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.