September 5, 2017 – Holger Czukay was born on March 24, 1938 in the Free City of Danzig (since 1945 Gdańsk, Poland), from which his family was expelled after World War II. Due to the turmoil of the war, Czukay’s primary education was limited. One pivotal early experience, however, was working, when still a teenager, at a radio repair-shop, where he became fond of the aural qualities of radio broadcasts (anticipating his use of shortwave radio broadcasts as musical elements) and became familiar with the rudiments of electrical repair and engineering.
Czukay studied music under Karlheinz Stockhausen from 1963 to 1966 and then worked for a while as a music teacher. Initially Czukay had little interest in rock music, but this changed, when a student played him the Beatles’ 1967 song “I Am the Walrus”, a 1967 psychedelic rock single with an unusual musical structure and blasts of AM radio noise. This opened his ears to music by rock experimentalists such as The Velvet Underground and Frank Zappa.
Czukay co-founded Can in 1968. He played bass guitar and performed most of the recording and engineering for the group. Rosko Gee, former bassist of the British band Traffic, joined the band in 1977, with Czukay handling only tapes and sound effects on album Saw Delight, his final LP with the group before departing for a solo career.
After his departure from Can, Czukay recorded several albums. One of his trademarks was the use of shortwave radio sounds and his early pioneering of sampling, in those days involving the painstaking cutting and splicing of magnetic tapes. He would tape-record various sounds and snippets from shortwave and incorporate them into his compositions. He also used shortwave as a live, interactive musical instrument (such as on 1991’s Radio Wave Surfer), a method of composition he termed “radio painting”. Czukay also stated “If you want to make something new, you shouldn’t think too far beyond one certain idea”.
Czukay collaborated with a considerable number of musicians, notably a series of albums with Jah Wobble and David Sylvian, two younger British musicians who shared his interest in blending pop music with experimental recording and sampling techniques. Other collaborators include U.N.K.L.E, Brian Eno, Eurythmics, and German Neue Deutsche Welle band Trio.
In 2009, after a problematic time with the record company that had been gradually re-releasing his albums on CD, Czukay began a new collaboration with the Claremont 56 record label, releasing vinyl-only remixes of tracks from earlier albums, as well as some new recordings. This approach changed Czukay’s plans for his back catalogue, so that the original albums Der Osten ist Rot (1984), Rome Remains Rome (1987) and Moving Pictures (1993) will no longer be reissued (in the case of Moving Pictures, because the master tapes have degraded beyond repair). Instead, most of the tracks are being re-made and newly organized as limited edition vinyl releases.
His last know recording was the 2015 11 Years Innerspace
Czukay’s body was discovered inside his apartment on 5 September 2017. The cause of death is presumed to be cardiac arrest. He was 77.
Described by critic Jason Ankeny as “successfully bridging the gap between pop and the avant-garde”, Czukay is also notable for having created early important examples of ambient music, for having explored “world music” well before the term was coined, and for having been a pioneer of sampling.