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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

Mario Schönwälder The Eye of the Chameleon (1989-2023)

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

The first 40 minutes of this album are good, and the title track is simply superb

1 Behind The Mental Wall 12:20

2 Earthtime 10:18

3 The Eye of the Chameleon 18:42

4 The Voyage Set II (…. to the Earth Pt. 1) 20:30

5 The Voyage Set II (…. to the Earth Pt. 2) 9:01

(CD 71:26) (V.F.)

(Berlin School)

2006! One of the most difficult years of my life. I'll spare you the details. I had just joined the French webzine, Guts of Darkness, and had been writing columns on electronic music (EM) since 2002 or 2003. I had little experience. And I thought I knew all the secrets of the EM universe, because I had an impressive collection of albums by Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre and all the other names that have built the foundations of this wonderful universe of sounds and music. Looking back... I didn't know much about it! It was a time when I was also taking industrial quantities of painkillers, and every time I reread a review I'd written the day before, I just didn't understand what I had just written. Fortunately, that's changed a lot. This prelude to mention that I already wrote a review about THE EYE OF THE CHAMELEON in August 2006. Eh boy...some text back then to say nothing. Or almost! So, I'm taking advantage of this reissue of the first album by the very likeable Mario Schönwälder to do justice to this album, which is more than a pale imitation of Klaus Schulze, the ultimate inspiration for the man who would go on to found Manikin Records some 3 years later. One thing remains true from the time of this 1st review I wrote: it was, and still is, an excellent album.

The Made in Germany (MIG) label specializes in reissuing what its directors consider to be classics, or essentials, in the worlds of EM, Krautrock, psychedelic rock and other totally avant-garde genres initiated by the pioneers of these genres. I've already reviewed a recent release from this label, Neuronium's The Harvest Years, and was impressed by the quality of the remaster and the purity of sound for music from the mid-70s. THE EYE OF THE CHAMELEON was first released in 1989, at the heart of Klaus Schulze's digital period, on Bernd Kistenmacher's new label, Musique Intemporelle, on CD and vinyl. The album was also released in K7 format, with a 3-minute bonus track, Gina. Mario subsequently reissued his debut album on Manikin in 1992. And finally, the German label SynGate reissued THE EYE OF THE CHAMELEON with a new remaster and a bonus track, Abstract Roof, in 2005 and 2008. It was this album, the 2005 edition, that I reviewed for the Guts of Darkness website in 2006. Is THE EYE OF THE CHAMELEON a classic? An essential or even a must-have? I'd say it's an essential in the EM sphere, because it bring Mario out of anonymity, and he was to become a very important figure in this wonderful world in sounds and music.

Behind the Mental Wall kicks off this musical adventure with a sequencer movement reminiscent of Klaus Schulze's P.T.O. from the Body Love era. The movement is very catchy, with 5 cadenced chords that jump and follow one another in a slightly livelier flow though. Tabla-style hand percussions samplings support this repetitive, ascending structure, while the keyboard lays down a cadenced melody that ebbs and flows, rolls in loops and dances in symbiosis with the sequencer's rhythm. It does sound very 80's Schulze. The synth is generous with its layers of chthonian voices, but also with its solos that twirl and draw musical arabesques with bewitching melodies. Here, as elsewhere in Mario's universe, the minimalist approach hypnotizes the senses. The musician avoids the pitfalls of redundancy with the random synth solos he throws into the evolution of this first track on THE EYE OF THE CHAMELEON. Earthtime follows with the slight Asian taste of its pervasive melody, which reminds me of Peter Murphy's All Night Long. It's just slower. At once delicate and yet solidly struck by a heavy, resonant repetitive sequence, like a soft rubber band, its rhythm twitches with heaviness. The organic percussive effects that rattle in its shadow are seductive elements that are better isolated here, taking on their full depth. A melody, finely hammered by a cadenced string illusion, radiates with that oriental perfume, while the synth throws out spectral ululations and plots some very melodious solos with a snake-charming flute tone. The whole thing gives the impression of hearing an old Middle Eastern sortilege that sounds an awful lot like the long journeys of the 70's analog EM. It's a very good track, where the addition of percussions in its final third gives it that second wind that thwarts the impression of repetitiveness that is Earthtime's hypnotic charm anyway. Minimalist music is the art of enchantment, if you know how to make it evolve. And Mario Schönwälder knows how!

This is amply demonstrated by the very long title track, an almost revisited version of Klaus Schulze's sublime Crystal Lake. Its opening is of silk, with contrasting synth tones clashing in a beautiful musical poetry. It's tender, bordering on romantic. The synth whistles very good ambient tunes on a warmer wave, with occasional sizzling, purring waves. Meditative bells tinkle here and there, before leading the first line of The Eye of the Chameleon's minimalist, hypnotic movement. The tinkling is as shimmering as it is melodious. A bass shadow plays a supple cha-cha-cha in the background of a rhythm that's more melodic than driving, while the synth roars out effects that seem to crumple the air like sheets of metal writhing in pain. A symbiosis is created around this ambient rhythm, which is now only a vague memory of Crystal Lake that the years have confused. Discreet percussions articulate a rhythm without rhythm, always in the background of this cadenced ritornello, whose subtle modulations are its irremediable charms. The synth articulates a few solos, without them being real solos. Thus, each element that is added is in a way to not detract from the brilliance of this sparkling rhythmic melody that screws us a solid earworm. You'll remember it hours later. Excellent, from the first to the last second! These first 3 tracks, flirting with 40 minutes, explain why this first Schönwälder album is an essential! The Voyage Set Two (... to the Earth) is divided into 2 parts on this MIG reissue, more clearly separating the lively part from the ambient one of this long track performed at the Berlin Planetarium in January 1989. The Voyage Set II (.... to the Earth Pt. 1) features a rhythmic structure based on zigzagging pulsations with an organic resonance effect which surrounds it. The synth draws intriguing panoramas, to say the least, with humming waves and bluish moans, grafted onto layers of chthonian vocals. This lends a spectral, even ectoplasmic texture to the track's ambiences, whose pace picks up speed from the second bank of these ambiences passed, around the 5-minute mark. The melody that follows breathes a touch of Earthtime, minus the oriental aspect. Mario freezes some synth solos that are quite discreet in nature on the slow evolution of The Voyage Set II (.... to the Earth Pt. 1) and whose second part, The Voyage Set II (.... to the Earth Pt. 2) explores more of a Dark Ambient approach that must have been quite innovative for its time.

I've never had the chance to hear the original, the Musique Intemporelle version of THE EYE OF THE CHAMELEON. So, it's very difficult for me to judge the value of this new remaster. On the other hand, I found that the sound is better detailed, that each element is better defined in this version than in the SynGate one. But most importantly, I've rediscovered this album that I probably listened to carelessly in 2006. It's true that the influence of Klaus Schulze, from Timewind to Mirage, is palpable in every corner of Mario Schönwälder's work. But to say that there is a lack of originality, as I read somewhere on the web, is to show laziness in the art of listening to and criticizing an album. The first 40 minutes of this album are very good, and the title-track is simply superb! So, if you don't own this album, the Made in Germany label gives you the opportunity.

Sylvain Lupari (September 24th, 2023) *****

Available from MIG Music

(NB: Words in blue are links you can click on)

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