All gates open with Can
As we speak, few are the secrets that music still has to discover in its past. Can have been one of those, as it was difficult to reach them in the pre-broadband era. Today, after praised by indie gods like James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem or Geoff Barrow of Portishead, Can are a band almost as cited as Brian Eno, on whom they had a direct influence, or the Velvet Underground, which endured identical avant-garde influences.
These influences were the natural offspring of the master Karlheinz Stockhausen, particularly Terry Riley and Steve Reich, also fans of minimalism, albeit in different forms. These were two key figures who, as Irmin Schmidt tells, served as the motto for the band’s foundation, when the keyboard was returning to Germany from New York. All gates open: The story of Can is essentially the story of his band, told by the personal standpoint of the founder and composer Schmidt, and the pen of Rob Young, former editor of Wire. Unlike the band’s albums, which, even on the almost pornographic soundtracks, found the justification to extend their length in exploration and divagation, the span of the band’s biography seems excessive. This happens because a fair share of the testimonials is given by those musicians who have been influenced by Can. And it is a shame to see that a band which always trailed its own path, ends up seeking validation by its followers, yet this is an increasingly common practice when trying to lure in younger fans of newer bands.
Also, the book is a slave to cerebralism, presenting a perspective often too rational of the events. As much as Can have their roots in the avant-garde, they were seen as a rock band that influenced several generations of rock musicians after them. And rock not only lives from its music, but also from its stories in equal proportion. Considering that the band’s original vocalist, Malcolm Mooney, had a burnout and was advised by the doctor to move away from his band’s chaotic music, there is at least one story that deserves to be explored. Equally interesting is the way the Japanese Damo Suzuki entered the band, who barely knew music and basically refused to write the lyrics, preferring to improvise them. Throughout all this, we get to know the convolutions of both band members and the protectionist realm of Stockhausen’s own music through the glimpses of Nazi Germany. Just as Can’s music is not orthodoxly structured, All gates open has also its own way of being, but falls short of touching us as much as the band’s records do. And we are not even talking about Tago Mago. At the end, that ultimately disappoints more than anything else in the book.