Conrad Schnitzler (1937-2011) is legendary in the German electronic and avant-garde music scene as a founding member of Tangerine Dream and of Kluster. Is work as an intermedia artist is less know yet equally legendary. Schnitzler studied sculpture with Joseph Beuys at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, exhibited his black and white metal sculptures in Berlin, and participated in performances and “happenings” in the same circles as many well-known Fluxus artists, although never identified himself as part of any group or movement. He preferred to create his own individual mythology.

In the early 70s Schnitzler became a composer when he abandoned all of his sculptures in an open field in decision to devote himself to sculpting with sound. His self produced stark electronic music, often presented as multi-channel concerts using as many as 12 cassette players and self published his music on vinyl and cassettes. Schnitzler gradually found an international cult following from his prolific output of musical ideas, However Schnitzler’s immense creative energy could not be limited to one medium. He continuously experimented with moving images to accompany his music and even painted, collaged or scratched patterns directly on 8mm film. He experimented with stop-motion animations and designed and costumes for his films. By the 80s Schnitzler had become increasingly reclusive, shooting long meditative videos accompanied by his distinctive electronic musical scores. Preferring to stay at home and work in his studio he created multi-channel Cassette Concerts that could be sent through the post for others to perform and “CONduct” concerts of his music. Schnitzler conceived of sonic programs he called Musik in the Dark intended to be heard in darken movie theaters, churches, stadiums and other venues without him having to travel. Although he rarely left his Berlin home after 1980, Schnitzler came to New York City in 1989 and 1990 to visit the Generator Sound Art Gallery in the East Village.

Conrad Schnitzler

by David Prescott

The least that can be said of the music of Conrad Schnitzler is that it has continued in coincidence with his personality, and with many variations. His resume is one of the best in the world. He was Joseph Beuys’ first student at Kunstakademie Dusseldorf, became involved in his own sculpture and discovered free music by acting as a founding member of Tangerine Dream and Kluster. His earliest solo recordings and performances were produced by the Block Gallery in Berlin.

Like Beuys, Con seeks to eradicate the line between art and life. An intermedial artist, he approaches his life/art from several viewpoints, none of which are musical. To this day, he still cannot play an instrument and has devoted his time to “non-keyboard electronics”. Moreover, he approaches composition as a sculptor — finding sounds, chiseling away at them and juxtaposing them into their own reality. In this way his pieces have a free-flowing feel devoid of influences or of traditions found in the music of his electronic contemporaries.

Supplementing his musical constructions, his performances include compositions for independently operated cassette players. In fact, at shows at The Kitchen (New York), Ars Electronica (Linz Austria) and the Musee D’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris he armed the entire audience with cassette players containing tapes especially prepared to sound anarchic, but not cacophonous. Other performances saw him with the same machines suspended from a giant circular rack revolving slowly over the heads of the audience. Today, he prefers to “tour by proxy” — supplying concerts of four cassettes to be played simultaneously by a “conductor” in his absence.

As so many electronic musicians remain academic or commercial sellouts playing music for news broadcasts, Schnitzler has spent the last 20 years self-disciplined self-expression. While his earliest musical adventures were of throwing stones into pails, his basic curiosity has not changed with the advent of computers, nor has his willingness to make drastic changes in his art. For instance, by the end of the sixties he was open to change enough to leave all his sculpture in the street for the taking, opening the door to a life in music. Similarly, in 1080, having spent the ‘70’s in concert as an intermedial artist, he stopped performance to devote his time to composition. It is certain that Con has a few good changes in him still.

Electronic music appears to be a field developed by few who did not deplete it of originality within a few years. While many are consumed by their own technology or starved for fame, only a small number have approached it as a personal communicative craft rather than as an intentional development of traditional Western classical or commercialized music. Conrad Schnitzler remains at the forefront of a handful of artists willing to take chances with possible yet underdeveloped forms.

David Prescott 1989