Saturday, July 25, 2009

Unmasking A Legend: Zweistein Revealed

Unmasking A Legend: Zweistein Revealed
written by: Doug Brotherton

Krautrock is a music genre ripe with underground acts such as Amon Duul, Seesselberg, Necronomicon, and German Oak. Many of these bands performed together for such a short period of time that in most cases all that remains are a few incredible recordings. A cloud of mystery often surrounds these groups, causing rabid fans to blend together fact and fiction in order to create and propagate the band’s legacy. Most fans would agree that one of the most sought after and fabled Krautrock albums is Zweistein’s “Trip, Flip out, Meditation” (Phillips 1970). In this case I feel that it is the avant-garde nature of the music contained on the album mixed with conflicting stories about the band which have made the album so popular. It is also helped by the fact that the title is alleged to represent the three stages which one encounters while on a drug trip.

Over the years, Zweistein has garnered quite a cult following. The slightest mention of the group or its legendary triple-LP is enough to send any hard-core fan off on numerous tangents regarding the bands mysterious existence. After an hour or so of rabid rambling this fan is most likely to retreat to his computer where he performs his daily check of Ebay.com to see if anybody is auctioning their copy of the vinyl.

Musically, “Trip, Flip out, Meditation” is largely a sound collage containing massive amounts of studio effects wizardry. Listeners are bombarded with an hour and forty-six minutes (106 minutes) worth of effects-laden voices, natural sounds, electronic effects, organ, guitar, drums and other instruments. The sidelong compositions are virtually strewn together avant-garde improvisations in which anything goes. It is this fact which acts as a catch 22 and splits the Krautrock fan base into two factions. First there are those who hail the album as a masterpiece due to its avant-garde nature, wild approach, and inherent reference to a drug trip. Then there are those who pass the album off as a complete timewaster due to its evident amateur musicianship, lack of direction and avant-garde nature.

As far as I am aware there are two stories in regards to Zweistein’s legacy. The first and most common story involves a love affair between a Phillips record producer and a young woman from the band. According to legend, the producer was so mesmerized by the freuleins beauty that he allowed her and a couple of her friends to record in the studio after hours. Shortly after the albums release, Phillips quickly pulled it from the shelves and deleted it from their catalogues. In addition, the producer was given a pink slip for his troubles. The second story tells of a mysterious man known as Jacques Dorian who enlisted help from his wife, children, studio engineer Peter Kramper, and certain mind altering drugs to record the album.

It was my ever-growing interest in the genre coupled with the fantastic nature of these two stories which led me on my journey to track down the album. Incredibly, it wasn’t that long before I found a vinyl copy listed on EBay. Having monitored the auction for six days I failed to enter a bid once the price had been jacked up to well over $200. My backup plan failed as well when my attempts to contact the winner in hopes of asking him to burn me a CDR copy failed. Two years went by and every so often I would search the internet only to come up empty. During this time I was able to locate a Near Mint copy of the group’s equally rare single “I’m A Melody Maker” b/w “A Very Simple Song” for $30. I jumped at the chance to purchase this and I eagerly awaited its over-seas journey from the Netherlands to the USA. Upon my first listen I was somewhat shocked to find that the music was more in the folk vein whereas the album was noted for its avant-garde and experimental nature. Nevertheless, the single had quite a deal of charm, a “far-out” picture sleeve and a slight experimental edge, so it definitely was a keeper.

While doing a recent overview of the single for this website I decided to do a bit of research on Zweistein to see if I could dig up any additional information on the band. The single lists two names S. Doucet and P. Bruhn. While searching the internet, I located the website of New Age Music artist Suzanne Doucet, whom Keyboard Magazine states “has the most authoritative voice on New Age Music”. Suzanne began her music career in 1963 as a pop singer in Germany. Her website lists her single discography and in it I was amazed to find that she had performed on the Zweistein single along with her sister Diane. I finally had a few names that went with the faces on the picture sleeve.

Things got even more interesting when I received a CDR copy of the legendary triple-LP. While doing an image search on Google for the original album cover to “Trip, Flip out, Meditation” I was again led to Suzanne’s website. This time I found no direct link between her and the recording so I decided that I would email her to find out how much she could recall about Zweistein. Fully prepared to receive the “cold shoulder” treatment, I was knocked to the floor when I opened my inbox that evening and saw not one, but two emails in response.

I nearly flipped out when I opened Suzanne’s first email and read what she had written.

“Hello Doug. I am absolutely amazed that the ZWEISTEIN LPs/ triple album became so much of a ‘cult’ item. But if I look back and think about how it all happened it was quite magical I have to say and it would probably fill many pages, if I would tell the whole story...”

Over the course of several emails, Suzanne provided me with a wealth of information about Zweistein and she even set the record straight in regards to the conflicting stories about the band. I was fascinated to learn that along with her younger sister Diane, Suzanne recorded the entire triple-LP over a four month period in various locations including Prague and Munich. After editing the material on Suzanne’s tape-recorder, they brought the material to Munich and worked with recording engineer Peter Kramper on adding studio effects and mastering the recordings. Initially the sisters played their finished piece for friends, but it wasn’t long before they decided to offer it to a record label. Deciding to call the ‘group’ Zweistein Suzanne offered the production to Phonogram/Phillips who having recently inked Krautrock acts Kraftwerk and Cluster to recording deals eagerly accepted the album. Suzanne sold herself as the producer and maintained the appearance that Zweistein was a separate group. Being a very well known pop star and not wanting to harm her career by being attached to such an avant-garde project, Suzanne used the pseudonym Jacques Dorian to disguise her identity. As far as the rumors were concerned, there was no secret love affair between her and the producer as the popular legend insists. Furthermore, the Phillips producer, the late Wolfgang Kretschmar who was responsible for signing Kraftwerk, was not fired for his involvement. The album sold 6,000 copies and was pulled off the shelves a year after its release. The rights to the album returned to Suzanne in 1980 at which time she produced and sold 1500 cassette tapes of the album with a Zweistein fan located in Nuernberg, Germany.

In the end, Suzanne offered to write an official biography about the Zweistein project. This biography, "The Making of Zweistein" will be online within the coming weeks, so please come back again.

UPDATE! A limited edition 3-CD release of the album has been put out by Captain Trip Records!

4 comments:

  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Betty

    http://electricguitarhowtoplay.net

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks to you and Suzanne for finally setting the record straight about this fine, but often misunderstood, project.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Krautrock from Barcelona!

    http://www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk/2012/07/04/jinko-vilova-cru/

    http://jinkovilova.bandcamp.com/

    hope u like it!

    ReplyDelete