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A different sort of Krautrock: The Secret Cosmic Music Of The East German Olympic Program 1972-83
This is a guest post from Jason Toon.
In 1972, film-sound editor and composer Martin Ziechnete was visited by two members of East Germany’s ruling party, the SED. Somehow, they had heard about his experiments with Western-style electronic music, exploring the motorik and music kosmische sounds of West German bands like Neu!, Can, and Kraftwerk. Ziechnete was to go with them in an official car.
“I feared I would lose my job, at the very least,” Ziechnete says in an interview that accompanies Kosmischer Läufer: The Secret Cosmic Music of the East German Olympic Program 1972-83, Volume One. “It would be very bad for someone who worked on party films to be seen to be influenced by the enemy. We drove in silence to the outskirts of Berlin to what I later found out was an athletics camp. They knew all about me and my idea. They questioned me about the concept for hours then left me alone in the room.
“Later an official from the Nationales Olympisches Komitee came in and told me I would begin to work on the project immediately.”
The East German state wasn’t arresting Ziechnete. It was hiring him to create training music for its Olympic athletes. And now that music is available to a wider audience for the first time as Kosmischer Läufer: The Secret Cosmic Music of the East German Olympic Program 1972-83, Volume One.
It all pulses, drones, and bleeps like the Krautrockers that inspired Ziechnete, but feels even more like a transmission from a lost universe. We don’t know how much this music helped East German athletes, but it must not have hurt: the GDR always punched above its weight at the Olympics.
Nike was hailed for its marketing genius when it hired the likes of LCD Soundsystem, Aesop Rock, and the Crystal Method to create hip indie running soundtracks. Kosmischer Läufer proves that East Germany beat them to it by decades.
Ziechnete’s half-hour program was designed and paced to accompany a 5k run, complete with warm-up and wind-down bookend pieces. The fourth of the five pieces, “Tonband Laufspur”, kicks hard to the finish line: