The definition of noise seems simple enough. Loud. Disruptive to the senses. Basically a sound that is deemed unpleasant and undesirable. But what if I tell you, quite the contrary, that noise is essential and intrinsic to music? This series of articles will not strive for a definitive outcome to this premise, but will rather seek to present a history on the phenomenon and the various views surrounding this acoustic mystery. In the end it’s up to you to decide whether our subject matter is a menace or a blessing to our acoustic spectrum.
Before you read any further, I would like to ask 12 minutes and 19 seconds of your time. Find a nice, relaxed spot and play the track “Transfer Station Blue” by Michael Shrieve. Don’t do anything, just let it run its course.
Done? Good. Now let me tell you the story of a drummer who played with Santana at Woodstock and converted to ambient from the Berlin School. This is the wonderful world of Michael Shrieve. His biography (or at least, as much as I read) focuses largely on his time with Santana’s band, where he was a drummer during the 60s and part of the 70s. His drum solo in “Soul Sacrifice”, which he performed on stage during the Woodstock festival is, without question, pretty epic. Of course, this is rock and roll history and the word Woodstock still has magical powers over anyone born before 1960, but for the rest of us (most likely including you as you are reading this article) the story of Michael Shrieve has fallen in a generation gap between us and our parents, or perhaps even grandparents.
I found out about Michael Shrieve via the unparalleled “Sarcastic Study 2” mix CD by electronic music’s very own piece of rock and roll history: DJ Harvey. The CD contains only cryptic track titles such as “This Song Changed My Life”, “Eternal Vegan Crystals” and “What’s That One Again, Harv”. It came out in 2001, well before Shazam, Soundcloud tracklist hunters and Facebook “Track ID?” groups could reveal the true nature of the music used. This added to the myth of the featured tracks. One of the tracks was called “Cruzin” and featured a guitar hook so Balearic it changed the very fabric of your clothes to soft white linen. Years later, through the magic of the internet, I found out that the original track was actually called “Transfer Station Blue” from the homonymous 1984 album by Michael Shrieve, Kevin Shrieve and Klaus Schulze. The full track, which you have just heard, features long, introspective buildups filled with Shrieve’s drum work and arpeggiated synth lines that crash-climax into the all-out anthem of the guitar riff.
Around the mid-70s, Michael Shrieve switched his career from backing drummer to visionary electronic pioneer, at a time when electronic music apparatus had become more widespread amongst popular musicians. After his Santana days, he started focusing more on session-based work and projects for his solo career. Shrieve’s career collided with Klaus Schulze’s after both of them joined the short-lived supergroup Go, formed by Stomu Yamashta. Bandmembers also included Steve Winwood and Al Di Meola. Go released two albums in ‘76 and ‘77, and Schulze and Shrieve joined forces afterwards to produce an album for Schulze’s alias Richard Wahnfried.
The 1979 album Time Actor was the first output of this fruitful fusion between the West Coast percussionist and the krautrock/Berlin school celebrity. After Time Actor was released on Innovative Communication (for an excellent review of the label’s activities I happily refer you to Luke Cohlen’s piece on this website). Shrieve and Schulze released two more Richard Wahnfried albums: Tonwelle and Megatone. Between 1979-1983, with the help of Kevin Shrieve on the guitar, the recordings were made for what would be known as Transfer Station Blue. I could find no records of Kevin Shrieve online, other than his appearance on this album, but the photos on the back of the record sleeve clearly indicate the family connection between the two Shrieves.
After “Transfer Station Blue”, Shrieve’s experimental period saw him produce a motion picture soundtrack (for 1987’s The Bedroom Window) and several collaborations with other artists, such as session drummer David Beal and former professional motorbike-racer-turned-electronic-music-composer Steve Roach.
Shrieve’s electronic phase ended with the 80s. Already, his ‘89 album Stiletto has more of a contemporary jazz/prog rock feel to it. Nevertheless, this man witnessed first-hand the impact electronic music had in the 70s and 80s, found his way and recorded wonderful tracks that still resonate with listeners today.