Klaus Schulze - Virtual Outback (2002)

'Virtual Outback' first saw the light of day back in the latter half of 2002 and featured as part of the Schulze 5 disc set 'Contemporary Works 2'. Originally the 'Virtual Outback' CD contained just a single extended piece from Klaus lasting some sixty five minutes, with this reissue we are presented with the welcome addition of a mightily rare/limited bonus track, making this album package a must have for most any Klaus Schulze collector. 'Virtual Outback' comes to us in the now de facto gatefolded card slipcase together with an accompanying 16 page full colour booklet. There is a very personal write up from Schulze about the making of the album and of the people he worked with on the recording, together with further words of wisdom from Klaus D. Mueller on the back page footnotes.

Recorded circa 2001/2002 'Virtual Outback' features numerous happy musical helpers,( Wolfgang Tiepold being amongst that number). For those of you that have enjoyed the Schulze 'Ballett' series l think you'll get a lot of mileage from 'Virtual Outback', that familiar clique of musicians all re-emerging to produce unyet another musical event with Klaus at the helm.

Track one,' The Theme: The Rhodes Elegy'(65.00) comes into being with Schulze at a contemplative solitary electric piano. The addition of woodwind is provided by Tobias Becker on English horn as the first of the improvisations get underway. Klaus underpins everything with his super smooth effortless synthetic strings and away we go with some beautifully haunting music. This however is a Schulze album and we can't just settle for slipping gently into some New Agey mediocre take it or leave it muzak. Instead Klaus takes Beckers musical ad-libs and skews them completely using modulated, filtered and morphed effects so that we can't always be sure as to the source of the sound. The music now having lost that sombre edge that purveyed most all of the 'Ballett' series is further pepped up with additional percussion which arrives about six minutes in breaking the serene mood. All said and done this is abit of a shame as the rhythm is abit over fussy and busy for such a lethargic piece.

A brief interjection from Kagermann's violin introduces the Cello of Tiepold at around the thirteen minute mark and we can hear Wolfgang playing along tentatively against the threshold of the applied effects almost as if he's trying to avoid triggering them by playing too loudly. All the time Schulze's sequenced backdrop of electric piano and percussion cycles around until the track almost stalls some ten minutes later when things get so stripped back in the mix we are left with nothing but the solo voice of Kagermann. It's not long before the sounds of Cello, Violin and reedy flutes are heard again, all immersed in a deep bath of modulation and filtering.

Like a new chapter electric guitar cuts in on proceedings at the halfway mark adding a rockier element to the track as the other players are subdued and exit the mix completely. By the guitars very nature it sounds like it's leading the way, but lack of variation in the Schulze sequence has our resident guitarist Mickes looking for new improvisational avenues as he strums along rhythmically. Then the moment we've all been waiting for, Klaus takes to the keys! Sorry folks, no rip-roaring Moog solo's here today, that kinda' thing just wouldn't suit the overall feel of the music, instead we revert back to the guitar and Mickes has gotten very esoteric with the guitar effects on full tilt rumbling, droning and whistling his way through the remainder of the track,( and very effective it is too!). Into the last ten minutes and the drums become much more pronounced only tailing off in the last few moments as the guitar rattles and hums its way to a gentle close.

'Chinese Ears'(14.55) is the bonus track here and is about as rare as Schulze rarities get l suppose,( a shorter version was made available to the first three hundred or so customers who originally bought the 'Contemporary Works 2' set). The track has now been extended by four and a half minutes for this release, so let's see what it has to offer the listener.

From the word go the sequencing is straight from out of the Chris Franke book of how to break your step sequencer in sixteen easy steps! There's some nasty little brass stabs throughout the opening barrage of synths leading to a sudden and unexpected break which places us firmly back into a lilting 'Ballett' type of soundscape - soft strings and violin. Two minutes later the heavy duty sequencing returns, the soft strings drifting back in sidling along underneath the rhythmic patterns, the whole composition now making more sense. The tranquil strings, violin and voices return yet again, but that frenetic sequencer is just pressing to be heard in the background as it soon surges to the fore once again. A sudden edit at around the ten minute mark has a 4/4 beat hammering out the time signature and as it progresses l recognise it to be a chunk of the sequencing lifted directly from the 'Are You Sequenced?' performance,('The Wizard of Doz' l think you'll find). A big Mellotron choir rises up building towards a huge finale, but nothing seems to sound quite right? I almost get the feeling that the Mellotron choir section may also have been lifted from another of Klaus's previous works; to be honest, as endings go, it's all abit disjointed and slapdash?

So, time to conclude on 'Virtual Outback' - I had likened it to the 'Ballett' series, but that still didn't seem to quite nail it for me; perhaps more akin to 'Crime of Suspense' or 'Vanity of Sounds' as 'The Rhodes Elegy' track didn't appear to want to sit comfortably in the background playing away to itself, moreover it is a piece that commands your attention. Again it's a very collaborative work with six people credited for their assistance in the making of the album,( though l can't say l really heard them all such was the soup of effects pasted all over that big main track). You won't find any great compositional depth here; this has more to do with style over substance, it's all about the improvisations of the various musicians involved. The bonus is always a bonus,( and a much sought after one it was this time around). That last part of the track l just don't get, sounding rushed off, cobbled together call it what you will, for me it just soured an otherwise great little track. Would l buy the album just to get my hands on the bonus track? For me the jury is out on that one, but l've a feeling there are many of you  that'll have 'Virtual Outback' on their CD shopping list!!!


01 - The Theme - The Rhodes Elegy  (65,00)
02 - Chinese Ears (bonus track)          (14,15)

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