45. Song for stamina
February 21st, 2021
In the early 1970s Martin Zeichnete was a sound editor at the Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft, a state-owned film studio in East Germany. In his spare time he was a keen runner and an amateur musician working primarily with analogue synthesisers, two hobbies which led him to a question: Was it possible to write music specifically designed to improve athletic performance?
Inspired by the hydraulic repetition of krautrock he would hear on West German radio at night, he began to explore some early compositions and talk about them a little too freely with his coworkers when an unmarked car of state agents arrived at the DEFA to take him to an athletic camp somewhere outside of Berlin. Supplied with instruments and session musicians, Zeichnete was tasked with writing music to empower the East German Olympic team. The project (informally known as ‘Kosmischer Läufer’, or ‘cosmic runner’) would conclude in 1983 with a series of compositions written for the gymnastic team’s floor performances, after which Zeichnete was unceremoniously removed from his position.
Everything in the paragraphs above is almost certainly fictional—except the music. Today there are four collections of Zeichnete’s music, and if there’s something I enjoy more than concept albums with elaborate fictional backstories, it’s concept albums with elaborate fictional backstories and obnoxiously wordy titles. The Secret Cosmic Music of the East German Olympic Program 1972–83, Vol. 1 is my favourite of the bunch, particularly the 13-minute ‘Die lange Gerade’ (‘The long straight’), intended to accompany any runner through a 5k run at a reasonable pace. The story behind the song’s creation might be a hoax, but try listening to it while running or working and tell me it isn’t an eerily convincing one.
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