The German band around their mastermind Florian Fricke is counted as Krautrock, but Popol Vuh were always musically an outsider among the outsiders. From 1970 the band released 20 albums for 30 years until Fricke's death in 2001. Five of them - "Affenstunde" (1970), "Hosianna Mantra" (1972), "Einsjäger & Siebenjäger" (1975) as well as the soundtracks for the Werner Herzog films "Aguirre" (1975) and "Nosferatu" (1978) - will now be released individually on CD in a first season (two more will follow in autumn 2019 and spring 2020) and in a 5-player LP box.
Frank Fiedler, founding member and musical mountain guide Frickes for all these years, is not only a musician, but also a filmmaker who has been involved in various films as a cameraman, screenwriter, director and sound designer. He has now remastered the new edition of the Popol Vuh albums.
eclipsed: Frank, why is this new vinyl box and the re-release of the Popol Vuh albums on CD happening?
Frank Fiedler: This is probably mainly due to Johannes Fricke-Waldthausen, the son of Florian Fricke. He owns Edition Popol Vuh. I often correspond with him. I'm monitoring the Popol Vuh archives. In addition, Florian's work has received a lot of international recognition, so that a media giant like BMG has provided some means for it to regain its prestige today. I can't confirm whether it has anything to do with 50 years of Popol Vuh.
eclipsed: Now it's five albums. Why this one?
Fiedler: The box should contain the essential albums. And these are the masterpieces. But there will be more. There are a few more masterpieces.
eclipsed: The LP box is also called "The Essential Album Collection Vol. 1". The title already indicates a "Vol. 2".
Fiedler: Yes, it will probably be released in autumn and will contain the six albums "In The Gardens of Pharaoh", "Beatitude", "The Song of Solomon", "Last Days - Last Nights", "Brothers of the Shadow, Sons of Light" and "The Night of the Soul". These are already prepared.
eclipsed: Together with Guido Hieronymus, who was also a member of Popol Vuh in the 90s, you remastered the albums. What did you pay attention to?
Fiedler: The main difference is that we raised the analog sound to a digital level, especially in the seventies. The technique has progressed quite a bit. I've been in this business a long time. We wanted to make the sound wider and more dynamic, but not destroy the analog character. We proceeded very carefully and intuitively and relied on our hearing. Guido is a master of sound modules anyway. The work on it took about half a year.
eclipsed: Was the LP box more in the foreground?
Fiedler: Actually, the LP box was rather unimportant at first. But people now love vinyl again. Today's record players can also pick up the sound much better. That's why the LPs make sense. In addition, the graphics also look more beautiful in the larger format and can be designed more expressively.
eclipsed: Popol Vuh were among the Krautrockers always somehow the outsiders, were always different. Did you feel like you belonged to Krautrock back then?
Fiedler: Even then, the term always sounded terrible to us. We were still influenced by the war with its terms "Tommies" and "Krauts". We did not like these terms and therefore we did not want to be put into the drawer "Krautrock". But of course we had contact to other real Krautrock bands, to Amon Düül II, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Gila. Meanwhile the horrible term "Krautrock" has become a trademark and a seal of quality. With Popol Vuh we wanted to contribute our part to the departure of that time, the liberation from the inhibition of our parents' generation. Florian had classical piano training with renowned piano teachers such as Rudolf Hindemith, Paul Hindemith's brother, and Madame Picht-Achsenfeld. He has therefore always had high expectations of himself. Even at the beginning, when we brought the Moog synthesizer to life.
eclipsed: What are the highlights among the Popol Vuh albums for you?
Fiedler: This is "Hosianna Mantra" and "Beatitude". These two are composed to the icing on the cake. "Kyrie" by "Hosianna Mantra" is already classical music. When I was in Italy with Florian in 1998, we saw a concert by Alice. And she actually sang "Kyrie." Florian liked it. And I made a video of it. You can watch it on my Youtube channel.
eclipsed: What do you see Popol Vuh as today? What is the legacy of the band?
Fiedler: Popol Vuh is an elevation, something enlightening. Popol Vuh do not function on an intellectual level, but from an inner heart feeling. The music, even if it is dark like "Nosferatu", gets close to the people. Even kids who want to get away from the bumbo-boom find pleasure in Popol Vuh. As long as the Western cultural landscape and its freedoms continue to develop as before, interest in the project will continue.
eclipsed: You also played the choir organ. A one-off production that Amon Düül II, for example, used on "Tanz Der Lemminge". There are contradictory statements about what happened to the instrument. Some say it's in a museum, others say it's lost.
Fiedler: Oh, that was a hell of a part. I got this thing going with me. This was a mechanical device with, I think, 88 endless belt loops, all of which were scanned analogously. Each band loop had its own recording head. I don't know where it went either. I did some research on it once, but I didn't find what I was looking for. The device was already bizarre in appearance. Two large plywood boxes, connected with thick cables, of course a keyboard and very loud only by his motor skills.
eclipsed: On the Wikipedia page about you you will find many later Popol Vuh albums with "co-worker" as participation. What does that mean?
Fiedler: I've done all kinds of things. Actually, I've never been a real musician. For Florian, I was important as someone who could discuss cultural-historical matters with him at eye level and, of course, for the exchange of musical inspiration. When we started Moog in the fall of 1969, I helped Florian to concentrate more on the compositional while I designed the filtering. The Moog was not programmable in today's sense. Dynamic changes were created by turning the knobs sensitively and using the ribbon controller above the keyboard.
eclipsed: Florian Fricke was always the center of attention. Was that justified?
Fiedler: Absolutely. Florian was the master. He had an incredible knowledge of music, he was an unparalleled cultural-historical music archive. Later, when I wanted a special piece of music by Mozart for one of my films, I named it to him and immediately he sat down at the piano and played it.
eclipsed: He has also dealt with the religion of the Maya and Christianity. Did you share these interests?
Fiedler: Yes, we were identical in our curiosity. We have read the same books on these subjects one after the other. Buddhism played an important role here. I later made a film about my view of the Buddhist world show, about one of the main motifs of Tibetan Buddhism, the wheel of life, with a camera trip to the Himalayas. Buddhism for me is more a philosophy than a religion. It is closer to nature and a kind of cosmic observation. Buddhism describes above all the energetic gradient from mind to matter. After all, the hippie movement was also looking for this higher closeness to nature.
eclipsed: How did you experience the death of Florian Fricke in December 2001?
Fiedler: I witnessed the trial. He was a chain smoker. Anyway, he had a mild stroke. He came to the clinic where they gave him the blood thinner Marcumar. After a few days he was discharged from the clinic. At home, he bled to death through his nose at night
eclipsed: How would you characterize him?
Fiedler: Not that easy. An ambivalent, sometimes difficult person. On the one hand, he was an extreme perfectionist. On the other hand, he was a funny mess. He was already a funny guy. He liked cooking and making good wine. We lived in the country and at that time there was not yet a wholesale market at every corner. But he always knew where to get good wine. A less pretentious world than today. I still have old film footage of us driving along the Salzburg motorway in an old VW bus. And the freeway was empty. It doesn't look like that anymore
eclipsed: Do you see yourself more as a filmmaker or a musician?
Fiedler: I make no difference to myself. I like to play music. I just completed a major film project. I call it a filmoritat. It's called "insulting humanity." It is about the potential for aggression that dominates this world, in the context of the man/woman relationship. And in this film I have used a lot of my own music and music made together with Guido Hieronymus.
eclipsed: Have you ever met Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski?
Fiedler: Klaus Kinski doesn't. Werner Herzog, even fleetingly. At the end of the nineties I did a film interview with Florian about his music.
*** Interview: Bernd Sievers