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.

1 comment:

  1. we smoked a bit to much dope in those days ....not to mention lucy in the sky who often paid us a visit