Review: Sula Bassana – How It Began… (1983-1986) (released Aug. 4, 2019)
Just dropped today, a brand-new release from Sula Bassana…sort of! How It Began… (1983-1986) gives us a fascinating glimpse into the past, a time machine if you will, that takes us back to the very earliest days of Dave Schmidt’s musical explorations.
On these early recordings, he achieved a crude sort of multi-tracking with a tape deck and a cassette recorder, but he warns us before listening, that they were running in slightly different speeds, so there were issues with tuning, and of course, the ever present noise inherent to those tape recordings. But these don’t things detract at all from the undeniable charm of these pieces and the nascent creativity on display. Using organ, synths and drum machines with a few effects pedals to add flavour, the young Schmidt pours every ounce of his creative ingenuity into each piece and comes up with some genuinely enjoyable electronic soundscapes. I fully admit, there is a nostalgia factor at play here for me, because it was through this very same period that I was doing my earliest experiments with crude synths and early drum machines, and I was doing a weekly radio show of electronic music as well. However, I hardly think you need those credentials to thoroughly enjoy the music on How It Began… (1983-1986).
Each track on the album gets progressively more sophisticated as Schmidt obtains new pieces of gear, from the earliest dronescape of Moon Patrol (perhaps named after the popular arcade video game of that era?) played out on a Universum organ, a Yamaha CS-01 and a borrowed Boss DR 110 drumbox, recorded in 1983 to the final four part suite Schnulze (clocking in at a total of about 26-minutes), recorded in 1986 with a Korg Polysix and a Roland DC 30 delay, gear he still uses to this day! These latter tracks also show how far Schmidt’s playing and production skills have progressed over three years. With bubbling sequences, evocative melodies and dreamy atmospheres punctuated by those wonderful, 80’s drum machine sounds, they brought a big smile to my face, because this was exactly the kind of music I was playing on my radio show in those days. In between are his first experiments with a new phaser pedal, on a track appropriately titled Phasersong; the solemn wonder of the dawn tinged Morgenstimmung; the splendidly redolent, Klaus Schulze-like Dresden; and the perky, kaleidoscopic whirl of Tropfsteinhöhle.
As I said, though, I really don’t think that you had to have lived through this period or experienced the nostalgia that I did to enjoy this music. If you’re a fan of Sula Bassana, you will love hearing how it all began, because Schmidt’s talent and his knack for crafting strange and beautiful music was already in place, and it shines through on every track here. Working with the simple tools he had at the time, Schmidt doesn’t dwell on the limitations of his equipment, he only realizes the possibilities. Witness the transformation of Dave Schmidt into Sula Bassana, right here on How It Began… (1983-1986)!
For more info and to stream or purchase the album, visit: https://sulabassana.bandcamp.com/album/how-it-began-1983-86