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.