Are two records enough to trace the future? Yes, if your name is Manuel Göttsching and you are a Cosmic Courier. Don’t you belive in me? Well, to understand it we need to start with some history. Born in Berlin in August 1952, Manuel Göttsching founded with bassist Hartmut Enke his first semi-professional group during the second half of the ’60s, they called themselves Steeplechase Blues Band. He learned the dictates of classical and electric guitar studying improvisation and approaching the avant-garde thanks to the composer Thomas Kessler. Always with Enke and with the ex-Tangerine Dream Klaus Schulze on drums, in ’71 he formed the Ash Ra Tempel who were quick to register that same year their homonymous debut (Ohr, ’71), a little space-rock’s gem composed of two tracks only. To surprise, is the ease of synthesis with which they mix the experiences of Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, MC5 and Funkadelic, supported by the hyper-Stooges drumming and by a minimalist raga that would have obtained the approval of La Monte Young. In 1972 Manuel, after completing some wise adjustments, fired the second masterpiece, Schwingungen (Ohr, ’72). Flowers Must Die, in the middle of the first side, remains among his most convincing compositions: freak John L (ex-Agitation Free) the high friable singing anticipates the John Lydon’s Flowers Of Romance post-punk dirge by ten years (is it a coincidence?). Matthias Wehler’s raunchy sax mentions Stooges Fun House L.A. Blues, adding an undeniably German spleen. There is still the space for the dilated digression Suche & Liebe, which follows in the intent the final of the previous album.
At this point it would be right to invite you to read Julian Cope’s Krautrocksampler essay with his meticulously reconstructed genesis of the historical album Seven Up (Ohr, ’73). The jam sessions recorded in the studio rigorously live and merged in the two Space and Time suites, both dreaming of excruciating blues, cacophonous drones and songs doped in a melting pot played (in addition to the Ash) by a dozen musicians, except for the British poet Brian Barritt and the psychedelic writer / guru Timothy Leary.
The ’74 will see the publication of the sessions recorded with a super-group including the bearers of the Ohr label. The idea, commercial in intent but not in the resulting, will launch on the market four albums under the name of Cosmic Jokers: the homonymous Lp, Planeten Sit In, Galactic Supermarket and Sci Fi Party. These four gems can be considered among the most enlightened episodes of kosmische musik of all time: through mixing refined choices and fashion solutions for fans of acoustic noise they alternate forms of rock monoliths and sloppy ballads with late psychedelic solutions. Schulze’s synth sometimes overlooks the rest of the instrumentation but sounds very inspirational and daring. Manuel’s blues play with shouts, recited monochets and languid intentions created by Müller. And yet emphatic stories, sound threats, noise, garage-rock and hard turns beyond measure.
Discouraged by the crease of the latest AshRa’s products, Manuel, who got infatuated with electronic music and its recent instrumentation’s developments, maintains the social reason for what is actually considered as his solo debut: an extreme and seminal work, “Inventions For Electric Guitar” (Ohr, ’75). In his Studio Roma in Berlin took shape what is considered the anticipation of techno. You can believe it listening to the opening track “Echo Waves”: in a coming and going of echo effects the guitar creates a resonant and almost danceable sound carpet, algid yet able to capture your attention. A cosmic carpet made of swarms of electric strings, bouncing in echo, forming a squadron of psychic drops, a wall of sound built by minimalist points, the image of the guitar and the mixer that merge themselves in a sparkling lava flow threatened in the final three minutes by a meandering rock tongue. “Quasarsphere”, after the first great intuition, tries to fascinate the listener in an ocean of very slow meditations, with ambient-pastoral tones, closer to the Popol Vuh’s electro-acoustic spirituality. “Pluralis” occupies the B-side. A guitar interlocking upright made in “In C” style draped with gothic spirals, built on adrenaline and admirable conclusion of a great album. A record that, strangely, Julian Cope liquidates with two adjectives: “easy and irrelevant”.
Was there any loop machine on “Inventions of Electric Guitar”?
No, not at all! Manuel was actually playing all guitar patterns throughout the entire length of the pieces (with a big stopwatch in front of him!!), whereas the simultaneously recorded tape-echo served as a kind of metronome to keep the timing. But he used tape effects like double- and half-speed recording for low bass or high pitched melodies.1
Manuel is influenced by the use of the delay made by Terry Riley and wanted to do the same for this guitar, setting up the structures (duration and atmosphere), in which he could improvise.
“Inventions of Electric Guitar” is built with ruthless precision so that everything happens exactly in the right way and at the right time. It’s extremely accurate and it perfectly matches a starway of pleasure according to which the rhythm must arrive in a certain way and at a certain moment. Perhaps this explains Cope’s quick judgment. Being able to make such an “easy and irrelevant” thing, so detailed and seductive at the same time, is not an easy task. Another detail less and there was the risk that nothing would remain. One more detail and it would have appeared too elaborate, unbalanced. His knowledge of rhythm, his (unconscious) foresight knowing how to build and evaluate the impact on dance music, matches with a consummate sensitivity for the arrangements and the structure of the pieces. All enhanced by a certain mysterious respect for nature and of the illusion of pure and unnerving repetition, for the structure of a musical process that turns out to be a miniature of what Steve Reich will elaborate for Pat Metheny in Electric Counterpoint. I think that his rhythm is more beautiful for the way the sounds are connected subliminally to create a seemingly pure and natural propulsion motif.
A record like “Inventions of Electric Guitar” would be more than enough to get your place history, but Manuel manages to do an encore too. From that period of study and preparation, of Mannerist attempts and stubbornness, that followed his first solo record Göttsching emerged with what is defined as one of the most exciting works of contemporary popular music: “E2-E4” (Inteam, recorded in 1981 but published in 1984). Played and recorded by Göttsching alone in his private studio, “E2-E4”, from the opening chess move, beige brown chessboard on the cover, has a warm response from the usual lying criticism that has never managed to understand Göttsching over the first Ash Ra Tempel, but, without the author’s knowledge, he gradually explodes into the club scene. The recipe seems very easy again: a simple keyboard theme repeated for 59 minutes and embellished by Manuel’s guitar, here at his communicative peak, but that will undoubtedly prove to be an instrumental masterpiece between dance music and minimalist avant-garde.
“E2-E4 was a longer experience that started with Inventions for Electric Guitar. It wasn’t just a composition; it was a mixed structure of composition and improvisation. I had begun to build my own studio and to work with synthesizers, keyboards, and organs. I collected more instruments and built up my studio, recording every day and night. It was a development over the years from 1974 to 1980. I also performed some of the electronic concerts for a friend back then who was doing curious fashion shows which were more like events. I performed live electronic music three times at those, for about 80 or 90 minutes [each time], so I got used to playing and performing with analog synthesizers, computers, and sequencers. Finally, in 1981,I did just another one of those sessions, and it was really great for one hour. That was E2-E4.”2
Larry Levan, historical Dj of the New York nightclub Paradise Garage, a Studio 54’s competitor, expressed the desire to have this music for his funeral. In more recent times, even Juan Atkins talked about “techno ante-litteram”. The matter will culminate in the roughly brilliant cut-up made in Italy in 1989 by Sueno Latino for the eponymous vocalized cheap erotica track by Caroline Damas, with Göttsching who begins to understand the extent of the thing, take the situation in hand, settle the rights for Sueno, which is reprinted and then remixed, and launched into history.
A triumph dusted off in 2005 by the acoustic version rearranged by the ensemble Zeitkratzer. The influence of “Inventions of Electric Guitar” and “E2-E4” on what house and techno will become the has been incalculable. They were two definitive lessons of minimalism. The harmony between the reiteration of the parts is almost inexplicable so much is perfect and it goes deep. Repetition and the process become welcoming and danceable, a sort of eternal reference star between different genres. These two records will become a slow and inexorable wave, whose effects will propagate forever, celebrating the image of Manuel Göttsching: cosmic courier able to travel beyond the musical gravity, through the sound’s space.