top of page
New Matrix Mirage albums are now available!

Berlin School: stands the test of time.

Fueled by the desire to reshape the popular culture of the late ‘60s, Berlin musicians utilized the tools at their disposal in new and creative ways. Many new musical genres emerged from this time of experimentation; one such genre would become known as Berlin School.

In the late ‘60s, Germany was experiencing political and social upheaval as the youth sought to remove themselves from the Nazi legacy of World War II and change popular culture. The revolutionary 1968 German Student Movement rebelled against the traditional German culture in favor of something new. This movement lead many artists to begin experimenting with their art. The music that developed from this movement laid the foundation for many of the musical genres we enjoy today. As musicians experimented with combining different musical styles, early synthesizers, and new recording techniques, new genres began to form and solidify. Bands, such as Tangerine Dream, Cluster, Neu, Ash Ra Tempel, and Kraftwerk emerged from these experiments. Tangerine Dream is credited with pioneering Berlin School, a genre characterized by repeating sequencer patterns and ambient synth layers. Their early catalog from 1973 to 1981 is considered an essential catalog of the genre. Technological developments of the time are also credited with the development of the style, such as the Moog modular synth and step sequencer. In fact, Christopher Franke, a long-time member of Tangerine Dream, first began experimenting with a Moog modular synthesizer in the studio where he worked. He later was able to purchase it from the studio owner and it was used on many of the band's most famous records.

What goes around comes around

After years of digital synthesizers, virtual instruments, and computer workstations, electronic musicians are now enjoying the return of analog synthesizers and hardware sequencers. The market has been flooded with modern recreations of classic analog synthesizers, many of which were originally used to create Berlin School music in the ‘70s. The fact that many of these instruments include onboard step sequencers that can be programmed with the twist of a knob has, in my opinion, ushered in a new wave of Berlin School music. Its influence can be heard in many of the tracks being produced with the aid of these instruments. The step sequencer is the foundation of Berlin School, allowing musicians to quickly dial in repeating bass patterns and contrasting synth lines. These machines are so accessible that the classic rhythms of Berlin School nearly write themselves. The Korg SQ-1 sequencer for instance even includes an automatic scale function prohibiting you from choosing any wrong notes. Dial in an 8-step sequence, trigger your favorite bass synth, throw on some strings, add some delay effect, and you have yourself the start of a Berlin School hit. Another technique common to Berlin School is polyrhythms. This is where two individual sequencer parts play at odd lengths, usually one or two steps apart. This causes variations in the overall sequence as the parts loop back around, each time playing different combinations of notes until they line up again. This can be used to great effect. The Moog Subharmonicon synthesizer is totally built around onboard step sequencers that are specifically designed to generate polyrhythms. Other recent synthesizers like the Moog Mother 32 and Behringer Crave include a ratcheting feature in their step sequencers, another common technique heard in Berlin School music, used to rapidly repeat notes on single steps.

Join the club

Berlin School is so enjoyable to listen to and compose, especially if you are a fan of synthesizers and music technology. It conjures up images of distant planets, alien races, or magical realms. It is symphonic at times and can be downright rockin’ other times. It is far from predictable, and every new track is an adventure. If you want to give Berlin School a listen, there are many options to choose from. The early albums of Tangerine Dream should be considered. My favorites are Phaedra and Force Majeure. Moondawn by Klaus Shultze is another favorite. This month’s featured artist, Gary P. Hayes, has composed many Berlin School tracks, as well. Another good place to start is Cyclical Dreams Records. We review one of their compilation albums in this issue called Gemstones II which features current Berlin School artists from around the world. Once you start enjoying the music of Berlin School and learn more about the artists who make it, you will discover a world of music influenced by this style.

5 views0 comments


bottom of page