Features I by I 12.09.13

A Beginner’s Guide to krautrock legend Manuel Göttsching… by Manuel Göttsching

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Looking for an entry route into the catalogue of krautrock figurehead and techno innovator Manuel Göttsching? Here’s a helping hand from the man himself.

Göttsching, of course, remains best known for 1984′s seminal E2-E4 – creative high-watermark, techno ürtext, and, in our professional opinion, one of the five greatest albums of the decade. His discography, however, goes much further – from his pioneering guitar work with Ash Ra Tempel through to his loop-based electronic kosmische works, he’s made a considerable dent on the face of 20th century music more than once.

With Göttsching recently in town to play his first London date in 13 years for Need2Soul/Oval Space Music, FACT sat down with the Berlin native for an extensive chat about his life and times. In addition to a wide-reaching interview about his work – which we’ll be uploading later in the week – we asked Göttsching to play the critic and introduce and appraise five of his key works. Suitable for the curious newcomer and the Ash Ra fiend alike, this is the abridged story of Manuel Göttsching – as told by Manuel Göttsching.

You can watch an edited video version of this interview over at FACT TV.

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(OHR, 1971)

The first Ash Ra Tempel was for me not really a record production – I wanted to have it as much as possible as a kind of document of the way that we performed, because we were a live band. I think our strength and the real power that we had, and that we could show, was our live performance, so I just wanted to bring this as much as possible on this record. I didn’t want to have too many technical experiments with multi-tracks and overdubs; I wanted to have it as rough as possible. And we found it took a while, because we made some test recordings and they were terrible because the engineers really didn’t understand it at all. One engineer just went out of the studio because he felt he didn’t have to care about it.

And finally we found – I forget his name, he later became one of the most famous German producers…Conny Plank, right, Conny Plank. He’d just started – he had a small studio in Hamburg and we thought, “Well, try it with him.” And he was really into it, he liked it, and he played a little bit with us – he played with the faders with us. But he let us play, and I was quite happy.

The record’s nearly live – not really, but nearly live, if you compare it with some old live recordings. I released some of these live recordings in a set of private tapes in 1996 – three or four excerpts of 20 minutes – and I have some more tapes I would like to release in their original form, in the entire length maybe. Technically, i think it’s a mono recording…but this is not important. [Ash Ra Tempel] shows the power, it shows the energy of what we wanted to play, and this is important. I think it’s very good – you can hear it very good on the first Ash Ra Tempel. So this was a good start!


Seven Up is very different, because this is really a concept album. The second album we recorded, Schwingungen , with our former drummer Wolfgang Müller from The Steeplechase Blues Band, because Klaus Schulze had quit after one year already, and he wanted to go on a solo career. So we recorded Schwingungen with some guests, and then we had the idea to make something with lyrics – not songs, but somehow to incorporate lyrics into our music concept. The first idea was to make a record with Allen Ginsburg, of whom we had a poem in the cover sleeve of the first album. But nobody knew where he was. And suddenly we found out that Timothy Leary was in Switzerland.

He was sentenced in America for a ridiculous 10g marijuana to ten years. Timothy Leary was a psychologist and neurologist – he worked in America as a normal psychologist, so he came in contact with the invention of LSD and the use of LSD for psychotherapeutic purposes, and he did research on that and he became very popular because LSD was very popular. He was always trying to be on the more serious part, doing serious research on it and really using it as a therapy. Whereas other like Ken Kesey were the real hippies and said “LED for everybody” [laughs]. They were giving it to the people like sweeties. Because Timothy Leary was getting more and more popular with the young people, he became an enemy of the United States, and Richard Nixon really declared him as Enemy No. 1. That was the reason why they tried to find something – in America, there are the different states, and each state has a different law for drugs. There are no borders, but when you went from Nebraska to Ohio you don’t notice. And that was how they got him with a ridiculous thing. He escaped from prison with help from The Black Panthers, I think. They brought him to Algeria, but The Black Panthers were a very aggressive and military organisation, and Tim Leary was a psychologist, so they didn’t get along for long. So he came to Switzerland, and in Switzerland he had some friends who helped him to stay there. They wouldn’t deliver him to the CIA. And that was the period when we heard of him.

So my friend Harmut [Enke, Ash Ra Tempel member], he went to Switzerland with the second record to meet him, and asked if he could make a project, and when he arrived Leary was very happy. He liked it a lot, he liked our music a lot, and he was interested in music, because he understood that music is a very important and very powerful medium to bring a message to young people at the time. So he liked the idea. He was writing a book about ‘seven levels of consciousness’, his theory of human consciousness, and so we started to compose some pieces to make a kind of interpretation. Then we went to Switzerland, recorded it, very nice…I was  bit afraid because I didn’t know anything about him before. I expected a kind of [rolls eyes back and feigns trance] ‘goo-goo’ in white linen, sitting on the meadow in meditation. But he was a very straight and smart American guy – he loved good food, he loved good wine, and he loved his driving his Porsche around Switzerland. He was a really good psychologist, that’s what I found. There were many different people who joined this recording – we invited some more musicians – and each of us had very different views of these seven levels of consciousness, and how t make an interpretation. It was really Tim’s power that he could talk with everybody, and he could bring people very good together. As a psychologist, he had a good talent to work with people. So he brought us all together and we all recorded and ah, it was fun. Maybe the music’s a bit…But it doesn’t matter, it’s just a document. I’m very proud that it happened.


Inventions For Electric Guitar was in ’74 – I had to find my own way for solo and for composition to make my own interpretation of music. Before I worked in the context of a band – it was Ash Ra Tempel, and Ash Ra Tempel was basically also my friendship and my partner Harmut. He left in 73, and I was looking around in which direction to continue. I would have loved to continue with the band. I tried to find other musicians, that was fine, but i didn’t’ feel it was the same energy, like the original version – and sometimes it better to stop something and not try to keep it alive somehow [laughs]. I don’t like that.

So finally I thought, “I have to make something on my own”, so i just did the most simple thing that i could do: I said, “Okay, here’s what I am: I can play guar. I know my electric guitar.” So I used that to make a record just with one electric guitar. [There was] my influence from minimalism – I began to listen to Terry Riley, for example, and I thought, “Whoops, he’s playing intelligently on his organ with just the delay, and it makes a fantastic sound – so why not try to make something with electric guitar, delays, sounds with guitar?” But on the other hand, I wanted to really start going into composition, so I gave it a structure from the beginning, I decided how to make it. Inventions is an improvisation in part, but basically it’s more a composition. I really decided, “I’ll make one piece about 20 minutes, I’ll use one guitar for this part, then I’ll make a second one, a third on, a fourth one, with overdubs – of course, I couldn’t play them at the same time. And with each track, with each voice, I decided how the composition would go on. So maybe it’s more formal, but of course it’s not note-by-note – but in its structure it’s composed.

That’s still an album which seems to attract, an album which I think has a place in history, because there’s nobody else who made it, not really [laughs]. Or maybe not so consequent in this way. And I was very lucky in that three years ago I had a chance to perform the original version, with [key UK psych figure] Steve Hillage here from London – an old friend, with whom I always wanted to play with, but it never happened – and with [NY experimental musician] Elliott Sharpe – he plays a different style, but he’s a brilliant guitar player and he perfectly fits into this composition. And a Chinese player, Zhang Shou Wang, who played with Sonic Youth, and Einsturzeunde Neubauten. He’s got several bands, like Carsick Cars, and he’s really good. He plays an electric guitar as a kind of sound source. He doesn’t use a computer at all, he only uses very old-fashioned tools to modify sounds for guitar. It’s really good. I met him again one year ago in Berlin, and I’m always impressed at how he makes his sounds – he plays just his one note, then he plays with all these little boxes, and he has tons of it. It’s good!

(RCA, 1976)

New Age Of Earth was the next step after Inventions, in that I started composing for keys. Still, my influence with minimalism, although more from Steve Reich maybe, which I like very much. Steve Reich I like because of his rhythm – he has a good feeling for rhythm. I like that. Steve Reich studied rhythms in Africa, and you hear that in music. There’s also a little old-fashioned blues influence – the second piece is a little reminiscence to Peter Green’s ‘Albatross’, but in an electronic way. Then ‘Deep Distance’ is kind of my favourite for its South American rhythms – it goes a little bit in this direction. And the second side is more about the orchestra sounds, So, all in all, various aspects of music that I like, but all packed and interpreted with electronic instruments, with keyboards, synthesisers. There were no sequencers, because I all played it all on New Age Of Earth. All these patterns, they are still handmade.

Yes, I think it was another big step towards my development in composing, as a composer – there’s only a little guitar on the album, only on two parts. Instead I played on the next album, on Blackouts, more guitars [laughs]. So I switched again. And New Age, by the way, has nothing to do with New Age, because this is just a very simple translation from the German title Neuzeit, which means ‘new era’ or something like this. And for me it was kind of a step forward, a new era – and I translated ‘new age’. I didn’t know anything about New Age, and the New Age movement at that time was not yet existing. There was a New Age movement in philosophy in the 1960s, but it had nothing to do with music. New Age music developed later. It’s a misunderstanding! [laughs]


Walkin’ The Desert was in 1988. [It] was composed for a performance in the Berlin planetarium, and it was a concert for some cultural event, I don’t remember…Anyway, the idea is to bring music and text together, spoken word, and the lyrics came in the original live version from a book by a Swiss author which was called Walking In The Desert – his photographs, and his impressions of how he walks in the night and in the day, and it’s hot, and he can see the stars and things like that. So we had an actor in Berlin to speak the words, and i composed at that time with  Lutz Ulbrich, my partner. We had a kind of live performance for spoken words and for music – for me, it was like a live version of a radio play, performed live – it was a very nice event. The planetarium had about 300, 400 seats –  we did two shows, and both were sold out. And later I thought, “Very good compositions…we should make a record, make a CD of the music.”

I thought, “Maybe it’s not so easy to understand if you have this formal aspect of speech and spoken words and then some music.” So I thought, “I’ll take the more essential parts of the compositions, and make four longer pieces, and have it separate as music that stands for itself without words. So I took the basic parts, the most interesting – and this also, again, shows minimalism, the first one. It’s called ‘Two Keyboards’ – it’s really played on two keyboards with delays, there’s no sequencer. ‘Four Voices’ is composed in kind by sequence, a combination of both. ‘Four Guitars’ starts with sampled guitars, which for me at first, I’d never used before. We had a sample of a guitar, and were playing with it. And then ‘Twelve Samples’ is only playing with sampled sounds, without any synthesised sound, only sampled sound.

So I tried to bring in some steps of development in music like sampling and computer programming, This was ’88, so it was still with Atari and MIDI things, and technology which was very static. I always found it a bit boring, because, as I said before, I’m a live musician, and everything has to be more or less live. In the ’80s, the problem was that you had interesting facilities with MIDI and computers , but you could not use it live – you could not play it live with it. You could use it in a studio and type in your notes and everything was fine, but then you want to change something and you have to stop and you listen again. Very soon you lose any feeling for the music because it gets too mathematical. That’s the great advantage of today’s programs – you can just play and try and it doesn’t stop and it works and the programs are stable! [laughs] So it’s still fun in a way. The biggest problem for composing music is that you have a structure – what you have in films, in a dramaturgy, in a way. You have a start, and then it goes up, and something happens and then it goes down, and the same has to happen in music, and this is very difficult if you always stop and write something. [Now] when you play, you have a feeling for the timing, and you say “boom-boom-boom – now something has to come, something has to change.” Otherwise it gets boring… It don’t matter if it’s dance music or if it’s classical or if it’s jazz, or whatever – it has to attract a listener, so that he listens to it and follows your ideas.

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