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.