BOOK REVIEWS

The Crack In The Cosmic Egg - original book edition

Krautrock A to Z, March 11, 2005 - By Robert Carlberg (Seattle) - from Amazon

Between the late 1960s and the mid-1980s, there was a veritable EXPLOSION of creativity on the German rock scene. Fueled by an influx of American ex-pat jazz musicians seeking color neutrality, the new portability of music with cassettes and portable radios, the worldwide spirit of experimentation, new instrument technologies and, yes, the popularity of psychedelics, the resulting body of work has been nobly documented by brothers Steven & Alan Freeman.

Other books cover some of the same ground -- Archie Patterson's "Eurock" and Dag Erik Asbjornsen's "Cosmic Dreams at Play" for two -- but none are more comprehensive or more compulsively readable than "Cosmic Egg." The level of detail and fair, reasonable analysis make this the gold standard against which all others are measured..

 

A Crack In The Cosmic Egg Steven Freeman & Alan Freeman AUDION 23

When shown a book such as this, one can any doff the old topper in admiration.
Similar in size, scope and intent to Vernon Joynson's encyclopaedias of British and American psychedelia, this is the brothers Freeman's repository for their vast knowledge of German rock, Kosmiche music, prog and its myriad, often indefinable offshoots - knowledge amassed over 20 years of absorption in the subject.
The main, alphabetical tranch covers the bands everyone knows: Tangerine Dream, Faust, Kraftwerk, Can, Neu, through aficionados' favourites like Guru Guru, Cluster, Frumpy and Cosmic Jokers to mare obscure German proggers, the electronic "classical" avant garde, jazz-rock fusers, heavy bands from other countries who touched the scene, punk and synth bands of the '80s who took up the baton, and many names that are dimly recalled or may have only ever cropped up once on a sampler - come on down Eilliff, Floh De Cologne, lkarus, Janus, Thirsty Moon and Hairy Chapter. All entries carry as complete a discography as the Freemans deem appropriate.
Then there are family trees for each of the major German cities, brief guides to the most active labels and some notable compilations, many pages of sleeve reproductions, and the Freemans' personal selection of the 100 best Krautrock albums ever made. It's an amazing feat of information-gathering, only let down, like Joynson's books, by the rather unappetising design and the detail-biased writing - the uberfan's concerns being markedly different from that of the casually curious. One or two more yarns to round out the histories would have helped propel the novice towards the music, as evinced by Julian Cope's brief, breathless but inspiring Krautrocksampler.
Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy and explore here and anyone with mare than a passing interest in European rock history will want a copy. (It should be available at good rock book stockists but you can order it by post for 25 from Audion Publications, c/a Ultima Thule, 1 Conduit Street, Leicester, LE2 OJN.) Jim Irvin [Mojo 40, 3/97]

 

STEVEN & ALAN FREEMAN: "The Crack In The Cosmic Egg ~ Encyclopaedia Of Krautrock, Kosmische Musik, & Other Progressive, Experimental & Electronic Musics From Germany" (20+P&P 5 U.K., 8 Euro, 17 U.S., 20 elsewhere to Ultima Thule, 1 Conduit St., Leicester LE2 OJN.)
Obviously modelled on Vernon Joynson's Borderline Productions series of specialist rock books, this is an obvious rival to Borderline's own look at the genre last year, Cosmic Dreams At Play. As I can't find the office copy, I'm afraid I cannot give you a detailed comparison. But the Freemans' long-standing interest in the field is enough to guarantee that the book's accuracy and insight ought not to be in dispute. Over 1,177 artists are featured here, covering some 2,500 albums and a mere 180 singles (Krautrock wasn't tailored towards the single format). It's illustrated with 150 album sleeves, including a section of colour plates, and the whole beguiling caboodle is prefaced by charts, definitions and a Krautrock Top 100. (MP) [Record Collector]

 

Krautrock feature
...the absolutely indispensable encyclopaedia of Krautrock, The Crack In The Cosmic Egg. The latter was written by Steven and Alan Freeman, the owners of Leicester' s Ultima Thule record shop and the undisputed authorities on anything Kraut and Kosmische. There is more in their book than you could ever hope to digest, and it's your best possible guide to navigating the plethora of re-releases and finer points of detail concerning the originals (as well as admiring their many wacky sleeves). [Record Collector 254, Oct 2000]

 

The Crack In The Cosmic Egg: Encyclopedia Of Krautrock, Kosmische Musik & Other Progressive, Experimental & Electronic Musics From Germany
By Steven Freeman and Alan Freeman AUDION (PBK 20)

Bypassing the entry on Velvet Universe, consider this summary of Vinegar: "Reputedly pre-Electric Sandwich, Vinegar played a much more spiced psychedelic rock in the realms of Tractor or Elias Hulk." That summary is this encyclopedia in microcosm (mikrokosm?); the detail is astonishing and the list of ludicrous group names would fill this review. Try Tanned Leather, Hairy Chapter and Steak, for starters.
Authors Steven and Alan Freeman run the Ultima Thule record shop in Leicester. The shop has a reputation as a haven for Kraut arcana, but there are no less than 1177 artist entries here. Comprehensive, certainly. The two brothers have edited the shop's Audion magazine for a decade, so they are steeped in this stuff. They reckon that any non-appearance of groups is due to their being stylistically inappropriate, not good enough, or so obscure they haven't heard of them -which they feel is unlikely (although the authors did initially dispute the authenticity of the recently reissued music credited to 70s groups Cozmic Corridors, Galactic Explorers and Golem).
Their coverage of Neue Deutsche Welle (German New Wave in the 70s is less successful as it's based on a subjective assessment as to whether the group falls into the book's remit. So Xmal Deutschland are not included, presumably because they are not deemed good enough, neither are Material Schlakte: too obscure? Not good enough?
To keep things manageable there is a 1985 cut-off point. But older groups' discographies extend beyond if, in the authors opinion, they remained relevant. This gives rise to debatable appraisals of Kraftwerk's canon, post-1978: "Mainstream techno pop." And Einsturzende Neubauten's discography extends only as far as 1 984 because, "as usual, international recognition resulted in compromise to gain a wider appeal that naturally backfired." Really? But credit to the Freemans for ignoring their own rules by including Caspar Brötzmann Massaker as a modern-day keeper of the flame. Elements of taste don't figure quite so strongly in connection with the older groups, although if you want to check on Spliff or Elephant, go to the "Rejects And Misfits" category at the end of the book.
The hideousness of most of the 180 pictured record sleeves is astonishing. Many guilelessly combined the formidable ugliness of Expressionists Georg Grosz and Otto Dix with Warhol's modernist tackiness, but without the style of either: some achievement. One of the reproduced sleeves originally graced Cross Collateral, an album by 70s jazz fusion group Passport, which has lain unplayed in my own collection for a decade or more. Heartened by the Freemans' positive write up, I played it. It didn't sound bad at all. Finally it felt that the purchase had been vindicated. MIKE BARNES [The Wire]

 

C. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Cosmic Dream sand Cracked Eggs (but were afraid to ask of a German)
Along with the growing number of vinyl and CD reissues (both legal and boot) of Krautrock albums and the general rising interest in Germany's alternative rock history came the cry for a decent book listing all those wonderful artists, bands and records, and if possible providing some background info. Up to a few months ago nothing really 'serious' was available about the European continent's largest producer of psychedelic and progressive music but in a short period of time two books have become available, both dealing in detail with the aforementioned very extensive subject. What luxury!...
Both books were released in 1996. The first one is called "Cosmic Dreams At Play" and written by the well known Norwegian record collector Dag Erik Asbjornsen who subtitled it "A Guide to German Progressive and Electronic Music". This glossy-papered, A4-sized book starts with a short intro and a three-page index of all the bands and artists featured (485 in total). The next 189 pages are devoted to those 485 acts, ordered alphabetically. Dag tells the story of each band or artist in brief (varying from one line of text to several pages) and lists their releases (only LPs)....
The other book, "The Crack In The Cosmic Egg", is also A4 and glossy papered and carries the subtitle "Encyclopedia of Krautrock, Kosmische Musik & Other Progressive, Experimental & Electronic Musics from Germany". It was written by Steven and Alan Freeman, contributors to the quality collectors' magazine Audion. Their book has a somewhat larger musical scope and deals with more artists and bands than the "Cosmic Dreams" volume. Steven and Alan incorporate a few worthwhile East-German (don't forget: the Krautrock. thing happened mainly in West-Germany), Austrian and Swiss bands into the review, which is an intelligent idea since musical styles are not stopped by borders (and most people outside of the European continent hardly know the difference anyway). A big, well appreciated extra in this book is the inclusion of 10 pages of historical notes about the various local scenes in Berlin, München, Düsseldorf and Hamburg (an approach I favour, since 'no man is an island', or in this case 'no band is an island'). Other valuable extras here are a few pages devoted to the 'people behind the scenes', meaning a short biography of the most important producers and sound engineers (Konrad Plank, Dieter Dierks, etc.), a list with the catalogues of 63 important German labels (both old and more recent ones), a 16-page section "Rumours and Mysteries" that looks like a list of bands and records the Freeman Brothers don't know a lot about, and 16 pages of "Rejects and Misfits" with a list of bands considered to be of only marginal historic and/or musical interest (again, according to the authors). It's a list of pretty obscure acts ~ but I for one don't understand why the names of The Blizzards or Dirk Steffens are included here.
What's the verdict? Difficult to say because these 'hard' facts don't tell us the whole story. Let me first point out that the quality of the historical notes is excellent in both volumes. The size of an individual band biography can differ between books due to differences in appreciation. When Dag Erik Asbjørnsen wrote his "Cosmic Dreams At Play" he took the point of view of an experienced collector so his comments on individual albums (and tracks!) are sometimes quite detailed. The book only deals with acts between 1968+/69 up to 1980, however. "The Crack In The Cosmic Egg" by Steven and Alan Freeman has a wider scope (1968/1969 up to 1985) and also incorporates worthwhile releases in the late 70s/early 80s experimental, weird new wave/industrial genre (I even found a few decent 'neue Deutsche Welle' bands) which makes sense to me. This also partly explains the considerable difference in the number of acts reviewed (552 vs 1179). "Partly" - I said: the Freeman brothers work more like 'historians' and found more material to include (although I found acts in the "Cosmic Dreams" book that were unknown or neglected in the other one). Another thing allowing for the difference in numbers is that "Cracked Egg" uses a smaller letter type and has no illustrations between the band biographies and reviews, while "Cosmic Dreams" features 180 black & white repros of album sleeves in between the text, making for lighter and more entertaining reading. A thing worthy of note is that neither of the two books tells a lot about the intense, blooming 60s mod/beat/R&R scene in Germany. Isn't this a challenge for anybody in Germany interested in this material to write an encyclopedia about this era. It would complete the picture of German rock!
Final conclusion: I think that both books are valuable and beautiful encyclopedia that will please anybody interested in the subject. Most of the time, my personal preference goes to "The Crack in the Cosmic Egg" because it provides me with more names and historical background data (very useful for articles or radio programs). But there's a wealth of info to be found is "Cosmic Dreams at Play" as well, and if you're dealing with an unknown band or album it's nice to have a second opinion. So my advice is: buy both books and compare, it will only make the picture more complete (and give the economy a boost as well, L.).
Kapellmeister Markus von Pilzenstein [Crohinga Well 13, April 1997]

Notes: Xmal Deutschland were (so we thought) a mainstream punk band. No mainstream punk was included in the book. And who on earth were Material Schlakte? - Alan Freeman.