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Alu, "Autismenschen"

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Johannes Vester and Ludwig Papenburg, along with with Ludwig's brother Ulrich, formed the group Sand, whose sole album (1974's Golem) is a Krautrock classic, famous for its haunting sparseness as well as the "Artifical Head" stereo mixing method pioneered by producer Klaus Schulze.


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The album was not successful, and though today a mint-condition original pressing can run into the thousands of dollars at auction, at the time its failure meant that there would be no second album for Sand, and the group disbanded. Johannes and Ludwig remained friends, however, and in 1980, they formed the cold-wave electro group Alu, who in their four-year lifespan released a single, a pair of LPs and a few cassettes.  Autismenschen represents an additional album that was recorded in 1981 but was never released until now. I've struggled to find the right words to describe Alu, as I have very mixed feelings about the project. I am a great fan of Vester and Papenburg's work as Sand, which I first discovered (as I suspect many others did) when it was expanded and reissued on CD by Steven Stapleton and David Tibet, who released the handsomely packaged Ultrasonic Seraphim on their United Durtro label in 1996. It should be noted that aside from some very labored comparisons that David Tibet attempts to draw between Sand and Alu in his liner notes for Autismenschen, there is absolutely no similarity between these two projects. Sand's Golem is spacious and surreal, a visionary folk album which carved out a unique hallucinatory space that has never been repeated before or since. Alu is very typical of the cold-wave electro sound, typified by metronomic rhythms, jagged synths, chugging sequencers and barked vocals awash with paranoia, claustrophobia and technological angst. It's not that Alu are in any way incompetent, but whereas their work as Sand was notable for its uniqueness in the Krautrock canon, the work of Alu is all but indistinguishable from its German new-wave and post-punk contemporaries. The whole project reeks of a very deliberate bandwagon jump, as evidenced by comparing band photos in the booklet for the Sand and Alu reissues. When they were in Sand, Vester and Papenburg sported beards and long hair, and photographed themselves looking wide-eyed and beatific, heads full of hash and acid, on park benches and in playgrounds. When they made the transition to Alu, suddenly the beards and manes were gone, and instead they are photographed in the typical Tuxedomoon uniform of suit and black tie, surrounded by banks of electronic gadgets, making tense, worried facial expressions. The look seems contrived, and so does the music, unfortunately. This is not to say that there is not much about Alu that will please those who adore this period of music, but there is nothing about Alu specifically that takes the music beyond the level of a mildly interesting footnote in the history of this period. The overlapping chirps, squelches and staccato rhythms do create a fair amount of intrigue on a track like "Sie Kriegt Alles Was Sie Will," but I can't help but feel but feel that Alu represents a rather cynical attempt by two talented musicians to appeal to a younger generation, and it rubs me the wrong way. In the words of James Murphy of LCD Soundsytem: "I hear you're buying a synthesizer and an arpeggiator and throwing your computer out the window because you want to make something real/I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables/I hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars."

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Last Updated on Sunday, 28 August 2005 23:25  


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