Monday, 13 December 2010

Manuel Gottsching Live in Glasgow - December 2010

Glasgow, Saturday 11th December 2010: a very special day for Scottish fans of Manuel Gottsching. Although Manuel was signed to the London-based Virgin Records in the late 1970s this will be the first time he has ever played live in Scotland and the first time he has played in Britain for over 10 years. His last UK appearance was in London, during Julian Cope's Cornucopea Festival in early 2000.
Several months ago Alasdair Stuart and Yon Dunnett, two friends who run a night by the name of Men and Machines invited Manuel Gottsching to visit Glasgow for a show at the Stereo cafe bar and music venue on Renfield Lane. They were both utterly stunned, not to mention delighted when he agreed.
In the days running up to the show the prospects aren't looking favourable for anybody wishing to travel to Glasgow. In the middle of a cold snap drivers in Scotland are stranded in their cars overnight, unable to travel further, 850 schools close and at one stage 3000 homes are left without electricity as temperatures plummet to as low as -20 degrees celsius. Thankfully 48 hours before the concert temperatures start to rise and a thaw begins. This is particularly fortuitous when one considers that another spell of severe weather with possible snow has been forecast on the run up to Christmas.
As I walk towards the venue at around 6:30pm I hear a muffled Sunrain, one of my favourite Manuel Gottsching tracks out on Renfield Lane. This is either playing in the bar as a prelude to the show or forms part of the soundcheck and I'm not sure which. I enter the bar and can't hear the music playing through a stereo. This is a good sign, as it suggests that Sunrain, which wasn't played at the Paris show in June is in the setlist for tonight. Down in the basement, the concert venue, Manuel is indeed working his way through a breathtaking rendition of the classic cut. The soundcheck tonight turns out to be awesome. Gottsching plays sizeable chunks of many of the planned selections but takes a few unusual and exciting risks along the way, with some daring passages of guitar work.

Just over two hours after the soundcheck concludes Manuel Gottsching takes to the stage, the opener a reworked Sunrain. At around 15 minutes in length this is a real musical exercise in slowly building to a euphoric peak. The audience covers a wide age range and glancing around during the early moments of the set I see more than a few slack jaws, as the penny drops and some of the young fans of contemporary techno/trance/electronica realise that the roots of their beloved music started here.
Midnight on Mars is delivered with a veritable flood of melodic guitar work. It is truly a privilege to be able to see this sublime classic performed in a version every bit as exciting as that on the Blackouts album.
Trunky Groove places the set back on a techno flavoured trajectory and correctly suggests that in contrast to the guitar oriented Paris concert in June, tonight's performance will be more of a club affair. This is the most colourful, trancey rendition of one of Manuel's newest compositions that I have heard so far.
By this stage the audience, large swathes of whom clearly belong to clubland, are dancing and a reworked Shuttle Cock, with its trance-inducing, fast patterns of sound moves the movers up a gear. Gottsching's Inventions for Electric Guitar-esque lead work is as fine as ever but for this writer the biggest treat comes at the tail end of the track with some of the best rhythm guitar work I have ever heard the man play.

Introducing the classic Deep Distance, Manuel gently explains: "I did a remix." The crowd cheer and chuckle with affection. Less bass heavy than the Paris performance this reading really allows the detail of this new version to shine through and one of my favourite parts of the whole evening comes when Gottsching plays a wonderful 1976 vintage keyboard solo amidst the more modern aspects of a redux take.
Whilst the Parisian audience could have been attending a classical concert, offering polite appreciation and ultimately a standing ovation, Glaswegian audiences are known for giving rapturous receptions. The trend is not balked on this occasion and after a stunning performance Manuel is clearly touched by an equally stunning response, the crowd roaring and whistling with approval. A warmly delivered Zerfluss, the last section from the lengthy Die Mulde provides the audience with the pleasing conclusion they deserve. There has been something quietly moving about the symbiotic exchange between artist and audience tonight.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Under construction

Today I have had a second writing session for the third draft of the book and I have been rewriting/improving upon the first section, detailing the period of time leading from post-war Germany up to the Steeple Chase Bluesband, which split up in 1970 to make way for Ash Ra Tempel. Initially I must confess that the first pages of the book in progress were one of the parts that I was least happy with. Bringing together all of the strands of what was happening with politics and popular culture during a 20+ year stretch of history in parallel with Manuel Gottsching's early musical evolution was proving to be a difficult task but it I think it is finally starting to come together now.

I'm getting married in February and inbetween the relentless organisation taking place finding pockets of time to progress with the book has proved to be difficult. Nevertheless it is happening and things are moving ever forward. At Christmas I anticipate being able to spend some significant chunks of time writing and I'm really looking forward to having this luxury. The forthcoming year will inevitably be a process of fine tuning; chipping away bit by bit, altering the sections that can be improved upon whilst taking into account little facts that I learnt here and there during the course of the last draft. I already have a mental note of many of the parts of the book that I would most like to change and with much of the hardest work now done I think the next hurdle: aiming to bring greater flow, colour and accuracy to the words should be highly enjoyable. Stay tuned....Back soon!

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Manuel Gottsching Live in Glasgow - Dec 2010

Manuel Gottsching Live in Glasgow - 11th December 2010 at Stereo:

Tickets available from:

Tickets Scotland

Rubadub (Glasgow)

Ripping Records (Edinburgh)

Grouchos (Dundee)

Manuel Göttsching & Zeitkratzer: E2-E4 Live in Berlin (2005)

In March 2005 Manuel Göttsching joined Zeitkratzer at the Volksbühne, one of Berlin’s most innovative and respected theatres, for a collaborative rendition of E2-E4. This version can be heard on a 21 minute maxi CD, released on Manuel’s own MG Art record label in December of that year.

Close your eyes for a few moments and allow yourself to imagine that modern technology as we know it had not progressed in quite the same way. Perhaps electricity has not even been discovered. Many of the components that make up our daily experiences do not exist or are radically different. If this sounds like something from the steampunk sub-genre of science fiction then so does the fascinating Göttsching/Zeitkratzer ensemble reinterpretation of E2-E4. This version could almost belong to MTV’s Unplugged series of recordings, with a few fragments and passages of electronic sound here and there providing the only tenuous link with the hoards of equipment used to deliver its totally wired ancestor.

Providing a blend of classical and assorted other instrumentation Zeitkratzer’s take on E2-E4 begins with the sound of an accordion, used to supply the pair of chords over which the other music flows. All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey, as long violin chords imbue this version with a sense of autumnal melancholy. Immediately, brooding John Constable skies and blustery, rustic scenes are evoked, a stark contrast alongside the sunny moods captured on tape 24 years earlier. The bassline, initially introduced on the trombone, is then doubled by trumpet whilst the traditional drums in this clever rearrangement serve to underscore that, putting aside its reputation as a classic of the proto-techno or trance genres, E2-E4 is quite simply a great piece of music. Enter Göttsching himself, returning to the roots of his musical education with a classical guitar performance as satisfyingly fresh as everything else offered thus far. A gently sawing violin hovers, and as the ensemble gathers pace all of the members pitch in, replicating the dense layers of electronic sounds found in the initial version. The pace slows for a lovely trumpet solo before Göttsching’s intricate Spanish guitar leads the arrangement towards a busy climax, after which most of the instruments masterfully bow out one by one. exactly as those familiar with E2-E4 might expect.

The only disappointment with this fabulous CD EP is that there isn’t more of it, as it amply serves to demonstrate what a fantastic piece of classical minimalism E2-E4 naturally makes. On this evidence a full-length recording with classical or semi-classical arrangement, featuring Mr. Göttsching playing the guitar would be an awesome prospect.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Manuel Gottsching Live in Glasgow - See you there?

I've just had confirmation that Manuel Gottsching is to play live in Glasgow on Saturday 11th December 2010. Tickets are apparently available from Tickets Scotland, Resident Advisor, Mono, Rubadub, Ripping Records (Edinburgh) and Grouchos (Dundee). For more information about this event see here.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The influential Manuel Gottsching

As a fan of both The Orb and David Gilmour I was delighted to watch a mini-documentary about their latest collaboration album Metallic Spheres in which production legend Youth cited none other than Manuel Gottsching as an influence on the project. You can watch the short clip here.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Happy Birthday, Manuel Gottsching!

Wishing a very Happy Birthday to Manuel Gottsching, born 9th September 1952.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Manuel Gottsching Live @ Metamorphose 2010

Although sadly it was not possible for me to attend Manuel Gottsching's appearance playing Inventions for Electric Guitar on 4th September at the Metamorphose Festival in Japan I have been able to watch some clips posted on Heiko Neumann's Tribute to Ashra website. On the evidence supplied it certainly seems as if Manuel, with a little assistance from Steve Hillage, Elliott Sharp and Zhang Shouwang has managed the unmanageable by delivering an uncompromised version of an extremely complicated, multitracked masterpiece in a live setting.
Congratulations are in order for a fabulous performance! Now we can only hope that further concerts and a CD and/or DVD release will allow more fans around the world to see and hear this wonderful show. For those interested the full setlist for the Japan concert was: Echo Waves, Pluralis, Quasarsphere, E2-E4 (guitar version) and for the encore the as yet unreleased piece Fights.
As regards progress with the book I have recently been filling in some gaps in the narrative. My writing has been focusing on some of Manuel's collaborations, alongside notes for live performances by Ash Ra Tempel in Paris (1974) and Ashra in Brussels (1977). Harald Grosskopf has very kindly helped me with his recollections of the latter show, whilst Lutz Ulbrich has generously shared some memories that have been useful when discussing the second CD in the Belle Alliance Plus package. Once these little sections are completed I will be moving on to Manuel's 55 and Still Alive birthday celebration and the latest Ashra appearances: live in Japan in 2008 and at the Schallwelle-Preis Award Ceremony in Germany earlier this year. Bit by bit the second draft of the book edges towards completion. Watch this space....

Sunday, 22 August 2010

A thank you

This weekend I've had the pleasure of a visit from my friend Stephen Iliffe. Stephen, who lives in London wrote the wonderful Painting with Sound - The Life and Music of Hans-Joachim Roedelius, not to mention a whole host of sleeve notes for a variety of CD and vinyl reissues. I made contact with him five years ago to let him know that I had enjoyed his book and we've kept in touch every since. Here we are on the walkway to the lighthouse at Tynemouth.

This seems to be the perfect time to pass on a big thank you to Stephen for his constant encouragement with my project over the last two and a half years.

More about the progress of the book very soon.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Joaquin Joe Claussell meets writer

A massive thank you goes out to DJ/producer/musician Joaquin Joe Claussell for taking his precious time to provide me with some fascinating answers to my questions via an e-mail interview. What a nice guy!

Joaquin, who remixed two of Manuel's tracks for the Joaquin Joe Claussell meets Manuel Gottsching album, released in 2006 clearly has enormous respect for Mr. Ashra. During his recent Paris concert Manuel claimed that his own reworking of Deep Distance was inspired by Claussell's remix. I mentioned this to Joaquin and his response was that he felt 'tears of joy, tears of gratitude!' No wonder. It turns out that his love of Manuel's music stretches back a long, long way.
In response to my questions Joaquin discussed Gottsching's one hour proto-techno masterpiece E2-E4 and the massive, unlikely impact it had when played by the legendary Larry Levan and other DJs in New York clubs. It was great to hear about this from somebody who was actually there at the time.

Something that Claussell also picked up on is the fact that Manuel Gottsching was making futuristic music some time before this classic 1981 recording. All this and more will be expanded upon in the book. Coincidentally I'll be working on the section about Claussell and Gottsching's collaborative release next week.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Museum Piece I

The Swatch Oracolo Tarot watch, designed by Walter Wegmuller. Wegmuller fronted the brilliant Tarot album, recorded in 1973.

For this double concept work a track was recorded for each of the cards in the Major Arcana of the tarot deck. Wegmuller painted cards to accompany the original vinyl release and the band for this album were dubbed the Cosmic Couriers, featuring fantastic guitar work from none other than Manuel Gottsching.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The Private Tapes - Three of the Best

Although the blog has been quiet for a while I've been as busy as ever writing the book. A few weeks ago I finished writing notes for the 6 CD archival set of Manuel Gottsching/Ash Ra Tempel/Ashra recordings The Private Tapes. My second draft of the book is now a 156 page document and I've reached the Ash Ra Tempel reunion of the year 2000. Parts of the narrative past this point are semi-written and other parts are merely sketched out.

In the meantime Harald Grosskopf very kindly put aside a little more of his time to answer a few further questions about the tail end of the Cosmic Jokers, the Ashra tour of 1977, the band's return to Japan in 2008 and his new drum technology. Big thank you, Harald!

Whilst my work on the book continues here are three tracks, arguably amongst the best from The Private Tapes:

Dedie a Hartmut (Recorded live in 1973)

Clocking in at almost 40 minutes in length Dedie a Hartmut is aptly titled, as it is arguably Hartmut Enke's greatest recorded performance released from the archive thus far. Gottsching plays a chord pattern, initially creating a dark mood and right from the beginning Enke's bass rumbles beneath, beautifully underpinning the rhythm guitar work. Schulze starts to bash at the bass drum and his snare as the music quickly steps up a few gears into a furious, whirling dervish of sound.

Once again it is clear that Gottsching's guitar work is more refined than anything from the available 1971 live recordings. As the music settles into a groove Enke's bass playing is particularly fine, providing a fantastic dual lead instrument, whilst Gottsching's nimble, melodic and tasteful soloing at times touches on the crystalline beauty of Jerry Garcia circa Live Dead. Part of what makes this recording so exciting is the way in which Enke slips from daring dissonance into some incredible melodic work. As Manuel's wah-wah guitar traverses the bumpy terrain laid out by Schulze's drums Enke circles around the edges of the sound, rumbling and revving, much as he did during parts of Freak and Roll from the Join Inn album.

This track in many ways nails everything that the early Ash Ra Tempel could hope to have achieved in a live setting. It is powerful, whilst exhibiting a degree of musical maturity. During a rhythmically entrancing section the guitar and drums fall in together with precision whilst Enke's bass growls, seemingly waiting for the tempo to accelerate. The music takes off majestically, Gottsching's guitar like a bird in flight. Enke's bass locks in with Schulze's drums, providing a rock solid groove. Whilst Manuel plays a clean, pretty solo Enke's bass seems to grumble, encouraging his school friend to forget his musical manners. The guitar solo becomes a little more spicy and abrasive but is always controlled. In the meantime Enke's bass is all over the group sound, rumbling, vibrating and contributing to a stunning collective performance.

Here the band manage to lock together, perfectly balancing power and restraint. Gottsching's rhythm guitar surges on the rising tide of the rhythm section, as it gradually builds up momentum. This is the best available example of the original Ash Ra Tempel playing in a live setting. The band have managed to to excel in their chosen live art of building up to a series of breathtaking crescendos.

Deep Distance (Recorded live in 1976)

The live version of Deep Distance skates along, courtesy of a lovely gently clattering EKO Rhythm Computer (early drum machine) pattern and a latin sequencer part, familiar from the studio version. A simultaneously glacial and breezy delicate keyboard part is followed by billowing, squelching, aural steam clouds of treated synthesizer. Halfway through the 20-minute plus duration Gottsching begins to play the guitar, taking the tune off on a tangent unexplored in the clipped New Age of Earth version. Finally the stylophone-like keyboard voice used in the studio version rounds off this fine live recording.

Two things are striking about this track: firstly the fact that Gottsching managed to make so much happen working live on a solo basis with so little in the way of equipment is highly impressive. Secondly, guitar aside this recording is incredibly close to a piece of techno music, missing only a 4/4 beat. This was later demonstrated when the track was remixed by New York DJ and record producer Joaquin Joe Claussell.

Niemand lacht ruckwarts (1979)

Niemand lacht ruckwarts (Nobody laughs backwards), a 12 minute recording builds up a tapestry of layer upon layer of fast interlocking sequencer patterns, ultimately overwhelming the listener. Unable to focus on one part of the music the brain inevitably submits to the dense and utterly mesmerizing whole as electronics pulse, shimmer, spark and positively glow with an aural incandescence. Every bit as hypnotic as Steve Reich's tape experiment It's Gonna Rain, this masterpiece in miniature paved the way for another future, large scale classic of Gottsching minimalism just a few years later.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Manuel Gottsching live in Paris - June 2010

La Geode, a strikingly modern piece of of architecture is situated at La Cite des Sciences et de l'Industrie, Paris. A large spherical structure, it's exterior covered with mirrored, tessellated triangular panels it is a beautiful venue and the right choice for a special show. It is 34 years since Manuel Gottsching last appeared in Paris in a solo capacity and that performance at the Bataclan partially found a release on The Private Tapes, a 6 CD limited edition archival collection, now long out-of-print. The first soundcheck for this event lasted four hours, finishing at 4:00 am the previous morning. As the interior of La Geode is a cinema by day the second soundcheck will involve setting up the equipment from scratch: not an ordinary pre-concert ritual. This second session is more about checking sound levels and that the instruments are all working than it is full run-throughs of tracks. The intense rhythms and drone of Trunky Groove hammers out of the amplifiers, stopping and starting in bursts, as Manuel and his sound engineer Markus assemble and adjust a network of wires. It strikes this writer how cumbersome a soundcheck would have been in 1976, the last time Gottsching played a solo concert in this city, the equipment then infinitely more laborious to assemble and temperamental. A clang of guitar with a few hints of lead playing, a spell testing the keyboard and the soundcheck concludes.

90 minutes later the sun is setting, reflected in the myriad mirrored panels that comprise the exterior of La Geode. The Cite des Sciences and it's grounds are bathed in a soft orange glow. Bois de Soleil indeed. The atmosphere is electric, as the old and the young gather outside the building. The setlist is still a mystery and therein lies part of the anticipation and excitement.

After a visual spectacular from Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never), featuring a steadily building ambient accompaniment to a film chronicling the evolution of life from the Big Bang to advanced sea creatures it is Manuel Gottsching's turn to take to the stage.

The set opens with the powerful, tumbling rhythms of Trunky Groove in a version different to that featured on the Live at Mt. Fuji CD. Instead of the previous offbeat guitars the keyboard is the chosen tool for exploration here.

Following the intense opener Gottsching steps up to the microphone to make a heartfelt dedication to his mother-in-law, who sadly recently passed away. This tender tribute, which included an expression of regret about the passage of time finds its way into the next musical offering: a guitar oriented version of the title track from the Die Mulde album. This is where Gottsching's guitar playing is really allowed to take flight and what begins as melancholic soars towards transcendence.
Shuttle Cock, an exercise in tight, cyclical guitar overdubbing on the Blackouts album is here a techno infused slice of minimalism, over which Gottsching plays lightning fast hypnotic patterns of notes. A reminder of the man behind Inventions for Electric Guitar, this is perhaps the most entrancing and breathtaking part of the whole set.

A second offering from Blackouts, Midnight on Mars takes advantage of the cavernous acoustics and watching Gottsching playing melodic flurries of notes whilst framed by the atmospherically lit, skeletal interior of La Geode I find myself momentarily wondering whether Jimi Hendrix might have explored similar musical terrain had he stuck around.

Manuel's new version of Deep Distance (inspired by DJ/producer/musician Joe Claussell's earlier remix of the New Age of Earth track) is rhythmically heavy and in some respects not a million miles away from the pounding Born Slippy by Underworld. Some keyboard parts, comparable with the studio version float above the strong pulse and some fine, extended guitar work rounds things off. After a standing ovation Gottsching returns to Die Mulde for the final section of the piece, Zerfluss. An upbeat and joyous conclusion to the earlier performance of the title track, this offering provides the show with a neat bookend.

Well over 3 decades since the Paris Bataclan show of 1976 this concert in a suitably spectacular venue offered evidence that Manuel Gottsching is still relevant and still capable of producing cutting edge sounds. Some of the music may have been familiar but the arrangements were utterly contemporary and utterly convincing. This gentle and modest man is still making spellbindingly powerful music.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Inventions for Electric Guitar live in Japan

I've just had word that as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations for Japan's Metamorphose Festival Manuel Gottsching will be playing his classic album Inventions for Electric Guitar live at Mount Fuji on September 3rd-4th 2010.
This event is also to feature the sizeable talents of:

Steve Hillage

Elliott Sharp

and Zhang Shouwang.

Hearing the way in which these guitarists choose to interpret what is a complicated, multitracked studio recording in a live setting will doubtlessly prove to be fascinating. We wait and we wonder.... Exciting stuff!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Ash Ra Tempel and the Holy Isle

Well for the last week I've been on the Isle of Arran off the west coast of Scotland. The weather was most certainly on side and the highlight of the week had to be a trip to the nearby Holy Isle. This island was the site of a 13th Century monastery and is now owned by the Samye Ling Buddhist Community.
On our arrival we were greeted by a Buddhist monk, who informed us that it was possible to climb to the summit, head around the far side and be back for a boat within 2-4 hours. This was like throwing down the gauntlet, a challenge it was simply impossible to refuse and one hour later, both breathless but happy my partner Vicky and I had reached the top.
Known for centuries as a sacred site Holy Isle was without exception the most peaceful place I have ever visited, the only sounds at high altitude being that of the wind and the gulls above.
A march back to the tiny jetty in time for the boat and we had returned to the mainland within 3 hours of arriving, exhausted and ready for lunch.
During my restful stay in Arran I have been listening to Talking Heads, Frank Zappa and also Friendship and Gin Rose, the two Ash Ra Tempel reunion albums released ten years ago. So far I have avoided writing notes for these CDs as I wanted to spend some time carefully absorbing the subtleties of the music. Repeated listening and a measure of concentration really pays rewards with these records and by the time of my return to Newcastle yesterday I found myself ready to write about them. This pretty much takes things up-to-date, as I have spent today putting my thoughts into a Word document. I'm pleased to say that I have now written notes for almost all of Manuel Gottsching's albums and for my next writing session I will need to pop back to Ashra's visit to Japan in 1997.....
Until the next time....

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Were you there?

Time for a progress update. The book is coming along very nicely and things are moving ever forward. I've just completed a section about Manuel's archive of unreleased music. Obviously I can only write about the known material and I strongly suspect I've merely scratched the surface of what is really in the vault, awaiting possible release. One thing is certain, though: if Manuel were to at some stage decide to release a series of archival recordings we fans would be in for a serious treat.

My current writing finds me in 1985/86. This has been a great period to write about, firstly because it hasn't been documented in any detail in the past and secondly because alongside the recollections of Lutz Ulbrich and Harald Grosskopf I have accounts from two fans who saw Ashra live in Sheffield in 1985. This leads on to some questions that I'd like to ask you:

Were you there too?....or were you lucky enough to see the Berlin Planetarium shows from 1988? Did you see the Cologne Cathedral concert of 1991 or maybe you saw Ashra live in 1997? Perhaps you caught Ash Ra Tempel or Ashra back in those heady days of the 1970s or you've seen a more recent Manuel Gottsching live performance?

If you have ever seen Manuel, Ash Ra Tempel or Ashra live at any point I would love to hear you accounts and I hope to be able to put them in the book too. Please get in touch!

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Congratulations to Ashra

Congratulations to Ashra. They have won the Schallwelle-Preis for electronic music in Germany 2009. Well done chaps!