The CAN Studio

From krautrock to commercial production to the museum. The journey of the CAN Studio in sounds, pictures, and objects, 1968–2018

By rock'n'popmuseum

"CAN" Live in the Musikhalle Hamburg, 1972. by Heinrich Klaffsrock'n'popmuseum

CAN and the Inner Space Studio ca. 1968–1978

It all started with two stereo tape recorders and four microphones in 1968 in a…

Schloss Noervenich by Marco Ullmannrock'n'popmuseum

...castle near Cologne. The band used the imposing stairwell as an echo chamber. The sound wasn't mixed using a desk but directly at the instrument amplifiers.

Can(band) - Documentary by Rudi Dolezl & Hannes Rossacherrock'n'popmuseum

Here you can see part of a documentary about CAN. One can clearly identify the equipment, which with they started out at their room in Nörvenich.

Original CAN-Mixing Desk by Mario Brandrock'n'popmuseum

…soon after, the band moved to Weilerswist and converted an old cinema into the Inner Space Studio. Here you can see their self-made mixing desk, that handled most of the signals of the “classical” CAN albums...

Studer B 62 tape machine by Alan van Keekenrock'n'popmuseum

...they expanded their equipment with another tape machine: the Studer B62 pictured here.
It suited them because they were constantly recording, even during rehearsals or breaks from playing. These recordings were often reused by Holger Czukay.

Drum Corner by Thorsten Güttesrock'n'popmuseum

The new rehearsal and recording space in Weilerswist in Cologne had an unusual layout. There was no separation between the control and live room, as it is still typical for recording studios today.

Holger Czukay Article, From the collection of: rock'n'popmuseum
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Although it was mostly Holger Czukay who sat at the controls, during these early years there was no clear division of jobs or even instruments. All band members could change the sound at the mixing table in the center of the room.

Sea gras mattress Detail by Mario Brandrock'n'popmuseum

Typical for 1970s rock productions, the sound was recorded in a "dry" room with little echo. That made it easier to change the recording signal using effects...

Seagrass mattresses can be seen in the background. CAN had purchased them from old military stock.
They were cheap and achieved the desired surround sound. However, what was going on in the mattresses, has been hugely challenging for the museum...

Flags decoration, Thorsten Güttes, From the collection of: rock'n'popmuseum
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...the insulation also helped save the nerves of residents in Weilerswist, letting the band test out and record at any time of day.

"Sarotti"-Booth CAN-Studio by Thorsten Güttesrock'n'popmuseum

The famous Sarotti booth was an old leftover of the cinema hall where the studio was located. It served CAN as storage for countless tapes that were used to record their jams.

Wall Decoration CAN-Studio, RPM, From the collection of: rock'n'popmuseum
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The studio design was partly done by artist Christine Scholl, who was Jaki Liebezeit's girlfriend at the time. Huge curtains with colourful psychedelic patterns painted on were used to conceal the mattresses.

Farfisa Advertisment with CAN as Endorsersrock'n'popmuseum

CAN used the same equipment on stage as they did in the studio. This included a P.A. system and electronic organs from Farfisa. An endorsement agreement existed with the famous Italian manufacturer.

CAN Bass Amp by Mario Brandrock'n'popmuseum

However, during their early years, CAN were already having equipment manufactured based on their own requirements. Here you can see Holger Czukay's custom made bass amplifier.

Alpha 77 Multi-Effects Unit, René Tinner, From the collection of: rock'n'popmuseum
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Synthesizers were rarely used in their early albums. Instead, signals were sent from Irmin Schmidt's electronic organ via a custom made multi-effect, the Alpha 77. This device enabled the signal to be send into a ring modulator, a tape delay or a phasing effect that could be controlled directly.

Alpha 77 Power-Amp by Mario Brandrock'n'popmuseum

CAN's music was very closely linked to the music studio as a space for experimentation and improvisation. Relatively late they acquired a 16-track tape for their album Landed (1975). Shortly before they disbanded, the also got their hands on a fitting 16 channel mixing desk.

Looking back, CAN agreed that the technological limitations in their previous albums afforded a certain focus. Not least because their equipment simply allowed fewer mistakes.

Otari MTR-90 Control by Mario Brandrock'n'popmuseum

The CAN Studio (ca. 1980–2003)

After the separation of CAN in 1978, the former members used the studio for their own projects. On the initiative of friend and producer Conny Plank, René Tinner carried on the former cinema under the new name CAN Studio.

René Tinner working at the CS-V mixing desk, RPM, From the collection of: rock'n'popmuseum
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Tinner, who had worked for CAN as a sound engineer, wanted to run the studio as a commercial one. The layout however stayed the same.

Joachim Witt - Silberblickrock'n'popmuseum

One of the first productions in the new studio was a solo LP by Joachim Witt, one of the so-called Neue Deutsche Welle (NDW) artists. The best-known single from the Silberblick album (1980) is probably “Goldener Reiter”.

MZ CS-V Mixing Desk by Mario Brandrock'n'popmuseum

Witt invested part of the proceeds in the studio, where he would also create his following albums. The money was used among other things to commission a professional mixing desk from Michael Zähl.

The MZ CS-V first consisted of a single desk pictured here. It had 32 channels, an elaborate equalizer and, most importantly, it was automation-ready so that it could later...

...be upgraded like with the here shown System 4. Now, volumes, panning, and equalizer settings could be saved as time functions on a tape track. On the right at the end of the 1980s...

…another 24 channels were added for the remastering of the album Rite Time by CAN. The band got back together in their original line-up for this album. Also featured: the remote control for the OTARI hard disk recorder.

Werbefilm "Bye Bye" (1983) by Youtuberock'n'popmuseum

A look into early everyday life in the studio. A promotional film for their 1983 album Bye Bye shows NDW band Trio in the CAN Studio. With this LP for the first time they allowed themselves to move away......

Hammond B3 electronic organ by Mario Brandrock'n'popmuseum

...from their famous minimalistic sound. Maybe it was the equipment? Not just former instruments and machines from Conny Plank's studio found its way into the studio. Over the years, many musicians leftover devices stayed after their time in the studio.

Oberheim Matrix 12 by Mario Brandrock'n'popmuseum

Ein paar Sounds des Matrix-12
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Headphone station at the CAN-Studio by Thorsten Güttesrock'n'popmuseum

Michael Zähl also constructed this mobile headphone desk that allowed anyone to create their personal mix. It helped to work with more freedom in the sprawling studio...

...but what could be the purpose of these little mirrors?...

Drum Corner by Thorsten Güttesrock'n'popmuseum

Although the "CAN DNA" stayed with the studio and everything continued to take place in one room, a certain level of shielding was necessary, especially when drums were recorded.

Decorated Sound proof Walls by Mario Brandrock'n'popmuseum

...the partitions were either transparent or had windows, as in this example, so producers and artists could remain in contact as part of the special arrangement of the studio.

Bläck Föös in the CAN-Studio by RPMrock'n'popmuseum

The CAN Studio was also linked to the ”Kölner Pack”, a group of well-connected musicians from Cologne. This also included the band Bläck Föös who are famous for singing rock songs in Colonian, the local dialect

The band Double 1986 in San Remo by Cafeswizzrock'n'popmuseum

...but there were also international stars such as Swiss pop band Double, who recorded their first album here. Their hit Captain of her Heart was also produced in Weilerswist.

Marius Westernhagen - Sexy by Youtuberock'n'popmuseum

Marius Müller-Westernhagen's major hit Sexy was recorded at the CAN Studio. Although Tinner incorporated the live energy of Westernhagen's band in his production, it won't have looked quite the same as it did in this music video.

Atari 1040 ST by Mario Brandrock'n'popmuseum

The CAN Studio always tried to keep up when it came to the latest technology. Before the Macintosh and digital editing programs, the Atari came into play. The model already came equipped with a MIDI interface.

"Digital"-Rack by Mario Brandrock'n'popmuseum

Wie klingen die Rack-Synthesizer?
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...in the 1990s many rack synthesizers were added. Their presets didn't just emulate classic synths and instruments. They also had their own unmistakable character.

Whirlpool Productions @ House Frau (Viva, 1996)rock'n'popmuseum

Hans Nieswandt (middle) speaks about a haunting experience in the CAN Studio. This spirit inspired the band Whirlpool Productions to re-record all the songs for their second album...

CAN-Studio channel sheet by Alan van Keekenrock'n'popmuseum

Despite the creative chaos and hippy ambiance in the CAN Studio, everything had to have its place. This is a blank form for the channel assignment.

Michael Zähl CS-V Mixing Desk (Detail)rock'n'popmuseum

The early 2000s were characterized by the death of many commercial music studios. Also many better-known locations like the CAN Studio couldn't avoid this fate. What would happen to the studio now?

Instrumente CAN-Studio by Hartmut Springerrock'n'popmuseum

In the Museum: The CAN Studio as a Living Exhibition Piece, 2007–2018

The studio and its history were never torn apart. Thanks to the growing political appreciation of popular music in North Rhine-Westphalia and with a lot of persuasion, financing was granted in the 2000s and the CAN Studio was relocated to the rock'n'popmuseum in Gronau.

CAN-Studio in the rock'n'popmuseum Gronau by RPMrock'n'popmuseum

For anyone who has ever wondered what it looks like when you move with a whole studio ...in the mid 2000s, the CAN Studio was rebuilt on the second floor of the rock'n'popmuseum.

Poster for the initial exposition of the CAN-Studio 2007 by RPMrock'n'popmuseum

In 2007, the relocation was complete. With a focus on the band CAN, the rock'n'popmuseum opened the rebuilt studio with a special exhibition.

Recording in the CAN-Studio by RPMrock'n'popmuseum

This is what it looks like finished. But the studio was not just an exhibition piece...

…recordings and especially live appearances that were also transmitted live took place from the very beginning. Andreas Grotenhoff was often at the controls during this time.

Marshall JCM 800 Series Tube Amp by Mario Brandrock'n'popmuseum

Ein paar Klangeindrücke
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This classic special red edition Marshall JCM 800 was renovated after the relocation, what usually means: new tubes! Still, a tube amp also needs to be played regularly...

Mix of footage from live concerts in the CAN-Studio by RPMrock'n'popmuseum

In the mid 2010s, the rock'n'popmuseum regularly streamed concerts from the CAN Studio, mostly with newcomer bands.

CAN-Studio, 2001/3 by RPMrock'n'popmuseum

After almost 40 years, relocating, the band's breakup, and countless albums, one question remains: what is a studio exactly? Is it the space, is it the objects or, finally, is it the way people interact with technology to create music?

Logos by Rpmrock'n'popmuseum

The exhibition was established as part of the project Musical Objects of Popular Culture (Musikobjekte der Populären Kultur). The project is a collaboration between the Center for Popular Culture and Music of the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg, the University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar, and the rock'n'popmuseum in Gronau (Westphalia). It is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Credits: Story

Text and image selection: Alan van Keeken
Editing: Christofer Jost, Thomas Mania, Martin Pfleiderer, and Leon Pfaff.
Special thanks to René Tinner, Michael Zähl, and Uwe Kronenfeld.

Literature used:
Adelt, Ulrich (2012): Machines with a Heart: German Identity in the Music of Can and Kraftwerk. In: Popular Music and Society 35 (3), S. 359–374.
Czukay, Holger (1973): Holger Czukay über das Can-Studio. In: Riebes Fachblatt 2.
Nieswandt, Hans (2007): plus minus acht. DJ Tage DJ Nächte. Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch.
Schmidt, Hildgeard; Kampmann, Wolf (1998): CAN BOX. Münster: Medium Music Books.
Young, Rob; Schmidt, Irmin (2018): All Gates Open. The Story of Can. London: Bloomsbury.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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