beleaguered, paranoid characters are liable to find the Expressionist roots of noir cinema lurking behind their closed eyelids, ready to tip them into an unstable world of blurred vortices and looming, underlit faces.


Stranger on the Third Floor.

Production credits referred to these sequences (when they refer to them at all) as montages, a rather confusing term when montage is another word for film editing in general. The sequences were invariably the work of people other than the director, either a montage specialist or a photographer familiar with optical printing and camera effects. Before Don Siegel became a notable noir director he was a montage creator at Warner Brothers; the sequence showing the invasion of France in Casablanca is one of his. He credited his montage work with teaching him all about cinema craft.

The following examples are all the sequences I noticed during the recent noir binge. If you know of any other good ones from the 1940s or 1950s then please leave a comment.

Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)


An aspiring reporter is the key witness at the murder trial of a young man accused of cutting a café owner’s throat and is soon accused of a similar crime himself.

Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward mark the beginning of what they term “the noir cycle” with The Maltese Falcon in 1941. But many other writers choose Stranger on the Third Floor as the beginning of the genre that would dominate the 1940s. With good reason: the film is 60 minutes of non-stop fear and paranoia photographed by Nicholas Musuraca, one of the RKO cinematographers whose use of shadows would help define the noir style. The celebrated dream sequence is almost a film in itself, with huge, shadow-filled sets in which reporter Mike Ward (John McGuire) undergoes accusation, an unwinnable trial and a slow walk to the electric chair.

Murder, My Sweet (1944)


After being hired to find an ex-con’s former girlfriend, Philip Marlowe is drawn into a deeply complex web of mystery and deceit.

The first adaptation of Farewell, My Lovely changed the title so that viewers wouldn’t think it was another Dick Powell musical. As with The Big Sleep, the adaptation mangles the plot but it has its plus points, especially Mike Mazurki as Moose Malloy, an ex-wrestler whose performance as the overbearing ex-con is definitive. It also has this great hallucination sequence. In the novel Marlowe is blackjacked by rogue cops then wakes in a mysterious clinic with a head full of drugs. The film takes us inside Marlowe’s head during his unconscious episode, the Surrealist montage sequence being credited to Douglas Travers.

Conflict (1945)


An engineer trapped in an unhappy marriage murders his wife in the hope of marrying her younger sister.

Humphrey Bogart plays the scheming engineer who finds himself besieged by accusatory faces following a serious car crash. The sequence was directed by Roy Davidson with camera work by HF Koenekamp. Bogart’s dream includes repeated shots of swirling water racing down a plug-hole, a cheap vortex effect that reappears in later sequences.

Continue reading “Noir dreams and nightmares”

The Big Noir Book, or 300 films and counting…


Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past (1947). Photography by Nicholas Musuraca.

“His voice was the elaborately casual voice of the tough guy in pictures. Pictures have made them all like that.” —Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

1: The Big Project
This is a big post about a big subject: the film noir of the 1940s and 1950s, also the “neo-noir” revival of the following decades. The project in question was my attempt to watch all the films listed in a comprehensive study of the form, Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, which was published in 1979. There are many books about film noir but this one, which I often refer to as The Big Noir Book, is hard to beat, a heavyweight guide in which editors Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward construct a definition of the genre, chart its history, and compile indices for the key creators: actors, writers, directors and cinematographers. The core of the book is a detailed list of 300 films (see below), with production credits for each entry, a précis of each story and a short critical essay.

“Big” is an apposite term; many of these films involve big characters, big passions, big crimes and big predicaments, the latter invariably matters of life or death. The word “big” turns up in a number of noir titles, thanks no doubt to Raymond Chandler’s first Philip Marlowe novel, The Big Sleep. Howard Hawks’ adaptation of the Chandler book is one of the defining films of the genre, one that was very successful despite the plot being rendered incoherent by bowdlerisation and competing screenwriters. The studios spent the next few years offering picture-goers The Big Clock (1948), The Big Night (1951), The Big Heat (1953), The Big Combo (1955) and The Big Knife (1955). Also The Big Carnival (1951), an alternate “big” title for Ace in the Hole.


The big book. On the cover: Joan Crawford and Jack Palance in Sudden Fear (1952).

I can’t be the only person to have encountered Silver & Ward’s list then thought about trying to watch everything on it. But unless you’re an academic or a film reviewer this would have been difficult until very recently, if not impossible when many of the titles are obscure B-pictures that you wouldn’t usually find on TV. The idea first arose in the 1980s when a friend bought a copy of the noir book shortly after I’d been reading Robert P. Kolker’s Cinema of Loneliness, a substantial analysis of five American directors which, in its first edition, includes some discussion of the noir influence on the films of the 1970s. Three of the films that Kolker examines are examples of neo-noir that make the Silver & Ward list: The Long Goodbye, Taxi Driver and Night Moves. Kolker also acknowledges Stanley Kubrick’s grounding in the noir idiom. Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss and The Killing are both on the list, while the film that followed these, Paths of Glory, features hardboiled dialogue by Jim Thompson, and a cast filled with noir actors. My growing interest in the genre happened to coincide with the arrival on British television of Channel 4, a TV station which spent its early years filling the afternoons and late evenings with re-runs of old films. Silver & Ward’s book had the effect of making me pay closer attention to films I might otherwise have ignored or only watched if there was nothing else on. The book also contextualised these films in a way that’s never required with other genres. This period was an introduction to noir as it really is, as opposed to the clichés which still surround the genre today.


Claire Trevor in Raw Deal (1948). Photography by John Alton.

2: The Big Definition
Everyone knows the noir clichés: private eyes, duplicitous dames, lethal hoods, nightclub singers, sardonic voiceovers, light slanting through venetian blinds, the American metropolis, rain-washed nocturnal streets, big cars, big hats, trench coats, guns, cops, more cops, etc, etc.

Hollywood films of the 1940s do, of course, feature all of these things many times over, but the genre definition offered by Silver & Ward is as much about a pessimistic world-view as it is about the aesthetics of life in the American city. The “noir” quality that French critics of the 1950s identified in post-war American cinema was a visual attribute before it was anything else, a realisation that many of the recent Hollywood films were saturated with angled shadows and endless night. But the black (or, more properly, dark) character of these films is as much a set of circumstances as it is a visual style, one where the wheel of fate is often the most important element driving the story. The visual style can contribute a great deal to the storytelling and the overall mood but noir circumstance can exist, as it does in Leave Her to Heaven, in bright Technicolor sunlight miles away from any city. Fate may manifest as blind chance—mistaken identity, someone in the wrong place at the wrong time—or a deterministic inevitability that leads a protagonist to their destruction. A doom-laden finale was frequently imposed by Hollywood’s Production Code which insisted that crime can never be shown to pay, but the Code’s moral stricture is only obtrusive in the films about criminals. Many noir situations concern ordinary people whose attempts to live decent lives are thwarted by bad decisions or unfortunate circumstance. Despite Hollywood’s reputation for happy endings a negative resolution is a noir staple, as is an atmosphere of desperation, entrapment and paranoia; a Pyrrhic victory is often as good as it gets. Meanwhile, the shadow of war hangs over all the films of the 1940s. Many of the wartime pictures refer in passing to events in Europe, while the post-war films are often informed by the recent ordeals of returned veterans. There’s even a sub-class of noir involving veterans with damaged brains whose amnesias or violent mood swings lead them into trouble.

The noir stereotype of the private eye is well-founded when Silver & Ward mark the beginning of the genre with Humphrey Bogart’s appearance as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. Many films about private eyes followed Bogart but not all of them are truly noir, while the genre itself is flexible enough to depart from the detective formula. Film noir doesn’t have to involve cities at all: a number of the films on Silver & Ward’s list are entirely set in small towns or remote rural areas. The genre doesn’t have to be set in the USA either: there are London noirs, South American noirs, Caribbean noirs, European noirs and Far East noirs. The films aren’t always black-and-white or filled with shadows: several of the noirs from the 1950s are in colour, as are all the ones from the 1970s.

Continue reading “The Big Noir Book, or 300 films and counting…”