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Can’s «Mother Sky» in Skolimowsky’s «Deep End» (1970)

Psychedelic Echoes of German New Left Negative Utopianism.

In tracing the historical context of German psychedelic music (also known as «Krautrock» or «Kosmische Musik»), a convenient musical/political narrative arises as a result of the events of 1968. [1] [1] In this year, the Zodiak Free Arts Lab (founded by Conrad Schnitzler and Hans-Joachim Roedelius) began its earliest concerts, exposing West Berlin to new forms of experimental and electronic music. The Internationale Essener Songtage brought some of the stranger sounds of British and American rock music to Germany (e.g. Frank Zappa, the Fugs, Family) as well as early concerts by German psychedelic bands Amon Düül, Guru Guru, Xhol Caravan, and Tangerine Dream. In Cologne, two former students of Karlheinz Stockhausen founded a new rock group named Can. 1968 was also the year of intense leftist revolutionary political action amongst students in Germany and across continental Europe. The student protests during May of 1968 were particularly violent in Germany, primarily as a result of the death of Benno Ohnesorg during student protests the previous year and the assassination attempt of Rudi Dutschke in April of 1968. [2] [2]

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However, this narrative that aligns West German music post-’68 and West German politics post-’68 presents a serious historical problem. Namely, how directly engaged with politics was West German rock music? In addressing this general question, this essay contains two specific purposes. First, I will attempt a broad understanding of the impact of utopianism on German psychedelia. Second, by analyzing Can’s song «Mother Sky», and how it fits within the Jerzy Skolimowski film Deep End, I hope to exemplify some specific ways that these political and theoretical influences materialized within the formal aesthetic features of German psychedelia. In particular, Deep End demonstrates a dialectic between material (or «realist») themes and the psychedelic aesthetic of imagination that reflects the negative utopianism of Ernst Bloch and Herbert Marcuse.

One thing I do not argue is that Can and their music have a direct link to the radical politics of ’68. Instead, I argue that if there is a political element to their music, it is in an indirect reflection of social changes in West Germany at the time. Can keyboardist Irmin Schmidt described this relationship as «symptomatic» of the events of ’68:

We’re musicians. To make that clear: our music had no political implications and there was no political message in its content – nothing like the ‘68ers. But something of the feeling of the times shows in that each of us at some point left what we were doing to join the band Can. If I talk about myself now: someone who had a career as a conductor before him, but then suddenly formed a rock band – well, that doesn’t happen every day and is therefore symptomatic for the sixties…We agreed to change something, to start something new. (Schmidt and Kampmann 1999: 399)

Thus, Schmidt, despite his objection to the idea that Can were a political band, recognizes that their music reflects some of the principles of the youth movement. Can saw themselves as constituting a different kind of social formulation that did not engage in «politics» in the sense of explicit interaction with the actions of parties, protests, or platforms. Instead, Can’s music was a trace of the political imagination of cultural possibilities in 1960s West Germany. As Schmidt makes clear, the desire «to start something new» recognized a different conception of the functions of popular music than mere entertainment. While his quote evades the concept of politics, clearly what is «symptomatic» about his description of the group’s social stance is its reflection of certain historical political ideals.

The idea of symptomatic or even «reflective» relationships between music and politics implies a direct correlation between text and context that may seem to evade agency. Despite my historical argument’s reliance on the political contexts of the music and film, much of my primary evidence relies on the individual subjective accounts from the members of Can. As composers and performers, Can did not merely «reflect» by representing the contexts of their surroundings, but «reflect» in an interpretive sense that involves critique and creativity. Moreover, the reimagination of cultural forces like music and politics were not entirely unique to Germany, and indeed my argument does not contain any sense of an essential German national identity. One could make the same arguments about psychedelic musicians in any part of the world that experienced the symbiotic creation of psychedelic music and New Left politics (and indeed, both were global occurences). [3] [3] I have chosen to focus on Can and the German New Left because of personal interest, but also because of the richness of scholarship available on German politics during this era.

While there are definite overlaps between the German psychedelic scene and the radical leftist politics that both carried over into the 1970s, the interactions are not entirely clear. Arne Koch and Sei Harris (2009) identified a stance that they referred to as the «politics of the unpolitical». Borrowed from Gordon Craig’s analysis of Goethe’s artistic context, Koch and Harris read a political potential into the band Faust’s unwillingness to attach their music to specific worldly contexts. [4] [4] By maintaining a notion of musical autonomy «in seeking to create a music all their own… Faust without a question strove to create a world that was all their own» (2009: 581). For Koch and Harris, this idea of new musical worlds allowed for an escape from the criminal politics of twentieth century Germany and into a realm that simply provided something different. Lloyd Isaac Vayo (2009) saw the German psychedelic band Neu! as a part of a musical attempt to create a new German identity in the post-war era. Michael T. Putnam (2009) portrays German rock music from the 1970s as a musical response to the radical politics of the Red Army Faction. Instead of arguing a correlation between music and national identity, Putnam sees German rock (particularly the band Ton Steine Scherben) as reacting against German identity and the «Auschwitz generation» in order to establish an international position that is isomorphic with the RAF’s ideal of «proletarian internationalism» (2009: 596-597). While many rock journalists have associated German psychedelia with Baader-Meinhof and the RAF, Putnam is careful not to overreach the boundaries of his claims. [5] [5] Indeed, there is little evidence that bands from this era supported the radical left-wing beyond their relationships with communes and squatters, but Putnam limits the scope of his argument to the rare examples of «Krautrock-affiliated» groups that did support political violence – Ton Steine Scherben and Einstürzende Neubauten (2009: 600). Similarly, Ulrich Adelt (2012b) interprets this period of rock music as attempting to cope with the Stunde Null («Hour Zero«) era of German history. Adelt (2012a) saw Can as eliding their identity as a «German band« in favor of a more «global» musical identity. While all of these scholars provide useful models for understanding psychedelic music in this era, for this particular essay, dealing with the concept of utopia, Koch and Harris’s model of musical escapism provides an excellent starting point. In order to comprehend the context of the utopian ideals at this time, an explication of the social/historical use of utopianism is necessary.

The German New Left and Utopian Theory

One major distinction between the German New Left (of the 1960s and early 70s) and previous generations of post-war leftists was their rejection of Theodor Adorno. While Adorno held extreme intellectual capital amongst the German left wing during the post-war era, his work fell out of fashion during the New Left movement of the 1960s, partially due to his outright dismissal of popular culture. Famously, Adorno’s final course at Frankfurt University in the summer of 1969, «An Introduction to Dialectical Thinking», was interrupted by student protestors angered by Adorno’s condemnation of the New Leftist student movement. [6] [6] Leftist student groups like the Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund (or Socialist German Student Association) heavily criticized Adorno’s view on art as lacking praxis and encouraging an artistic «intellectual domination» that was a «precondition for domination in all other areas» (Von Dirke 1997: 52). In 1967, the young philosopher Helmut Lethen critiqued Adorno during a public debate on the merits of Walter Benjamin’s theories of mechanical reproduction by claiming Adorno «feared the eruption of aesthetic barbarism if all privileged aesthetic education were to be abandoned» (Von Dirke 1997: 56). While some Adornians theorized from within the student movement (such as Michael Scharang), they still largely rejected Adorno’s valorization of high art while favoring Adorno’s critiques of aesthetic autonomy. [7] [7]

Instead, the younger generation of leftists looked toward utopian thinkers like Benjamin, Bloch, and Marcuse as theorists that radically rejected authoritarian politics and capitalism while maintaining an anti-elitist view that blurred the capabilities of «high» and «low» art. Marcuse, in particular, was one of the most popular theorists amongst student movements around the world. Authoritarian society, for Marcuse (1968), no longer functioned through overt dominance and control, but rather through the draining of consciousness that made resistance nearly impossible. Equally informed by Freud and Marx, Marcuse established a number of guiding principles that influenced the student movements: radical political action, a focus on selfhood (and the metaphysical concepts of Mind, Consciousness, Will, and Soul), and creative imagination. While Marcuse explicitly argued revolution as an active, subjective process, his views on utopia argued not for the ideological installation of free society, but rather the forceful elimination of unfree society (or «Great Refusal»). Fredric Jameson articulated this stance under the term «negative utopianism»:

If you know already what your longed-for exercise in a not-yet-existence looks like, then the suspicion arises that it may not really express freedom after all but only repetition; while the fear of projection, of sullying an open future with our own deformed and repressed social habits in the present, is a perpetual threat to the indulgence of fantasies of the future collectivity. (2000: 385)

For Jameson, Marcuse’s utopian thought does not convey a specific narrative account of the future (evading the conventional understanding of utopia as a «perfect world»), but instead describes a «mechanism» or «machine» which allows for a free social narrative. [8] [8] And for Marcuse, this mechanism resides largely in the aesthetic realm: «Like technology, art creates another universe of thought against and within the existing one. But in contrast to the technical universe, the artistic universe is one of illusion, semblance, Schein» (1968: 238). These new ideals greatly influenced the German leftists of the 1960s and 70s, particularly the notion of creative imagination. The phrase «Phantasie an die Macht!» («All Power to the Imagination!») became the rallying cry of much of the protests around ’68, and the link between utopian imagination and material political change placed art into a privileged position. In the Maoist influenced political environment of ’68, the idea of cultural power over political situations was an attractive feature of Marcuse. [9] [9]

Prefiguring Marcuse, Bloch’s particular brand of negative utopianism not only influenced the theoretical ideals of the German New Left, but also provides a useful lens for music history. Two of Bloch’s major texts, The Spirit of Utopia (2000, originally published 1918) and The Principle of Hope (1986, originally published 1938-1947) established the nature of the undefined «not-yet» in negative utopia. As opposed to Marcuse, who argued for direct utopian political action, utopianism for Bloch lies latent in society as a «spirit» waiting to be realized. What most clearly realizes this utopian spirit for Bloch is, in fact, music. [10] [10] Yet, this spirit does not remain solely in the realm of the imagined, the unreal, or the abstract. [11] [11] The utopian function of art is to build a surplus of anticipatory imagination, which materializes beyond the realm of culture and into politics and society. [12] [12] In other words, art, through the power of imagination, fosters utopia by blurring the borders between the present and the not-yet. Music is the pure expression of spirit because of the special stance of the «tone» in Bloch’s philosophy. The tone largely opposes the «word», and while music is not entirely outside the realm of the word, the two are in conflict and can never fully resolve. This theory seems to be modeled after traditional notions of musical autonomy, and while Bloch does argue an ineffability of the tone that is «unencumbered by the world», his focus is on the tone as a «phenomenal» (i.e. listened to) entity (2000: 120). Thus, music is both a phenomenal object and something that points outside normal existence. This dialectic is more than just allegorical, it is the essential core of Bloch’s utopianism. Dialectical music of the tone is the highest order of music for Bloch: «absolute music», a somewhat idiosyncratic term for Bloch. Instead of its usual nineteenth century associations, Bloch uses the term «absolute» to mean that which is most closely related to the «pure» utopian tone and specifies that this music should be «spontaneous, speculative» (2000: 93).

While all of Bloch’s musical examples are from either Western art music or speculative interpretations of ancient songs, his musical-utopian writings make an explicit point not to reduce the political potential of music to one specific type. Bloch is clear to point out that the absolute in music is not only confined to the nineteenth century German Romantic examples he uses and that the theoretical focus on specific musical properties «only conflicts with music as a utopian existence-sound when the world of laws… become a kind of auditory formal fetish» (1986: 1074). Yet, there is no doubt that Bloch favors Western art music. He refers to Wagner’s transcendent operas, Beethoven, and Bruckner as the most genuinely utopian (Bloch 2000: 15). But more importantly, in order to exceed the mere «laws» that conflict with the not-yet, the absolute tone (regardless of style) is what holds the spirit of utopia. While both Bloch and Marcuse were important thinkers with connections to the undeniably elite Frankfurt School, both were influential thinkers amongst young New Leftists.

Can, «Mother Sky», and Deep End

How then, can we understand the historical context of psychedelic music amongst the utopian ideals supported by the New Left in Germany? Certainly, Marcuse and Bloch could not prefigure psychedelic music in their writings and were not referring to anything near what we understand as a «psychedelic experience». And as mentioned, most bands, including Can, did not see themselves as overtly political in the sense of the student movement or the RAF. Thus, the connection between utopian theory and psychedelic music is an indirect one. In this particular case, Can functioned as a cultural actualization of many of the New Left ideals. Specifically, the band reflected three politicized notions of aesthetics from the era: (1) a blurring of the boundaries between high and low art, (2) a conviction regarding the possibilities of creative imagination, (3) a conception of communal, anti-hierarchical creation. As an example, I will focus on their song «Mother Sky», composed and performed for the soundtrack to the 1970 Jerzy Skolimowski film Deep End.

From the onset, the group formed around a mixture of musicians experienced in separate avant-garde and popular musical cultures. The group was dedicated to crossing between supposedly high and low realms of art that echoed the rhetoric of the student movements in the late 1960s. As mentioned, keyboardist Irmin Schmidt was in school at the Rheinische Musikschule to be a conductor and studied, along with bassist Holger Czukay, under the famous avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.[13] [13] Can originally comprised Czukay, Schmidt, Germans Michael Karoli (guitar) and Jaki Liebezeit (drums), and American Malcolm Mooney (vocals), though the band replaced Mooney with Japanese Damo Suzuki (vocals) when Mooney returned to America in 1970. Schmidt and Czukay claim to have decided to start a rock group in 1968 after hearing the Beatles’ «I Am the Walrus» (from Magical Mystery Tour) for the first time, and many of the popular Anglo-American records that influenced German psychedelia showed an interest in avant-garde music (including the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, the Pink Floyd, and Captain Beefheart) (Stubbs 2010: 7-8). Schmidt noted, «I saw that in the States there was not that difference being made between high and low culture, between the classical music and entertainment and pop…That was a turning point. Jazz and rock and pop was a new phenomenon, and for me became as necessary as theory. So I wanted to bring it all together» (Schmidt 2012a). While most of their music is in a clear tradition of rock music from the 1960s, the extended improvisations not only demonstrate the influence of jazz and fusion groups, but also experiments with chromatic extended, and occasionally atonal, harmonies. For example, in «Mother Sky», the blues-based guitar solo (an extremely rare occurrence in Can’s music) frequently diverges from the traditional blues scale and utilizes extended noise and feedback techniques.[14] [14]

Moreover, the extreme repetition in the drums and bass display the influence of the trance-like ideals associated with minimalism. [15] [15] During his tutelage with Stockhausen, Schmidt befriended and collaborated with famous minimalists like Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and LaMonte Young (Czukay and Schmidt 1998). Often referred to as the «motorik» drum style, Liebezeit considered his role to be a formal one, providing emptiness: «I can only work with space when I let go of something. Contrastingly, if I play a lot of fill, there’s no more space in the music. I’ve always aimed to play space… That creates room for the imagination, something I’ve always strived to do» (Schmidt and Kampmann 1999: 301). Interestingly, Liebezeit’s use of the term «imagination» accords extremely well with Marcuse and Bloch’s notions of negative utopia. In his repetitive beats, Liebezeit created an empty form that allowed for the imagination of others, rather than providing a specific content. Schmidt affirmed this idea when he claimed, «Jaki wanted to make music in which anything could happen» (Schmidt and Kampmann 1999: 60).

This use of the word «imagination» is not at all incidental. In particular, Can valued the creative potentials of composing for film. Karoli recognized the freedom accorded by the «background» nature of film music: «The film scores were not judged on musical criteria, but dramaturgical; so you could play any kind of shit and have lots of freedom to experiment… The individual musical ideas and aspirations were unimportant… Film music was very important for Can because it helped us to continue breaking musical taboos» (Schmidt and Kampmann 1999: 213-214). Indeed, the band’s method of composing for film was highly unusual. First, the filmmaker would show Schmidt (and only Schmidt) a rough cut of the scene that needed to be scored. Then, Schmidt would relay the details of the scene to the rest of the group in what they referred to as his «tales». From there, the group would work to create a structured improvisation around their particular memory and imagination of what the scene was like. In order to foster a sense of imagination, Can used Czukay as an intermediary: «There is a difference if someone is telling you a scene or you are seeing it on a screen. When somebody tells me a story, your fantasy is so unlimited because you’re not limited from what you see on a screen» (Czukay 1997). This peculiar method of composition is not only reminiscent of the Marcusian aesthetic theory of eliminating unfreedom, but also Bloch’s idiosyncratic conception of the musical absolute. The object that this music aspires to accompany (the film) is both a tangible thing, and yet outside the known existence of the musicians’ world. Yet, the music is still programmatic, and was intended to be so. [16] [16]

The idea of selfless creation abounds in interviews with every member of Can. Schmidt commented, «When I started to make music, I wrote. But for a concept like Can, you can’t write. This is obvious, because the author is Can. It is creating on the spot» (Czukay and Schmidt 1998). Czukay claimed, «We never came off as particularly German. We focused more on international music scenes. You could even say that we behaved autonomously. Behind all of that was the idea that we were a collective» (Quoted in Schmidt and Kampmann 1999: 132). Moreover, Karoli professed, «I can’t imagine music any other way. Musicians in a group should resonate together in the same way that strings on an instrument do», (Quoted in Schmidt and Kampmann 1999: 213). [17] [17] Journalists later termed this idea of collective musical creation as the «Can Virus» because of its widespread impact on other groups (Schmidt and Kampmann 1999). The idea of the commune was extremely important to the German New Left. Rural communes like Kommune 1 offered active alternatives to mainstream German society. In the case of the psychedelic band Amon Düül, the group started as an arts commune that eventually developed into a core ensemble of recording and touring musicians. In urban areas, the residential Wohngemeinschaften became popular amongst student activists. While Can’s communal ethos is indicative of this historical context, the group was careful to distance themselves from explicit politics:

We weren’t considered political. And we didn’t take sides, so I guess you could call the band non-political. But in a wider Beuys-like sense, coming together the way we did and forming and working as the collective that we were was a political action. For example, as a collective, we rejected the role of the author, as well as every form of hierarchy. We even split the royalties when one of us hadn’t even played on a song. Jaki once famously said: «Not to play is a musical decision, too!» … We were totally aware of the importance of owning our means of production, and we were in full control of all the processes that led to musical results. Of course, this is very political. But we refused to comment on daily politics. (Schmidt 2012b)

Deep End presents a style that relates directly to many 1960s aesthetic ideals, and indirectly to the specific ideals of psychedelic art. The film functions as a much more phenomenally «objective» (in Bloch’s words) portrayal of realism. Ewa Mazierska (2010) describes Skolimowski’s films as an oscillation between realism and non-realism, via related concepts like poeticism, surrealism, romanticism, and expressionism. Formally, Skolimowski is often compared to the documentary styles of the French New Wave, as well as his close friend Roman Polanski. Skolimowski’s films reflect a renewed interest in literary realism amongst German leftists of the era. Ingo Cornils identifies a number of persistent themes across literature from the German student movement, many of which correspond to Deep End, including a focus on difficult sexual experiences, the impact of popular music, and «inability to communicate with one another» (2003: 298-301). While made by a Polish filmmaker, the cast and crew of Deep End were largely British and German.

The film tells the story of a young teenaged boy, Mike (John Moulder Brown), and his infatuation with an older coworker, Susan (Jane Asher). Throughout the film, Mike physically pursues Susan while she goes on dates with other men, often while Susan intentionally taunts Mike to arouse his jealousy. The scene using «Mother Sky» shows Mike confusedly searching the streets of the red light district for Susan or for anyone that might have any information about her. Mazierska describes the scene as such:

In Deep End, the music of Can appears when Mike loses touch with reality and either cannot control his emotions or starts dreaming. An example is the episode of Mike searching for Susan in a night club and on the streets of Soho, accompanied by Can’s «Mother Sky». On this occasion Mike appears to be as frantic and uncontrollable as the song we are hearing. (2010: 159)

The most crucial point that Mazierska calls attention to is the idea that this song accompanies a break from the reality of the narrative. While the film maintains many of the formal long-shot documentary features during this scene, a number of absurdities begin to pile up, including Mike’s continuous purchase of hot dogs from a street vendor, his theft of a nude cardboard cutout from a strip club, and his encounter with an out-of-work prostitute with a broken leg.

While Mazierska’s description accurately frames the thematic content of the scene, it lacks a description of some of its most crucial musical-visual traits. The scene cuts directly from Mike receiving his first weekly pay from the bathhouse. In this preceding scene, Mike displays many of his usual sex-frightened qualities as the older, female administrator enters his small changing room, removes her glasses, and playfully chews on them as she stares at him. Mike tenses up, avoids eye contact, and remains silent, until the administrator commands him, «Just sign», as she hands him a clipboard with his pay. Immediately after the scene cut, Mike coolly struts into a dining club, wearing a suit and accompanied by the opening guitar solo of «Mother Sky». Karoli described this solo as the only guitar solo he had ever played in his career and that he only played it because «that’s what was wanted» (Schmidt and Kampmann 1999: 211). Thus, the solo seems to signify an ironic sense of masculine bravado as the coy child makes his best attempt at manhood. As Mike enters the dining club to find Susan, Skolimowski shoots the scene primarily with long circling shots around Mike and the hostess. As the shots continue, and the solo becomes increasingly chromatic, Mike’s plan to find Susan unravels; his attempt to assert masculine adulthood fails to convince the hostess that he is a member of the club and his meager paycheck is not enough to buy even a single drink. This solo ends just as Mike exits to the street and begins wandering. After Mike completes his embarrassing attempt by bumping into the doorman and a group of well dressed club members, Suzuki’s vocals begin. From this point on, Suzuki’s vocals are timed perfectly to end during sections with dialog and begin during sections without dialog. The semiotic significance of the guitar solo, as well as its timing and the vocals’ timing, provide empirical evidence that Can composed the song with a programmatic objective in mind.

An excerpt of the scene from Skolimowsky’s Deep End featuring Can’s «Mother Sky»

Mike’s character is constantly performing a type of imagining, yet having this imagination squelched by the harsh realities of his existence, usually regarding capital. His failure to pay into the dining club is only the beginning of a series of rejections in the delirious scene featuring «Mother Sky». When he spots a nude cardboard cutout of what he thinks is Susan in front of a strip club, Mike asks the doorman where he got it from and the doorman responds, by calling her «Angelica» and saying, «Why do you ask her yourself, if you can afford her. Very expensive girl». His fervent defense of this cardboard cutout as he wanders the streets provides an appropriate allegory. Mike is not even entirely sure this woman is Susan, or why there is a cutout of her. Yet, he clutches an objectified, topless version of her – quite literally a two-dimensional version of Susan upon which he can project his own imagination. As he stumbles into the room of a prostitute with a broken leg, the woman incessantly questions him about money: how much he makes, how many tips he got, how much money he gives his parents, how much she was worth, how much she’s worth with a broken leg, and «the things we could do for 3 quid». As she steals the cardboard cutout and runs her own leg across it, Mike expresses his usual sexual ambivalence, trapped between the intimidating advances of the older woman, and his own sexual imagination. The only way Mike can assert control over his own situation is by continuously purchasing hot dogs from a street vendor, an expense within his means.

Importantly, the music cuts completely when Mike stumbles into the room of the injured prostitute. While the song was completely non-diegetic up until this point, the prostitute puts the needle on a record, resuming the song where it had left off. This use of music elicits a number of possible interpretations. By shifting the song from non-diegetic to diegetic (and eventually back), Skolimowski blurs the boundaries between interior and exterior space. As Mazierski theorizes, one of the primary functions of music in Deep End is to act as the «voice of the soul of the main character, Mike» (2010: 159). [18] [18] In this regard, «Mother Sky» functions well within Bloch’s dialectic of the phenomenal contextualization of music with its emancipatory ineffability. In other words, the diegetic border that the song crosses alludes strongly to a border between a material exterior (as «real» existence), and some kind of subjective phenomenal expression of Mike’s interiority. From the viewer/listener’s perspective, the music feels like something that is curiously both an object of Mike’s world and an imagined result of Mike’s affect.


In the relationship between music and politics, the imagination of utopia acted as a suture. Can’s unwillingness to participate in politics as such resulted in a «symptomatic» trace of the utopian in their musical creation, particularly their work on Deep End. It is the dialectical nature of negative utopian theory that provides a space for music of imagination to work within such a starkly realistic film. While it is difficult to think of utopianism as having a fruitful relationship with realism (as a genre), the utopian artistic imagination, as conceived by Bloch and Marcuse, is much closer to realism than fantasy. This idea is most easily grasped when considering Can’s film compositional aims. Can were not trying to create some type of total musical abstraction, or send listeners to a distant dream world, but instead had their musical imagination oriented toward a material objective. Their open improvisations were still structured – their film imaginings were still based on an idea of the scene. As the New Left proposed, art, regardless of its status as high or low, is something capable of pointing outside of the everyday. Yet, this imagining is not pure escapism. The function of music, in Can’s case, is to reflect a material form of imagination (that is, imagining an actual set of characters) without the taint of forcibly projected content. The interaction between Can’s psychedelic imagination and Skolimowski’s stark realism is more than just an allegory of utopian theory, it comprises the actual material of these ideals. For the artists of this era, imagination was not an empty wondering, nor was it ideological projection, but rather it was an unmarked hope. Bloch’s idea of the «not-yet» perhaps best summarized this idea; the importance was not in what was not yet, but rather that there was something yet to come.


[1] The term «Krautrock» was developed initially by the British press and is an (understandably) unfavorable term to some German musicians. Kosmische Musik sometimes refers to artists released by the record label of the same name. Thus, I prefer the term «German psychedelic» because it provides the most general understanding of diverse German musical scenes.

[2] Andreas Baader’s first act of revolutionary destruction occurred in April, 1968 when his group destroyed a Frankfurt department store with explosives. West Germany passed emergency anti-terrorism laws shortly after (Passmore 2011: x-xi).

[3] By «New Left», I mean the largely student-based leftist movement that grew around the globe during the 1960s. This movement rejected many of the class-based teachings of orthodox Marxism in favor of a more socially and culturally based form of leftism.

[4] Martin Scherzinger has explored the political potentials of formalism in his dissertation, «Musical formalism as radical political critique: From European modernism to African spirit possession», (2001). Moreover, other scholars recognize the influence of Romanticism on this era of German art (Cornils: 2000; Peucker: 1984).

[5] One notable example is David Stubbs’s introduction to Krautrock: Cosmic Rock and Its Legacy (2010: 4-18).

[6] Jillian Becker describes this event and other examples of student «abuse» of Adorno, while implying that these protests inadvertently caused Adorno’s death, in her controversial book Hitler’s Children: The Story of the Baader-Meinhof Terrorist Gang(1989: 44-45).

[7] While the Red Army Faction criticized many leftist intellectuals including Adorno, Ulrike Meinhof was personally interested in his writings, particularly his theory of «broken communication», (Passmore 2011: 20). For a full history of Adorno’s place in the German student movement, see Von Dirke 1997: 49-60.

[8] Despite the anti-ideological core of Marcuse’s beliefs, critics of utopianism maintain that all utopian Marxists are necessarily «totalitarian» (see Kolakowski 1978). For a neo-liberal critique of utopianism within musicology, see Taruskin 2008.

[9] «Marcuse follows Freud, maintaining that only art has been able to resist capitalism’s reality principle – instrumental rationality. He views aesthetic form as the essential category that prevents art from falling prey to this dominant reality principle, since ‘behind the sublimated aesthetic form, the unsublimated content shows forth: the commitment of art to the pleasure principle», (Von Dirke 1997: 41).

[10] For one in-depth musicological account of Bloch, see Korstvedt 2010.

[11] «The imagination of the utopian function that in this [artistic] way differs from mere fantasy in that only the former possesses an expectable not-yet-existence; i.e., it does not play around in an unoccupied potentiality and does not go astray but anticipates a real potentiality in a psychical way», (Bloch 1988: 105).

[12] Attractively for the New Left (but perhaps problematically for the postmodern academy), Bloch ascribes the actualization of this political process in a vitalist sense of Will, and refers to the spirit of utopia as «the ultimate material of the soul», (2000: 92).

[13] Before Can, Schmidt and Czukay were inspired upon meeting a number of famous American experimentalists in 1966 including John Cage, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, and many of the Fluxists in 1966 (Schmidt and Kampmann 1999: 56).

[14] While the specific influence in this song is not clear, all of the members of Can had training in non-Western music. Suzuki and Schmidt had studied Japanese music (including Noh and Bugaku music), Liebezeit was interested in Arabian music, and Schmidt and Karoli both researched Balinese music (Czukay and Schmidt 1998; Adelt 2012a).

[15] Vayo (2009) theorizes about repetition in regards to the German psychedelic band Neu! that it reflects Benjamin’s concepts of reproduction.

[16] Schmidt confirmed that «Mother Sky» was especially composed for the film and that certain formal decisions were made to accommodate the scene (Schmidt and Kampmann 1999: 75-76).

[17] This statement comes extremely close to Bloch’s ideas in the essay «Magic rattle, human harp»: «The singer really still is a beating drum, or rather, a harp that plays its own music», (1985: 143).

[18] Diegesis refers to sounds assumed to be within the filmic world of the narrative, and thus able to be heard by the characters. In contrast, non-diegetic sound is sound outside of the filmic world, often heard as part of the film score (see Chion 1994).


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