Friday, February 24, 2012

Five questions to Harald Grosskopf

Born in Hildesheim - Germany - on October 23rd 1949, Harald Grosskopf is one of the most active musicians of his generation. Since the 70's he can de heard on more than 95 albums of very important bands and artists such as Wallenstein, Cosmic Jokers, Ashra Tempel/Manuel Göttshing, Klaus Schulze and Walter Wegmüller. In 1980 Harald released his classic album "Synthesist" (re-released in vinyl recently by U.S. label Rvng Intl) and he also played the drums on Lili Berlin's band in the first half of the 80's. In the 90's and 2000's he took part in two cool projects sided by the also German musician and producer Steve Baltes (Sunya Beat and N-tribe), and focused on his solo career. He has six solo albums (the newest is a remake of the 1980 album, now called "Synthesist 2010").

I found Harald Grosskopf's contacts on the internet, during my researches on the pioneers of electronic music and about the music made in Germany in the '70s, the "krautrock". We exchanged a few emails and messages and when I invited him to do this interview for my blog, Harald was very kind and answered promptly! Here's the interview in English and also translated to Portuguese (see this post). The photos illustrating this interview are, originally, posted in Harald's official website and its use was authorized by him.

ASTRONAUTA - You are one of the most prolific musicians of Germany, mainly in the 70’s, when you played with bands like Wallenstein and Ashra Tempel/Ashra, with the Cosmic Jokers "project" and also in various records of artists like Klaus Schulze and Lili Berlin (already in the 80’s). How do you see the extension of your work with all these artists at that time and is there a favorite album of each one of these bands or artists?

HARALD - Muito obrigado pelos cumprimentos! :D)

Joining WALLENSTEIN in the beginning of 1971 was my entry into the professional world of the music business in all its encouraging and frustrating variations. In the beginning WALLENSTEIN created quite a new, complex and unique form of Classic Rock music. The money situation was all the way through very poor. I lived in small flats. Sometimes I had rats sharing my living room and food. I had to do it to be able to live my passionately longing to make music in the first place and I dreamed of success and groupies.

WALLENSTEIN was influenced by classical music and the structures partly where complicate. We rehearsed very often and disciplined and published 4 albums in four years.

But during the years more and more the music developed to become mainstream. I was frustrated. Not only because of the music, also because of the psychological disconnectedness of the band. I am not saying that it was not my fault. I definitely had my part in that story.

In that situation (1972) I was invited by the producers of our record label OHR MUSIK (EAR MUSIC) to join in studio sessions, they had arranged to bring the label musicians together. That's were I met Klaus Schulze, Manuel Göttsching and Hartmut Enke of ASH RA TEMPEL, Edgar Froese, Christoph Franke and Peter Baumann of TANGERINE DREAM the first time.

Klaus Schulze, drummer of ASHRA TEMPEL, was just about to leave the band to start his solo career. His first solo album "Irrlicht" was very strange. It did not touch me at all. It was intellectual and abstract. ASHRA TEMPEL was more interesting. Their style had more links to the rock music I was used too. TANGERINE DREAM in these days for me where like the sound passages of PINK FLOYD without concrete music structures. All these Berlin musicians where much more respectful and relaxed than I was used in dealing with the musicians of my environment. They complimented my drum play. I never had heard that before from any of the WALLENSTEIN band members... With all the critic I have for WALLENSTEIN, I learned a lot during those four years in the beginning of the seventies about music structures and recording techniques. Five years after I had left WALLENSTEIN, they produced a very big hit in Germany. Apart from band leader Jürgen Dollase, no one of the former band members where involved. The success was the end of the band.

During the label sessions for an album called "Tarot", I started to fall in love with electronic music and the unique guitar play of Manuel Göttsching. He used echo machines. His style was distinctive. In my sight - the - link to electronic music. Also Hartmut Enke`s bass play and sound. He was the first bass player in the world who live used a compressor to sustain his tone and an echo machine. The groove they produced was very original and had something of the years later constructed sequencer machines. Hartmut Enke unfortunately died in Dec 2005 after a sad fate in his life. He was the Syd Barrett of ASHRA TEMPEL....

After these experiences I was not able to continue Rock Music. I found it boaring and old fashioned. It did not fit into my cultural roots. After world war 2 the German youth, as a follow up of Hitler`s Nazi Germany, turned away from it`s own cultural roots and started to adored young anglo-american entertainment music culture. Rock`n Roll, Blues a.s.o.

I also loved the Beatles, later Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. But growing up in post war west Germany I had nothing to do with the social environment of Lousiana, nor Tennessee, nor the suburbs of London and never had the feeling that I was able to feel the Blues. Germany since a century expressed a culture of highest technical developments, discipline and emphasis. Germans invented 90% of all technical inventions on earth, from cars, atom power, 3D-film to space rockets, You name it...

Without a future connecting perspective I quitted WALLENSTEIN in summer of 1974 and sold my nice see-through shaped acrylic drum kit (facebook pic). For the proceed I bought a WEM Copycat echo machine, a guitar trunk amplifier and a 12 string guitar. I was faszinated by echoes. The monotonous, repeating grooves fascinated me more than stupid rock'n'roll 4/4 drum beats. I was convinced that the music we created, during those studio improvisation sessions, would be very influential in future music.

Summer 1974. POPOL VUH, a Krautrock formation, also on OHR record label where looking for a drummer. I met Florian Fricke in the same studio where we produced WALLENSTEIN. So I packed my old metallic green colored VW and went to Munich, ready to join into a very original music formation. Popohl Vuh produced film music for the German artist legend, film director Werner Herzog. The next day we started to test weather a cooperation between me and the band would have been possible. Florian Fricke was a genius of the grand piano. He was a classical trained musician, his mother an opera singer. Florian's companion Daniel Fiechelscher, son of a well know German Jazz musician, was a great guitarist, a very good percussionist and drummer. He wanted to be concentrated just on guitar. That`s why they where looking for a drummer. Daniel partly played percussion with AMON DÜÜL 2, another Krautrock legend.

Unfortunately Daniel was an unreliable heroin addict. More than one time Florian had to pay at the mortgage office to get Daniels valuable Gibson guitar back, which he had left there to score money for drugs. POPOL VUH performed and recorded unusual silent. Pure, un amplified grand piano and Daniels, volume down turned, guitar amp. I was used for years to accompany loudest rock music and was not able to cope with such kind of low volume level, without loosing my emotional balance. So unfortunately I was not able to fulfill their expectations and left Munich the next day, terrible frustrated, because I liked their unique music style very much. In December 2001, the great Florian, aged 55, passed away much too early.

Back home in my small 2 room flat, I played my 12-string and echo machine, until one day my door bell rang. MANUEL GÖTTSCHING, on way home from a little tour in France, smiled at me. He radiated relaxation, friendliness and self-confidence. We talked a lot about music and shared the same ideas about making music. In the end he asked me, after ASHRA TEMPEL was falling apart with their former constellation, to join in. HARTMUT ENKE, after a few bad LSD trips was shaken by psychosis and was not reliable anymore for the band. He never returned back to a "normal" behaving level until his end in Dec 2005. The band`s name was shortened, influenced by reality into ASHRA. A new member on guitar named Lutz Ulbrich, old companion of Manuel, had joined in. The french people could not pronounce his first name Lutz the correct way. Since we called him Lüül, with a french accent. A week before Manuel had visited me I had written a letter to KLAUS SCHULZE, who just had radio broadcasted his new album "Blackdance". I wrote him that I was overwhelmed. What a change since "Irrlicht"! Strong, grooving rhythms, melodies, passion and unusual new electric sounds. His short reply on my letter was one sentence on a postcard: "Come visit me!" A few weeks later I lived at his home and we recorded "Moondawn". His best album ever.

In 1977, I was living in Berlin since one year. ASHRA had produced the "Correlation" album and started in November an extended tour through France and Switzerland. We almost got busted and killed by thrilled, highly nervous french cops, during the night after our last performance on french soil. Headline: German RAF terrorists had just killed a German business tycoon in french town Mulhouse, where we had performed on same day, they had found his dead corpse in a cars trunk. The cops, in a car behind us, had spotted out our green Mercedes with German licence plate, stopped us with smoking breaks and pointed guns on us. We perfectly fitted into their pre-judice about age and image of German terrorists: Long hair - huge, fast car. That we where drunk and illegal sedated, did not interest them at all. Thank god, Lüül spoke perfect french and was able to calm these quite nervous dudes down. After they had checked our passports they released us.

ASTRONAUTA - In 1980 you released the album "Synthesist", a classic (reissued recently on vinyl with a bonus CD, with various artists playing versions of your songs). How were the recording sessions of "Synthesist" in 1980? What equipment and musical instruments did you use to recording that album?

HARALD - "Berlin, Germany, summer of 1979, I was 29 years old and at a personal and creative crossroads. My girlfriend just left me, ASHRA was on temporary hiatus. I always considered myself a rhythmic accomplice to my numerous collaborators' lead, until prompted by some fellow musician friends to pursue a singular creative vision. Armed with an ITAM 8 track reel-to-reel, I set off for the West German countryside that fall and isolated myself in a home studio for almost two months to record "Synthesist". I did not own any keyboard instrument, nor was I set in general to use synthesizers. All I wanted was to make music. Using electronic equipment was, by accident the choice, because it was the easiest way to get all necessary basic sounds for creating a piece of music. From bass to string sounds and more...

The small studio was owned by UDO HANTEN (from the band YOU) and located in his flat. Udo was the guy who motivated me to try going solo. Before that I understood myself as a music companion and I was no keyboard player at all.

All I used during the recording sessions was Udo's Mini-Moog, his ARP 16-step sequencer and another friends KORG PS-3100 two-voice synthesizer. In these days MIDI was not existing. How to get a singular sequencer doing all the work of parallel sequencing? An electronic goof, that lived in the house, prepared a cable with an electronic component that formed from the sequencer gate output impulse a trigger impulse that was able to be recorded on one of the 8 available tracks. Vice versa it produced, via the same cable, a trigger impulse to control the sequencers timing. I had to "format" one track after the other to be able to get the different sequences of the music pieces synchronous.

Another emerging problem was the very unstable tuning of the MOOG. All early MINI-MOOG's shared this problem. The decrease of detuning was quite slow, not perceptible during recording of the first sequencer track. But after 3 or 4 minutes during recording of the second sequencer track the comparison made it obvious. Horrible detuning! I positioned a heat spending 60W light bulb very close to the back of the MOOG, to get the problem mitigated. I had to repeat the sequencer recording over and over again until the results where satisfactory. Most of the time I recorded during nights and meanwhile emptied hundreds of coffee pots. It was the most intense and thrilling time of my life in creative loneliness. A few weeks later I recorded the drums and the solo voices at PANNE PAULSEN STUDIO in Frankfurt, where some pieces of the best German Electronic music was laid. Final mix and mastering was done there too.

ASTRONAUTA - - A lot of very important albums, especially from the 70s, has your name credited as the drummer. So, in 1980, you decided to record an album totally dedicated to the use of synthesizers. How was for you this transition from an instrument (drums) to another (synthesizers) and how the fact that you was are a drummer influenced you in the use of synthesizers?

HARALD - Most of these questions are answered with my last answer. Until now I am no keyboard player. I kind of play the drums on keyboards with my fingers and listen to the results. If I like it I record and loop it. As a drummer my feel for timing, groove and emphasis is trained in years and maybe special.

It took quite a while to accept that I was able to create music on keyboards that can be shared and liked by others. Not being a keyboard player means limitation on one hand and being unlimited on the other. The sequencer allows me to construct ideas I could not realize with my hands. I am able to repair "wrong" notes in time and tune with the help of modern state of the art software music machines.

I must explain that I never was a fanatic fan, in order to build up, or own, or use piles of stacked, analog synthesizer keyboards. I definitely like the analog sound synthesis, but in these days I more and more see analog synthesizer as antiquated relicts of the past that should be presented in museums. They are kind of environmentally damaging. Too much material. Too much electricity consumption. Too much transportation space. Big cars needed. Huge CO2 pollution.

I prefer notebooks and synthesizer plug-ins, in consequence (!) of the idea to produce audio waves with the help of electronic circles. Since one or two years plug-ins sound as analog as the old music machines. Now I am able to travel light. Anywhere in the world. I have my studio and instruments under my arm..... Perfect! My electronic drum kit is lighter than any "real" drum kits, but still heavy enough to get overweight problems on airplanes. In Japan, when we performed with ASHRA at METAMORPHOSE FESTIVAL 2008, they organizers hired an identical model. All I had to carry was a USB stick, containing my drum module settings and a pair of drum sticks"....

ASTRONAUTA - Do you still have some of the equipment, synthesizers and drums used in the recordings that you made in the 70’s and 80’s? Which of these instruments are still with you? Is there any instrument or equipment that you regret not being with you anymore?

HARALD - None! No! A few years ago I bought a very cheap ARP ODYSSEY. All knobs and sliders had problems. They all crackled, caused dropouts and the tuning problem was immense. I soon sold it with profit.

ASTRONAUTA - In between your solo albums there is a certain a period of time, sometimes 10 years. This time between an album and another is necessary to you? I suppose there must be much unreleased material from your solo career. Do you have plans to release records hitherto unpublished or even reissue some of your albums like the re-release of "Synthesist" (with bonus tracks included covered by new artists or even tracks recorded at the time)?

HARALD - One reason was that I never liked the idea to repeat myself over and over. I needed a long period of not listening to my own tunes. After I finished "Synthesist" I had not listen to it almost during a period of 20 years. You can imagine how many times I had to listen to it during the recording process. The making is the joy of the musician. On stage You have to create it new every time You play it, if You do not want to get bored soon. In the beginning I simply was not able to say weather "Synthesist" was good or bad. It is connected with millions of different situations, feelings and frustrations during the making. Now after all the years I discover the innocent naivety and energetic freshness of it. It is like someone other than me had created it.

I had to "remake" the "Synthesist" pieces last year with the help of my music software (ABLETON LIVE 8) to be able to perform them live on stage. A lot of work and the knowledge that it is impossible to repeat those special, singular moments of 1979 in a 100%. The audience in New York, where I performed "Synthesist" the first time after 31 years, liked it very much. So I think I was not too much away from the original....

I just prepare to reissue my second album "Ocenheart" (1985) on RVNG Intl, New York, on vinyl. There is unpublished material from the times before SYNTHESIST existing I like to publish sooner or later"....

Com os melhores votos para o Brasil!

Harald Grosskopf / February 2012

Harald Grosskopf, Axel Manrico Heilhecker and Astronauta Pinguim
(São Paulo, July 26th 2013)

Harald Grosskopf's official website:


  1. Hi friends!
    If you wnat to know more about Ashra, Ash Ra Tempel and Manuel Göttsching,check out here, also because Ashra (with Harald on drums) is playing on June 8, 2012 at Ufa Fabrik in Berlin!,,


  2. Enjoy this video from MG & AShra in Japan:

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