Holger Czukay & Rolf Dammers ‘Canaxis’ (Music Factory, 1969, reissued on Spoon, 1982 and 1998)

I heard rumours of this album’s existence – originally released privately as ‘Canaxis 5’ in 1969 and credited to Technical Space Composer’s Crew – in the days before the internet. People spoke about it in hushed tones, but copies were as rare as hen’s teeth and no one seemed to have actually heard it. Was it just a myth? Then, in the 1990s, when Can started to reissue their back catalogue, they included the retitled ‘Canaxis’ in a brand new cover with sleeve notes. Hallelujah! Glowing reviews followed and early champions of the record included Scanner and Paul Schütze.

Can bassist Holger Czukay recorded ‘Canaxis’ with technician/engineer Rolf Dammers, the album comprising two long DIY electroacoustic pieces – the title track and ‘Boat-Woman-Song’. Using ethnic Asian samples culled from shortwave radio transmissions, Czukay added electronic textures to craft slow, trippy, deeply meditative passages, full of cavernous clangs, bells and gongs, sudden emergences and drops in pitch, all enmeshed in the blips and bleeps of radio frequencies. 

The highly repetitive nature of the pieces gives them a drone-like quality and the fact that the voices and loops fade very slowly creates a disorientating sense of time slipping away. The pieces never really end, they just gradually fade, like a freight train being forever shunted into sidings. Listening to them is an hallucinatory, hypnotic experience. 

In his 1995 book, ‘Ocean Of Sound’, David Toop described ‘Canaxis’ as being made up of “impossible musics from unknown worlds”. Interestingly, Czukay’s attention to the spatial quality of the music bore a strong similarity to the studio techniques being used by the dub pioneers in Jamaica, and he once referred to Lee Perry as his “spiritual brother”. You can see why. Both men were mavericks who traded in the art of magick and both were as mad as a bag of squirrels. A cross between Friedrich Nietzsche and Frank Zappa, Czukay always played the clown, but he was a master craftsman. ‘Canaxis’ shows us that he was, in fact, a shaman.

Recorded more than 10 years before Brian Eno and David Byrne’s similar and much better known ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’, ‘Canaxis’ is now acknowledged as one of the first and finest examples of what became known as ambient and world music. It is a thing of utter purity and beauty. Get hold of a copy and prepare to be transported by those impossible musics from unknown worlds. 

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