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A founding member of the enormously influential Krautrock group Can, Holger Czukay was one of the pivotal underground figures of his era; over the course of his long, expansive career, Czukay successfully bridged the gap between pop and the avant-garde, pioneering the use of samples and exploring the significance of world music on Western culture.
Czukay was born in Gdansk on March 24, 1938. After falling in love with music at a young age, he spent his formative years studying to be a composer and conductor, but his ideas were frequently too radical for mainstream tastes; after being disqualified from one jazz festival for his "unclassifiable music," he was later expelled from Berlin's Music Academy for similar artistic insolence. Under the tutelage of avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, Czukay continued to refine his ideas, and soon became a teacher himself; through student Michael Karoli, he gained his first exposure to performers like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Velvet Underground.
After picking up the bass, Czukay teamed with Karoli, fellow Stockhausen protégé Irmin Schmidt, drummer Jaki Liebezeit, and American-born vocalist Malcolm Mooney, and in early 1968, the group Inner Space was formed. Quickly renamed Can, they released their debut, Monster Movie in 1969, the first in a series of visionary albums establishing the band as one of the truly seminal artists of the period. At much the same time, Czukay teamed with Rolf Dammers to release an LP titled Canaxis 5, instituting both primitive sampling techniques (achieved with tape splices) and worldbeat influences; sculpted from thousands of recordings dubbed from short-wave radio broadcasts, the album employed samples from a number of international sources, and consequently positioned Czukay as an early proponent of world music appropriation.
After 1976's Flow Motion, Can disbanded, and three years later Czukay issued his debut solo effort, Movies, a marked refinement of his short-wave sonic collage techniques. In addition to critical raves, the record won considerable interest throughout the musical community, and Czukay subsequently began work on a number of outside projects: in addition to playing on Eurythmics' 1981 debut, In the Garden, he teamed with Jaki Liebezeit and bassist Jah Wobble for the LP Full Circle and the club hit "How Much Are They." Through Wobble, Czukay also met the Japanese singer Phew, and along with Liebezeit and producer Conny Plank, they recorded the 1982 album Phew.
Czukay's next official solo release was 1982's On the Way to the Peak of Normal, another collaboration with Wobble assembled from sessions with the Dusseldorf-based band S.Y.P.H., and was followed by 1984's Der Osten Ist Rot and 1987's Rome Remains Rome (featuring the controversial "Blessed Easter," which contained a sample of Pope John Paul II). However, Czukay spent the majority of the mid-decade involved in a variety of production work. In 1988 he teamed with David Sylvian for the lovely Plight and Premonition; after the duo reunited the following year for Flux + Mutability, Czukay re-formed Can to record a new studio LP, Rite Time. Apart from the 1991 solo effort Radio Wave Surfer and 1993's Moving Pictures, Czukay spent much of the '90s removed from performing, focusing instead on production work before releasing Good Morning Story (his first solo album in six years) in 1999. La Luna, featuring vocalist U-She (Czukay's wife), followed in 2000, and in 2003 Czukay again collaborated with U-She to release The New Millennium.
Holger Czukay (born Holger Schüring, 24 March 1938) is a German musician, probably best known as a co-founder of the krautrock group Can. Described by critic Jason Ankeny as "successfully bridg[ing] the gap between pop and the avant-garde," Czukay is also notable for creating early important examples of ambient music, for exploring "world music" well before the term was coined, and for being a pioneer of sampling.Hans Hoff, "Die anarchische Methode: Musiklegende Holger Czukay", Süddeutsche Zeitung (22 March 2008) at the Wayback Machine (archived February 8, 2009). Ankeny, Jason (1938-03-24). "Holger Czukay". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-07-06.
Czukay was born in the Free City of Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland). During World War II, his family was among the millions relocated as refugees. Due to the turmoil of war, Czukay's primary education was limited. One pivotal early experience, however, was working, when still a teenager, at a radio repair-shop, where he became fond of the aural qualities of radio broadcasts (anticipating his use of shortwave radio broadcasts as musical elements) and became familiar with the rudiments of electrical repair and engineering.
Czukay studied music under Karlheinz Stockhausen from 1963 to 1966 and then worked for a while as a music teacher. Initially Czukay had little interest in rock music, but this changed, when a student played him the Beatles' 1967 song "I Am the Walrus", a 1967 psychedelic rock single with an unusual musical structure and blasts of AM radio noise. This opened his ears to music by rock experimentalists such as The Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa.
Czukay co-founded Can in 1968. He played bass guitar and performed most of the recording and engineering for the group. Rosko Gee, former bassist of the British band Traffic, joined the band in 1977, with Czukay handling only tapes and sound effects on album Saw Delight, his final LP with the group before departing for a solo career.
After his departure from Can, Czukay recorded several albums. One of his trademarks was the use of shortwave radio sounds and his early pioneering of sampling, in those days involving the painstaking cutting and splicing of magnetic tapes. He would tape-record various sounds and snippets from shortwave and incorporate them into his compositions. He also used shortwave as a live, interactive musical instrument (such as on 1991's Radio Wave Surfer), a method of composition he termed "radio painting". Czukay also stated "If you want to make something new, you shouldn't think too far beyond one certain idea".
Czukay has collaborated with a considerable number of musicians, notably a series of albums with Jah Wobble and David Sylvian, two younger British musicians who shared his interest in blending pop music with experimental recording and sampling techniques. Other collaborators include U.N.K.L.E, Brian Eno, Eurythmics, and German Neue Deutsche Welle band Trio.
In 2009, after a problematic time with the record company that had been gradually re-releasing his albums on CD, Czukay began a new collaboration with the Claremont 56 record label, releasing vinyl-only remixes of tracks from earlier albums, as well as some new recordings. This approach changed Czukay's plans for his back catalogue, so that the original albums Der Osten ist Rot (1984), Rome Remains Rome (1987) and Moving Pictures (1993) will no longer be reissued (in the case of Moving Pictures, because the master tapes have degraded beyond repair). Instead, most of the tracks are being re-made and newly organized as limited edition vinyl releases.Interview with Holger Czukay Biography at Spoon Records "can - publications". Czukay.de. Retrieved 2011-07-06. Variations - an online radio series on the history of sampling curated by Jon Leidecker for Ràdio Web MACBA Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 398. ISBN 1-904041-96-5. Czukay News, February 2010 Czukay News, November 2008