Monday, 21 December 2009

From one school to another and a very Merry Christmas to all!

Both of the schools that I work in broke up at lunchtime last Friday and now, presents bought and wrapped, cards written and sent, food in the fridge and the cupboards it's time to get down to the business of some more writing. Over the last three weeks or so I've been covering the years of the Berlin School, the exciting period in the 1970s when a generation of musicians incorporated the emerging electronic sounds into their music and in doing so imagined the future. With albums such as New Age of Earth, Early Water (a collaboration with Michael Hoenig), Dream and Desire and Blackouts Manuel Gottsching was right at the heart of this movement. Whilst this period represents just a brief phase of his career it is certainly very interesting to write about.

Over Christmas I also intend to finish the notes for each album, a process that I started this time last year, not to mention taking in a big pile of music that I've bought and not had a chance to listen to yet (including Philip Glass, Steve Hillage, Agitation Free, Popol Vuh and Joni Mitchell to name a few. Bit of a mixture there.)

Before I go and try to make sense of this flat and then carry on with my writing it just remains for me to say a massive thank you to everybody who has contributed to my book this year and a big thank you to those of you who drop in from time to time to see how my work is progressing. I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Back soon!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Le Berceau de Cristal and the Costa del Sol

Well last Sunday I got back to England after a week in Benalmadena on the Costa del Sol. These english winters are long, dark and cold so my partner Vicky and I thought we would break things up this year with a bit of sunshine. We had a glorious time, managing to fit in a visit to Gibraltar alongside lots of sunbathing.

I took my trusty MP3 player and the holiday gave me the chance to properly acquaint myself with Music in 12 Parts by Philip Glass. At 4 hours in length I had only had the opportunity to listen to the CDs from beginning to end once or twice before. Anyway: the music is largely mesmerising and overflowing with a manic intensity.

I also took Le Berceau de Cristal, the Ash Ra Tempel recordings for the Philippe Garrel film of the same name with me. Recorded in 1975 by Manuel with Lutz Ulbrich the music is very interesting indeed: rather dark and brooding with long, introspective stretches. Perfect for sitting on the balcony during sunrise or sunset whilst contemplating the writing of the book, life and other things.

Today I've been putting my ideas into practice, writing about Le Berceau de Cristal and making sure I get my other ideas saved in a Word document before they disappear into the ether. I've been reading through some parts of the developing book and I'm very happy with the way it's coming together. There's a lot of information there and the story of Manuel's musical career naturally provides a lot of variety and quite a journey. I only hope that one day you will enjoy reading it as much as I'm enjoying writing it.

My work continues. Take care for now and speak again soon!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Thanks, Harald!

From previous research for my book I realised that Cosmic Jokers and Ashra drummer Harald Grosskopf is a person who enjoys celebrating and documenting his life with both the written word and photographs. Even so I was stunned by the interesting, insightful and entertaining answers he has provided to my recent interview questions. Thank you very much Harald for taking the time to provide a series of great recollections and anecdotes. When I see you I owe you and your musical friends a beer. Cheers!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Congratulations and thanks to Steve Baltes!

A big thank you to Mr. Steve Baltes for his highly interesting answers to my questions about his early experiences as a musician, how he came to meet Harald, how he joined Ashra and his involvement with both the Ashra tour dates of 1997 and their more recent return to Japan. What a nice chap and he's also recently become a Dad so congratulations are in order too!

Friday, 2 October 2009

A great honour

It was a great honour to have the opportunity to say hello to both Manuel Gottsching and Ilona Ziok in London this week. After meeting them at the hotel I had a fascinating chat with Manuel over a coffee. A chinese buffet lunch and another coffee later and I was heading for the train back to Newcastle with the posters they had very kindly given me. The last five hours had disappeared in a flash!

Perhaps it was all of that strong coffee, more likely the events of an extraordinary day but I have very few recollections of the journey home other than listening to E2-E4 Live in Japan on my MP3 player. I would like to thank both Manuel and Ilona for allowing me to meet them, for their interesting conversation and for being very kind to this writer. It was a day that I certainly won't be forgetting any time soon!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Thank you, Stephan!

A big thank you to Stephan Kaske of Mythos. He's a very kind chap and took time out after a skate marathon in Berlin to provide some insightful answer to my questions about his experiences at Ohr Records. Good to see that Mythos are still going strong after all of these years!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Cosmic days

Well the last couple of weekends have found me writing about Walter Wegmuller's Tarot and the The Cosmic Jokers. It is a story as fascinating as any in the history of rock music, rich with it's myths and unusual twists and turns. What strikes me as I'm writing is that regardless of the eventual outcomes of this period (the collapse of the Ohr Records empire, many of the artists on the label moving on to bigger things and the disappearance of label head Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser and partner Gille Lettmann) the music survives gloriously. Tarot and the Cosmic Jokers albums still sound utterly unique with no obvious parallel. Call it space rock, kosmiche musik or whatever you will but nobody, not Pink Floyd, not Hawkwind, no other act has visited planets as distant and strange and brought back evidence of what they saw.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Happy Birthday, Manuel Gottsching!

Happy Birthday Mr. Gottsching! Born: 9th September 1952

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Now...where were we?

As I've been hived away writing during a lot of my spare time over the last 18 months or so I became increasingly aware that I owed quite a few of my old friends a visit. The last thing I wanted to do is to completely lose touch with my dear chums and what better time to see them than over summer, when you can sit in the garden with a few drinks? So: I've been busy zig-zagging around playing catching up but (perhaps surprisingly, when I think back) I've still been finding some time to write.

My progress now finds me at the point of the third Ash Ra Tempel album Seven Up. The section discussing Timothy Leary and his pre-A.R.T. background, leading up to the stage at which he met up with the band in Switzerland was rather painstaking to research first time around and I'm now polishing, editing and adding to my original draft. It's good to see the earlier research paying off as things start to take shape....

Well: I'm going to dash now. The clock is ticking away and I'm hoping to find a reasonable pocket of time today to make some more progress with things. Bye for now and speak soon!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Thank you, Luul!

A massive thank you to Lutz Ulbrich for taking part in a fascinating interview for my book. He's a gentleman, a genuinely nice chap and he's made some fantastic music too. What more could you ask for?

Saturday, 27 June 2009


A strange magic pervades the New Age of Earth album and this is evident right from the first section of Sunrain, a distant futuristic relative of Steve Reich's Six Pianos. Built on a humming keyboard bass rumble and the percolating sounds of the EKO Computerhythm (an early drum machine) this track elicits the absolute maximum of emotion from the minimum of musical fuss. Described by Manuel himself as 'pattern-based music' much of this piece is like a sort of keyboard Morse code, a simple series of notes repeated in cycle. Thankfully all of the music here is glorious and worthy of repetition.

Sunrain is a most apt title for a track that is oddly tinged with melancholy, yet ultimately forges towards total transcendence: ominous clouds and the lightest drops of cold rain are welcome when beams of light cut through the darkness this brightly.

Many of the musical features of Sunrain, notably the hypnotic repetition and the blissed out climax would become common features of dance music over ten years later. This outstanding instrumental offers some early and compelling evidence that Manuel Gottsching is, more than any other musician, the link between the classical minimalist composers and the techno generation.

Part One: The Early Years 1952-1971

Well I'm back with batteries fully recharged and I'm now working on my second and final draft of the book. Full speed ahead! Today I've been fine tuning the first part which deals with both Manuel's early bands and his early influences. I've been writing about post-war Germany, the Summer of Love, the turbulence of 1968 whilst discussing Clapton, Hendrix, Peter Green, Blue Cheer and Thomas Kessler's Beat Studio in Berlin. And I think it's at that point that I leave today's work: just before the recording of the first Ash Ra Tempel album....

Sunday, 7 June 2009

@shra live and time for time out.....

This weekend I've been busy writing reviews of the @shra and @shra vol. 2 albums, which were recorded live in Japan in 1997. During those dates Manuel Gottsching, Lutz Ulbrich and Harald Grosskopf managed to successfully and stylishly update the group sound with a little help from techno/trance musician and producer Steve Baltes.

I don't know if it is the warmer weather but whilst trying to write I've found myself wanting to switch off the computer and go somewhere....anywhere for a change of scene and that certainly has nothing to do with the superb music I've been writing about. It took me until today to realise what it is: I'm working full time and during the week it is mad busy and then I'm trying to write as much as I can every weekend. Come Monday and I'm exhausted.

Put quite simply: I need a break so I shall down pen for a couple of weeks, as I have done once or twice before and when I return the batteries will be fully recharged and I'll be ready to write again. Until then: take care. Speak soon!

Sunday, 31 May 2009

More Murnau and a large collection of reviews.....

After some work last night and a very slow start today I finally managed to write a full review of the Concert for Murnau CD (extending the piece that I previously posted on this blog). I started writing reviews for Manuel's albums at Christmas and at this rate I'm fairly confident that I should have finished them all by the end of Summer (there are about half a dozen more to go). At that point I plan to go back to my first draft with a view to fine tuning it into a finished work. I'm really looking forward to the process of sifting through what I've done and perfecting it. That's when things should really start to come together.....

Monday, 25 May 2009

More E2-E4 and Die Mulde

Well I'm quite pleased, having had a fairly productive weekend. After several months of listening to E2-E4 and making notes here and there I think I've finally [almost] finished a review of the album.

Yesterday I also managed to write a review of the Die Mulde CD. Having spent several hours repeatedly listening to parts of the title track and the lovely hp little cry whilst writing I felt rather chilled out. It was sunny outside so I decided to go into the back yard for ten minutes. I sat down against the wall but that was a bit uncomfortable so I lay down...just for a few minutes....and fell asleep. Forty five minutes later I woke up, feeling the most relaxed I've been in years but my face was a bit red. So: be warned...if you decide to listen to Die Mulde on your MP3 player in the sun make sure you put on the sun cream first!

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Walkin' the Desert

Hi all! Just a very quick update to let you know how I'm progressing. I've recently been working on a track by track review of Tarot by Walter Wegmuller: a double LP of fantastic variety and a wonderful companion to the Cosmic Jokers albums.

Last weekend I got half way through a review of Ashra's Walkin' the Desert and I intend to finish it today. It's a fine album full of drama and beauty in equal measure. Sometimes writing a book is like walking the desert. It's a vast expanse and you don't know when you'll get to the other side! It's a nice walk, though.

I've been looking back over what I've done over the last week and I feel like I'm at a point of breakthrough with the project. I can now see things starting to come together, which is a very good feeling. More soon!

Friday, 24 April 2009

Progress report

Hi there! Firstly I just want to take the opportunity to say a big thank you if you’re signed up to or have popped by to read my blog. I also want to say thank you to everybody who has contributed to my work in progress with articles/concert tickets/press cuttings or if you have simply offered your knowledge or memories: I’m very grateful to all of you for your vital input.

After posting some of my reviews I thought it might be fun to give you a bit of background into my writing process and how the book is coming together.

I work full time, looking after three very busy school libraries so in theory I should have a bit of time left for writing both on weeknights and also on weekends. The truth is that on most weeknights by the time I get home from work I’m too tired to write anything with any dynamism whatsoever! I believe that writing with passion requires energy and if I try to write when I’m drained it ends up showing on the pages. For the most part this leaves weekends. My partner, Vicky used to be a children’s nurse and still works one or two shifts per week in a hospital. This often happens during a Saturday or Sunday, leaving me with a whole precious day in which to write…when I’m not interrupted by our beautiful little pair of fur balls (or Persian cats), Smokey and Fluffy…...He’s crazy and she likes to be cuddled.

The process of putting together the first (early) draft of the book took almost a year. Basically I trawled the Internet looking for relevant articles and information about Manuel Göttsching, Ash Ra Tempel and Ashra, cross-referencing facts wherever possible to check accuracy. When I felt I had exhausted this search I had to create a framework: a timeline, if you like to make sure that all of the significant musical events in the life of one Manuel G were covered. This was rather time consuming but fun as well. With that done what I had was a skeleton, on which to cover the information in more detail. What are facts without enthusiasm and (hopefully) a bit of verve? I then spent quite a long time putting more information into what was to become an early draft.

In addition to writing about a lot of Manuel’s great music I’ve found myself on some really interesting little diversions so far: I’ve liked Terry Riley for a while but found myself buying more of his albums. I also explored Steve Reich a bit too. I bought a few early Fleetwood Mac albums to sit alongside my Peter Green-era greatest hits. I’ve found myself researching about the events of 1968, Timothy Leary, Rolf Ulrich Kaiser, the New York blackout of 1977, the UFA Fabrik, the birth of the dance music scene, the Tokyo Tower, F.W. Murnau and Willy Sommerfeld and the writing isn’t over yet!

I’m currently working on some reviews of the albums of Ash Ra Tempel, The Cosmic Jokers (and related), Ashra and Manuel’s solo work. This is a fun process but also very time consuming because I’ve been trying to listen carefully in order to do the music justice. What really stands out for me is that Manuel may not always be prolific in his output but the standard of what is released is remarkably high.

Anyway: that’s what I’ve been up to. Now you know. Thanks again for reading and more soon!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

From the vault - Dream and Desire

Recorded in May and June of 1977 for a feature on the Berlin station RIAS (Radio in the American Sector), Dream & Desire finds Manuel Göttsching further exploring the serene moods previously found on Ocean of Tenderness and Deep Distance (from the album New Age of Earth) and with live performances of Lotus (which was recorded in the studio a few months after this music for the Blackouts album).

The first moments of Dream set the scene for what is to come. A gentle wind, created by the EMS Synthi-A is joined by light, extended synthesizer chords, creating a breezy and majestic air of mystery. A simple, repetitive keyboard part, suggesting thousands of stars shining brightly in the heavens is coupled with a drowsy ascending sequencer pattern to form a soft musical bed. A world away from the heavy, ultra-intense performance found on Amboss (from the first Ash Ra Tempel album) six years earlier, Dream is a showcase for the placid, delicate side of Göttsching’s musical ability. For the most part the guitar work is so feather light, so refined that it is a wonder the instrument didn’t fall out of Manuel’s hands as he played.

Dream does gather some momentum with beautiful mandolin-like flurries of notes and guitar tracks weaving around one another but never to the point where rock would be an adequate description. Blissfully chilled out is much closer to the mark. The 30-minute duration of the track allows the music to unfold gradually, taking the listener on a peaceful, almost meditational journey, as soporific as anything presented in the recordings of Brian Eno or The Orb. This panoramic soundscape paints a semi-pastoral picture, yet there is also something faintly otherworldly at play. Perhaps this is where we enter the dream.

Like Dream, the second track, Desire begins with mysterious, extended synth chords. This is a musical eclipse, all cold, dark shadows before a quavering electronic sound appears, suggesting solar flares ejecting plumes of plasma into space. At the four-minute mark a slow train-like sequencer pattern fades in. This is then accompanied by the light, slightly metallic percussive sounds of the EKO Computerhythm, an early drum machine. Interestingly there are no guitars on this track. Whereas Dream was a showcase for the most delicate side of Manuel’s guitar work, the 23-minute Desire features keyboard soloing over extended keyboard chords. Whilst this piece is given mild momentum by a more prominent sequencer pattern than Dream, it still has a placid, somnambulistic quality consistent with the first track.

Curiously the 8-minute Despair, which was recorded during the same period as Dream and Desire but never presented to RIAS for broadcast shows not a hint of angst. From the title the listener may deduce that the music could be dark or even frantic but the opening synthesizer chords and gently jangling guitar tones are more euphoric than anything else. When a bubbling sequencer pattern emerges, this final track proves to be the most energetic, and arguably the most upbeat offering on the album, concluding with some rock guitar soloing, underpinned by funky, latin influenced guitar chords.

Complimenting the rest of Manuel Göttsching’s 1976/77 output perfectly, fans will be left dumbstruck that the material on Dream and Desire was left in the vaults for 13 years before it’s eventual CD release on the Spalax label in 1991. This album is quite simply superb.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Live at Mt. Fuji: Something old, something new....

Although Manuel Göttsching had toured Japan as part of Ashra in 1997, his first solo performance in the Land of the Rising Sun was at the Anoyo Prism Festival, Mount Fuji. Thankfully that concert, which took place on 29th April 2006 was captured and released on CD almost a year later by MG Art as Live at Mt. Fuji.

The concert is book ended by two classic Göttsching compositions, Sunrain and Shuttlecock, both of which present fascinating variations on their studio counterparts, taking the listener on a familiar yet refreshingly new journey. The original tracks have both been rebuilt from scratch, using contemporary technology for a gleaming, clean digital finish.

Sunrain, a strong contender for the title of Manuel Göttsching’s signature tune has a contemporary trance feel in this new reading. Sure, the rumbling bass line and irreplaceable, underlying flickering keyboard part are there but with this is new streamlined version the gentle sounds of the EKO Computerhythm drum machine have been replaced with a refined techno beat. The original 1976 composition formed a bridge between classical minimalism and the transcendent trance music of the future long before the classic E2-E4 was improvised. In this version, which is double the length of the original, Göttsching reclaims the genre he invented but in his own way and with his unique musical identity firmly intact. Overall the results prove to be mesmerising.

The slow, brooding, latin flavoured Saint & Sinner, which first appeared on the fine Concert for Murnau CD appears next in re-worked form. Whilst that project was entirely guitar free, this reading of the track is a showcase for a masterful laid-back electric blues workout, the notes flowing from Manuel’s Stratocaster like gentle, cooling drops of rain. Fans of Manuel’s work will instantly recognise his style here in another piece of music confirming his status one of the great guitar players.

Trunky Groove, a new recording exclusive to this CD, is simply beyond comparison. To attempt to compare the crisp, multiple layers of meticulously programmed rhythms here with drum and bass or any other musical genre would do this unique fifteen minute piece a grave disservice.

A light synthesizer drone presents a slightly ominous tone for this musical cityscape and, as the varied rhythmic sounds stutter and tumble deliciously, organ-style synth chords pave the way for a howling, dissonant tremolo heavy guitar solo. Funky rhythm guitar chords lead back to the organ sounds and finally the stripped down rhythms and drone take the piece to a close. If this description sounds strange then so is the music but it is also never less than fascinating. A full album of material in this style would certainly be a welcome addition to the Manuel Göttsching discography.

A medley of music featured in different form on the 2005 CD release Die Mulde (recorded 1997) follows. The slow moving cloud formations suggested by the melancholic title track flow into Die Spiegel, which echoes the works of minimalist composer Terry Riley with its cyclical patterns of notes. This really does seem like the aural equivalent of watching a waterfall: layered sequencers present a hypnotising, silvery, seamless liquid flow of sound. Despite the overridingly pastoral feel of Die Mulde, the final part, Zerfluss finds a gentle factory-machine drum pattern beneath thoughtful, wistful synth chords in a composition as reflective and mysterious as life itself. A playful glockenspiel keyboard voice tiptoes across the music and is finally joined by an awesome, soulful extended Göttsching guitar solo, an element not featured on the original version.

As mentioned previously, the last offering on this 72-minute CD is a new take on the 1977 classic Shuttlecock, first recorded for the album Blackouts. Here the familiar tight, multiple, interlocking clusters of guitar notes are traded in for a fast, trance inducing sequencer line and soft rhythm, over which Göttsching plays a breathtaking guitar solo. Slowly evolving patterns of notes flood from his nimble fingers, funky, electronically treated rhythm guitar chords blend in and out of the mix, and then this fresh treatment draws to a close with a blistering distorted lead guitar solo. An entrancing, extended re-imagining, this serves as a powerful reminder of the musician responsible for Inventions for Electric Guitar and E2-E4, two of the most important albums in the history of popular music.

Curious, uninitiated fans of top quality instrumental music will be thrilled to discover the diverse showcase for Manuel Göttsching’s far-ranging talents found on Live at Mt. Fuji. Existing fans, on the other hand, will certainly not be disappointed with these imaginative contemporary re-workings of classics, presented alongside a great new track. A highly recommended CD.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Your favourite album?

What is your favourite Manuel Göttsching, Ash Ra Tempel or Ashra album? I'd love your thoughts on this. Please drop me a message and let me know what you think and why. All contributions will be considered and if your views end up in the book you will be credited. I'm really looking forward to your opinions!

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Ash Ra Tempel 1975 press cutting

A big thank you to Andy King for this wonderful Ash Ra Tempel cutting from 1975. If only concert tickets were still this price! (-;

Friday, 13 March 2009

Schwingungen: Visions of Heaven and Hell

The first four Ash Ra Tempel albums tend to follow a pattern: that of a heavier first side and a mellower, more introspective second side and nowhere is this diversity more apparent than on Schwingungen, the second release by the band, with it’s heavenly and hellish contrasts.

The original side one of the Schwingungen album begins with Light: Look at your sun and some tender, melancholy pastoral guitar playing by Manuel Göttsching. As the music develops it is clear that this is a lament as heartfelt and sad as anything that Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green ever played. The lyrics and music suggest a utopian walk in a leafy forest, a Garden of Eden, in harmony with both humanity and the rest of nature: We are all one. The tone becomes heavier with some powerful distorted Göttsching blues guitar soloing and glides gently to a close, much as it began.

The second part of the first side, Darkness: Flowers must die, fades in slowly with a soft didgeridoo-like electronic buzzing sound. A shimmer of cymbals and light guitars, are accompanied by the bongos of Uli Pop. As John L begins to sing it is clear that the music has re-emerged in the midst of a terrifying nightmare. The singing, which has some parallels in some of the stark, crazed performances of Can’s Malcolm Mooney becomes more unsettling, a coarse, guttural roar. The lyrics make it clear that this is no utopia. This is not a vision of what could be. It is a vision of what is: an unforgiving, concrete jungle, where, torn from the garden the human spirit withers.

Flowers must die
Flowers must die
I see, when I come back from my lysergic daydream
Standing in the middle
Of the glass and neon forest
With an unhappy name: City
Flowers must die

Tumbling drums, bongos and fast rhythm guitar are joined by the saxophone of guest musician Matthias Wehler, as the music gathers pace in a dizzying ritual. This is what L.A. Blues by The Stooges might sound like if that messed up ball of sonic barbed wire could ever be untangled. Finally John L screams:

I want to be a stone
Not living, not thinking
A thing without warm blood in the City

Manuel plays bluesy guitar solos over the rest of the instruments, now treated with a flanged effect and a few echoing howls from John L. bring this gripping, yet disturbing musical journey to a close.

Schwingungen (vibrations), which occupies the original second side of the album, is an altogether gentler affair. The first of the two parts, Suche (search) begins with vibraphones, played by drummer Wolfgang Müller, and gentle electronic ambience. Experimental and exploratory, this is like an exercise in creating a dreamy, ethereal atmosphere. The strings of an electric guitar are scraped subtly amidst a thickening cloud of haze. Tom-toms echo, as if recorded in the distance and gain prominence in a gathering drone, accompanied by high register organ chords. As the music becomes increasingly atonal, the second theme Liebe (love) emerges. Göttsching plays a gorgeous, soft wah-wah guitar and a voice sings wordlessly, like a choir. Both reassuring and beautiful, the music is filled with tenderness. Floating through the ether, the final moments of the album reward the listener by taking them straight to the gates of heaven.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Restoration and Exploration: Concert for Murnau

On attending the Braunschweig International Film Festival in Brunswick, Germany in 2002, Manuel Göttsching found himself invited by the organisers to produce a score for a silent film. The idea was that the music would be performed live alongside a screening during the following year’s festival.

The silent film that most captured Göttsching’s imagination when viewed from the perspective of a potential music score was Schlöss Vogelod (Haunted Castle). Directed by the legendary F.W. Murnau in 1921, just one year before his vampire classic Nosferatu, Schlöss Vogelod is a dark, tense thriller based around an unresolved murder. A party of aristocrats gather for an annual hunt held by Lord Vögelod but they are confined to his castle as a result of torrential rain. Count Johann Oetsch arrives as an uninvited guest. Baron Safferstätt, who is also at the party is soon joined by his wife, the Baroness. The Baroness’s ex-husband was murdered several years ago and, although it was never proven, many suspect Oetsch of the crime. Count Oetsch is asked to leave and refuses. Instead he embarks on a hunt in the pouring rain. In the meantime the Baroness agrees to wait at the castle, in order meet Father Faramund, a priest, as she has something important to say.

A large source of inspiration for Manuel’s score was the work of another German musician, Willy Sommerfeld. During the 1920s Sommerfeld developed his reputation as a legend whilst working in Braunschweig cinemas, accompanying many of the greatest silent films of the time with his fine improvisational piano and violin work. Göttsching could clearly see a link between this approach and that adopted by Ash Ra Tempel with their daring improvisational live performances of the early 1970s. The original idea was to improvise an electronic score, a sort of contemporary update of Willy Sommerfeld’s methods of working with the piano. Initially Manuel began work on some pieces using drum machines and samples of whispered vocals but it soon became clear that attempting to work improvisationally with electronic equipment would be very difficult, as it would inevitably require some form of pre-programming.

Manuel’s next idea was to incorporate an orchestra. This seemed particularly fitting as the piece was to be performed alongside a screening at The State Theatre of Brunswick, a venue that has an orchestra and choir to accompany musicians. Again, the improvisational format proved to be potentially problematic as large orchestras are accustomed to working with written musical scores. Göttsching also felt that his early ideas to incorporate vocal fragments would be unsuitable for a traditional orchestral and choral format. Working electronically he began to produce pieces using horn sounds to convey the hunt, one of the central themes of the film and a cello sound as a musical device to express the suffering of the Baroness.

Whilst composing music for the planned screening Manuel had been using a demo tape made from a black and white version of the film, which played at 24 f.p.s. (frames per second). Unfortunately, the restored, colorized version of the film, which was delivered in August 2003 had a corrected, much slower speed adding 20 minutes to the running time. This changed the mood of the film and much of the dramatic tension completely, meaning that the music would have to be presented in a totally different way.

Running out of time, Manuel’s classical music training was put to use, as he was able to compose and produce notation for some of chamber pieces. The score now consisted of a number of compositions played on two violins, two horns and cello by musicians from the Staatsorchester Braunschweig. Some of these compositions were unadorned, whilst for others the classical musicians were accompanied by electronic music, which Manuel later added. The three longest pieces written for the performance, which made up about half of the score were performed electronically.

Two concerts for Murnau were performed on 31st October and 1st November at the Staatstheater (National Theatre), Braunschweig, Kleines Haus by Manuel, along with the quintet of musicians from the Staatsorchester Braunschweig. The beautifully packaged CD Concert for Murnau was released by MG Art in 2005 and included 55 minutes of music from the performances. Some of the material from the concerts was not included as it was designed specifically to accompany the images and would not make sense without them. Among these fragments was a rather frantic piece titled Die Nacht. With drum and bass-like rhythms this sounds like a manic precursor to the more sedate rhythms of Trunky Groove, later released exclusively on Manuel’s Live at Mt. Fuji CD.

The released material on the Concert for Murnau CD presents a fascinating blend of electronic pieces, compositions for chamber musicians accompanied by electronics and musical vignettes for chamber orchestra alone. The music is frequently sombre and melancholy, perfectly matching the mood of the film. It is clear that Göttsching is exploring new ground here, keen not to produce music in the same mould as his earlier work. In a typically bold move there is no guitar on this album and the three extended pieces, played electronically, in no way imitate Manuel’s 1970s albums. On first listen the chamber pieces may feel like a stretch to fans of rock (and/or) electronic music but repeated listens reveal these to be highly addictive. Auf zur Jagd is simply gorgeous, whilst Accused is both claustrophobic and compelling. Manuel Göttsching has recently stated that his next studio project may involve an orchestra and on this fine form we can only hope that this is the case.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

From the vault - The Best of the Private Tapes

In 1996 Manuel Göttsching released The Private Tapes, a 6 CD compilation of Ash Ra Tempel, Ashra and solo recordings from the vault. This was released as a strictly limited edition of 1000 copies and sold out very quickly. Copies have been known to change hands on eBay for hundreds of euros. This short review focuses on The Best of the Private Tapes, a 2 CD set released in 1998.

The Best of the Private Tapes is book ended by two beautiful guitar pieces, Bois de Soleil and Bois de la Lune. These essentially use keyboards to create an atmospheric, almost ambient backdrop for some highly emotional lead guitar work. The former is the shorter and features a light guitar sound, the latter, heavier and moodier but the two pieces perfectly evoke the moods of sunrise and sunset. Halensee (excerpted here), Der Lauf der Giraffen and Whoopee are all low on fidelity but high on ideas. This trio of home demo quality sketches were experiments, recorded prior to the Starring Rosi album and present some fine guitar music. The first of these tracks is introspective, pensive and floaty, the second playful and the third is a slightly tense blues workout. In a similar vein, Ivresse de Soleil recorded in 1973 for a radio play is a warm, gentle guitar piece with folk elements.

Deep Distance and Lotus (both included in shortened form here) date from the Göttsching solo tour of late 1976 and are spacey workouts, using sequencer and the EKO Computerhythm, an early drum machine to accompany some light keyboards and intense guitar work. It is very interesting to hear a pre-album version of the latter.

Ain’t No Time for Tears, Ice Train, Phantasus and Club Cannibal are all recordings from a 1979 Ashra concert in Berlin and show Göttsching, accompanied by Lutz Ulbrich, Harald Grosskopf and Mickie Westphal in rocking mode. The first of these four tracks, (which never featured on a studio album) is a blistering latin rock workout and it is fascinating to hear the last three tracks (originally featured on the Correlations album) stripped of their meticulous, multi-layered studio production. Phantasus is noticeably different from the studio version with a harder edge and an ultra-tight, furiously funky version of Club Cannibal clocks in at almost fifteen minutes in length.

Fans of Ash Ra Tempel are bound to enjoy two extracts from Begleitmusik zu einem Hörspiel (Incidental Music for a Radio Play), recorded in 1974. Part five is reminiscent of Suche & Liebe from the Schwingungen album, featuring spacey vibraphones, amongst other instruments whilst part two charts deep space. A full 25 minute version of Begleitmusik can be found on part one of the full 6 CD Private Tapes set.

The Ash Ra Tempel track Gedanken (Thoughts) is exclusive to this 2 CD release and did not feature as a part of the full 6 CD collection. Recorded in 1972 this piece is haunting and dissonant with scratchy guitar sounds and shimmering cymbals.

One of the most striking things about The Best of the Private Tapes is the wealth of (then) unreleased material that Manuel recorded during 1978 and 1979. In addition to the two fine tracks that bookend this double CD collection, Ultramarine (excerpted) (1978) is a lovely, serene extended piece, largely based around two keyboard chords, distorted, yet melodic lead guitar and an oriental musical flavour. Whilst Hausaufgabe, recorded with Lutz Ulbrich in 1978 rumbles along satisfyingly with majestic, lead guitar on a bed of sequencer and EKO Computerhythm, Wall of Sound and Niemand lacht rückwarts (Nobody Laughs Backwards), two solo pieces recorded in 1979, are among the jewels in the crown of all of the Private Tapes recordings. The former uses a simple, delicate sequencer pattern as an ethereal base on which to layer multiple, echoing lead guitar parts with stunning results. The latter, (which was re-worked and resurrected for the 1997 Ashra tour dates) is a strong contender for the finest Private Tapes track of all. E2-E4 was just around the corner and this twelve-minute masterwork pre-dates techno just as much as that classic album with multiple sequencer patterns building up and weaving around one another to utterly mesmerizing, almost incandescent effect.

It is interesting to think that whilst Manuel was working on an eclectic mix of music with Ashra in the late ‘70s he could quite easily have released a classic solo album, predominantly featuring electronics and guitars. Having heard the Private Tapes, not to mention many of Manuel’s other archival releases fans could be forgiven for asking what other treasures are sat in his cupboard and when we will get a chance to hear them.

Friday, 20 February 2009

E2-E4: Approaching a work of genius

I’ve been putting it off for a while but soon I’m going to have to write a review of E2-E4 for the book. Why have I been putting it off? Well perhaps it’s a result of being overawed by the subject matter. How do you approach a work with this complexity/reputation/genius? The first step is probably to listen to the record again at least three or four times making notes…lots of notes. Before I begin writing the review I can offer an early observation as to a part of why the album has been and continues to be so successful. Perhaps an element of this is because it has soul. E2-E4 undoubtedly had a massive influence on techno; a genre, which at it’s best, can be incredibly euphoric and at its worst can involve a series of machines set to boredom. Although E2-E4 was recorded in just one hour and without any premeditation it always feels very human. The complexity and feel of the recording mean that the machines never control the man. Quite the reverse. Anyway: more later….

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

77 Slightly Delayed

Today I’ve been listening to the Blackouts album and wondering why 77 Slightly Delayed, one of my personal favourites in the Manuel Göttsching catalogue is particularly challenging to write about. After a while the penny dropped: this is because in just under seven minutes there are more musical ideas than you will find on a lot of albums. The track is particularly dense with layer upon layer of cyclical note patterns, played both on guitars and keyboards. There is a fantastic guitar solo in a sort of Greek bouzouki style and a keyboard swoops, rises and circles in the mix with all the drama of Maurice Ravel’s Boléro. All the while the note cycles continue relentlessly, underpinning yet more fine lead guitar work. There is a palpable sense of excitement here, both at the fusing of rock and minimalist sensibilities and the harnessing of new technology. For me 77 Slightly Delayed is right up there with Manuel’s best music.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Manuel Göttsching: A very short biography (indeed)

Manuel Göttsching was born on 9th September 1952. As a child he studied classical guitar and later studied with Swiss avant-garde composer Thomas Kessler.

In the late 1960s Manuel listened to Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Peter Green and took their work to another place with his intense freeform jamming as part of the awesome three piece band Ash Ra Tempel who released their self-titled debut album in 1971. A.R.T. were joined by icon Timothy Leary for their third album, Seven Up (1972). Göttsching went on to play in the jam sessions that would be released under the band name Cosmic Jokers. Their albums, all released in 1974, represent some of the greatest space rock ever committed to tape.

Absorbing the sounds of the minimalist composers Terry Riley and Steve Reich and then incorporating this into his own style, Göttsching made a series of masterful records. Inventions for Electric Guitar (1975) deserves a place alongside the most innovative LPs in the history of rock music. Everything was played with guitar and tape effects but many think that sequencers and synthesizers were used. New Age of Earth (1976) was another masterpiece but this time keyboards were the focus. Sunrain is quite simply one of the most stunning instrumentals of all time. Blackouts (1977) fused the sounds of the previous couple of albums and is in many ways the quintessential Manuel Göttsching record, as it incorporated cutting edge electronics, rock guitar and hypnotic patterns of notes in a style favoured by the minimalists. Although the previous two long players had been released using the name Ashra they were essentially Göttsching solo efforts. Joined by Lutz Ulbrich and Harald Grosskopf, Ashra became a band for the next two albums: the meticulously crafted Correlations (1979) and the eclectic and rewarding Belle Alliance (1980).

Off the back of touring with Klaus Schulze in 1981, Manuel recorded an improvisational piece for guitar and electronics lasting one hour. Unsure of what to do with this unusual and seemingly perfect piece of music he stored it for three years before its eventual release in 1984 as E2-E4. Whilst Manuel was recording Tropical Heat, a sunny musical travelogue with Ashra in 1985/86 (released in 1991) and Walkin’ the Desert, another Ashra recording to accompany a performance at the Berlin Planetarium in 1989, E2-E4 was gaining a reputation as a New York club classic. The dance music community was also embracing the record in Ibiza and across Europe. Suddenly an improvised piece for electronics and guitar was being hailed as the beginning of contemporary dance music. E2-E4 certainly sounded closer to techno than anything recorded by Kraftwerk or any of Göttsching’s early musical contemporaries. The belated success of the record was well deserved as it was both startling futuristic for its time and a true classic.

In 1997 Ashra reunited for a series of concerts that were later documented by the albums @shra and @shra vol. 2 (both recorded live in Japan). With younger musician and DJ Steve Baltes on board Ashra’s music was imaginatively and stylishly reinvented for the techno generation. 1997 also saw Göttsching compose and record music for an installation of 34 mirrors by artist Mercedes Engelhardt, titled R.S.V.P. This smooth, electronic, pastoral piece was later released in 2005 as Die Mulde.

The Ash Ra Tempel duo of Manuel Göttsching and Klaus Schulze reunited to record new studio material in 1998, which would later be released in 2000 as Friendship. When asked by Julian Cope to play at the Royal Festival Hall in 2000 as part of the Cornucopia festival, Manuel in turn invited Schulze and their performance was released as Gin Rosé. The new Ash Ra Tempel recordings showed musical maturity, with slow burning, atmospheric pieces, a far cry from the molten intensity of the debut album.

In late 2002 Manuel was commissioned to write and perform music for the filmfest Braunschweig. The following year he delivered a series of compositions to accompany F.W. Murnau’s 1921 silent film Schloss Vogelöd (Haunted Castle). The result was a suitably sombre, yet addictive mixture of electronic pieces, compositions for chamber musicians accompanied by electronics and musical vignettes for chamber orchestra alone. First performed in 2003, much of the music was released in 2005 under the title Concert for Murnau.

In 2007 Göttsching released his first live album Live at Mount Fuji, a satisfying collection of reworked music, also featuring the new and exclusive track Trunky Groove. As an appealingly unpredictable musical career continues we can only wait and guess at what may come next. Manuel: your move……

My biography and how you can contribute

The story of this musical legend is long overdue, which is why I have been busy writing a biography for the last 12 months. I am currently finishing an early draft and writing reviews of the albums. Be sure to watch this blog because the content will be expanding, as I chronicle the writing process and post reviews and opinions here and there.

I need your contributions too. Have you seen Manuel Göttsching live recently or in the early days? Perhaps you saw Ash Ra Tempel in the early ‘70s? Maybe you saw the 1977 Ashra show at Regent’s Park in London? Were you at the Sheffield UK Electronica show in 1985 or the Berlin Planetarium in 1988? Wherever you have seen Manuel playing live I’d like your recollections. Please get in touch and if I use your story you will be credited.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Who is Manuel Göttsching?

For those of you who haven’t chanced across his music before Manuel Göttsching is a highly gifted, classically trained rock musician who has always followed his heart, rather than any weight of musical expectation. In the beginning he was influenced by the guitar heroes and with his red-hot jamming on the Ash Ra Tempel albums became one himself. He was one of the electronic music pioneers, taking on board the influence of the minimalist composers to make a hypnotic pattern based music, incorporating strong rock elements. Inventions for Electric Guitar (1975) is one of the most innovative albums in the history of rock music and with E2-E4 (1981) he took the language of the minimalists and left it at the door of the techno generation. It would take almost a decade for other electronic musicians to catch up with his vision. He has written and performed music for fashion shows, art installations and, with classical musicians, for silent film. If you want to know where Manuel is heading the next time he is in the studio then his past achievements will probably offer few clues, as he is an explorer, always searching for the new. In short Manuel Göttsching is a musical legend.