Can's core members-- bassist Holger Czukay, keyboardist Irmin Schmidt, drummer Jaki Liebezeit and guitarist Michael Karoli-- came from avant-garde and improv-jazz backgrounds; Czukay and Schmidt had both studied with Stockhausen. But instead of exploring aleatory noise or jerky time signatures, Can discovered-- through the Velvet Underground, and later via James Brown-- the Zen power of repetition and restriction. Minimalism and mantra-ism were hallmarks of the Krautrock aesthetic, but what set Can apart from its peers was a fervent embrace of groove. Like Miles Davis's early-'70s albums ( On The Corner, Dark Magus, etc.), Can's best work fuses "black" funk with "white" neo-psych freakitude. Recording in its own studio in a Cologne castle, the band adopted a jam-and-chop methodology similar to that used by Davis and his producer Teo Macero: improvise for hours, then edit the best bits into coherent tracks. As then band's Macero figure, Czukay worked miracles with a handful of mikes and two-track recording. Can's proto-ambient spatiality actually diminished when they went to 16-track in the mid '70s.
Named after a sorcerer, Tago Mago contains Can's most disorienting, shamanistic work. Torn between two impulses-- James Brownian motion and post-Floyd chromatic flux-- the double album spans the polyrhythmic roil of "Mushroom" and "Oh Yeah,"Aumgn'"s dub-reverberant catacombs, and the fractal sound-daubings and scat-gibberish of "Peking O"-- a meisterwerk.