Ambient Sanctuaries: The world of Beaver & Krause

C.J. Newman revisits one of the most significant collaborations of their time.

The birth of electronic music can be traced largely (though not exclusively) to one man: Dr. Robert Moog, the visionary engineer and scientist who created much of what we now recognize as the synthesizer. In 1967, Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause were evangelistically helping other musicians embrace the opportunities afforded by the creation of this new instrument and acting as sales agents for Moog. Eventually, they would succeed in introducing the synthesizer to that stellar generation stars including The Doors, The Byrds, George Harrison and Mick Jagger. Beaver and Krause, however, were more than just sales reps for Moog. They were accomplished musicians and that same year they released the hugely significant, ‘The Nonesuch Guide to Electronic Music’ an album which spent 26 weeks on the classical charts in the USA. This was followed up by the release on Mercury record of the electro-funk ‘Ragnarok’ which was equally as acclaimed. The move to a bigger label was inevitable and in 1970, Beaver and Krause joined Warner Brothers.

The release, by Cherry Red Records, of all three of their Warner Bros Albums on double CD, is a welcome opportunity to revisit one of the most significant collaborations of their time. In a Wild Sanctuary, Gandharva and All Good Men were the albums created over the three-year period between 1970 and 1972 and the Cherry Red reissue of them is accompanied by a beautifully presented booklet describing the history of the fascinating journey cut short by the untimely death of Paul Beaver in 1975. These three albums provide an evocative showcase of the all-pervading influence and legendary status that Beaver and Krause enjoy in the annals of electronica. One only has to listen to tracks like Spaced, a beguiling, ethereal highlight of In a Wild Sanctury, and that first album’s final track Sanctuary to hear the DNA coding of modern ambient music and for that reason alone, this Cherry Red Music re-release should appeal and entice.

Yet, there is more to these than mere musical antiquity and curiosity. Each one of these three albums are significant in their own right. In a Wild Sanctuary, the first of the Warner albums, is an entrancing mixture of the bucolic and earthy woven into a soundscape of Moog synthesisers and swirling organs. Jazz meets Progressive meets electronic in a relaxed coming together of styles. The opening track, Another Part of Time sets the listener up for the journey that is to come. Beaver and Krause position this musical odyssey as one which is interesting and challenging without being threatening.

In a Wild Sanctuary gives the listener a clear invitation to step into this musical space and, in Aurora Hominis, any expectations are playfully confounded by a synth-organ fusion of Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. The next track, Salute to the Vanishing Bald Eagle sees the music confidently segue into a louche and provocative swagger with an intricate layering of synthesised sounds. The final track, Sanctuary provides a thoughtful and elegiac ending to the album and emphasises the score-like feeling that Bernie Krause identified when he said that the album was a soundtrack to a film that was never made.

Gandharva, the second album of the triptych, is perhaps less contemplative but no less intriguing in its direction. Maybe it is because the second half of album was recorded live in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral that an element of spontaneity is added, without detracting from the spirituality of the work. The first part of the album (the final five tracks of disc one of the Cherry Red reissue) contains a fascinating blend of accessible tracks and experimental synthesiser sounds which have become the pair’s hallmark. The irresistibly kitsch Saga of the Blue Beaver and the gospel driven Walkin’ by the River, powered by the sublime vocals of Patrice Holloway, are a little dissonant when placed alongside overt electronica such as Soft/White, yet still the first half is both pleasing and accessible.

If the first part of Gandharva is a pleasant, esoteric mixture of styles, the second half (the start of disc two of the Cherry Red reissue) is a tour de force of innovation and creativity. The soft-jazz sax of Bud Shanks and Gerry Mulligan sit above the peerless organ playing of Beaver. The composed, tranquil beauty of this entire suite of music is truly stunning and perhaps represents the creative apogee of Beaver and Krause’s alliance. The second half of Gandharva makes a case for being part of the source-code of electronic ambient music. It really is that compelling.

Sadly, Gandharva represents the summit of Beaver and Krause’s work together. The final album, All the Good Men is something of a return to the mundane. Indeed, Bernie Krause himself does not have a high opinion of the piece and it is clear that the once coherent sound has fractured. Compared with the eco-electronica of In a Wild Sanctury or the spiritual serenity of Gandharva, the third album lacks any real sense of identity or cohesion. An outlier in terms of quality (or lack thereof), there is still something to savour. Legend days are over, provides a fascinating glimpse of the musical techniques and the experimentation that had so enriched the previous albums. Nonetheless, the contrast with the previous albums is stark and provides a disappointing epitaph to a truly creative and imaginative collaboration.

Once again, Cherry Red Records have dipped into the origins of modern music and released three of the most interesting, significant and accessible pieces from the period. Crucially, these albums are beautifully remastered and Beaver and Krause’s astonishing musical talents are laid bare, with each layer sounder crisper and more detailed than ever before. Once again, we see a sensitive and wholly appropriate release which provides a wonderful chance to revisit a unique collaboration. In the world of electronic music, the names Beaver and Krause are revered to an almost mythical level. On this showing, it is not difficult to see why.

Beaver & Krause – ‘In a Wild Sanctuary – Gandharva – All Good Men’ is out now from Cherry Red Records (WPSALM2393D), RRP £10.95.

❉ CJ Newman combines a lifelong love of music, science fiction and cult movies with his alter-ego, as an academic writer on space exploration. He can be found on twitter as 

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