Manuel Göttsching :: Electric Guitar Pioneer, From Krautrock To Techno

Manuel Göttsching was born in Berlin on September 9th, 1952. As a child, Manuel would stay up late at night with the radio on, listening bands like The Four Tops and the Temptations…

“Many people listened to the forces network radio station. That was the channel where you could listen to very different music that you would never hear in Germany. A lot of this music, though I found out only later, was black music. It was African-American music. I was young and I listened to it on the radio. I just loved the rhythms. This surely has influenced me, of course”, Manuel says.

Started his career in music at a young age, with various Berlin pop and blues bands in the late 60’s. Studied classical guitar from early childhood, but wanted to play drums at the age of 15, so he and his best friend Harmut Enke created their first band named “Steeple Chase Bluesband” where Manuel ended up as the singer of the band. A year later he studied improvisations with a famous Swiss avant-garde composer, Thomas Kessler and he managed to have access to Beat Studio in Wilmersdorf, which was set up by Kessler. Alongside Göttsching’s early blues rockers, it provided a place of rehearsal and musical fermentation, to future bands as Tangerine Dream and Agitation Free. But compared to those other bands, they did not have anything special.They were just another rock band. So, Enke left for England searching for his fortune and really showed him the way…

It was the long cool summer of 1970. The Beatles had just split up and the Isle of Wight Festival was around. Enke was spending his time downtown London amazed at the variety of equipment on display in the music shops, compared to a still- isolated Berlin. He decided to spend the few money had on his pocket. Such luck, in the music store that came in, Pink Floyd’s roadies were selling four huge WEM speaker cabinets. Set up in 1949, Watkins Electric Music was a British company founded by brothers Watkins. It was the first choice for any band in search of huge volume. The Who had used WEM. The Stones in the Park outdoor festival was powered by WEM and even Miles Davis’s electric band would be blasting through WEM cabinets at the Isle of Wight. He came back in Berlin and they realized that they had the biggest equipment of all the bands there. They were…loud!

When Göttsching and Enke, rocked up to Beat Studio with their new gear, Klaus Schulze, had just left Tangerine Dream and was on the lookout for a new band. When he saw those WEM amps piling through the studio load in doors, he knew he had to be a part of whatever sound they were making. One of the most notable German groups of the 70s was formed, Ash Ra Tempel. They were giving about three gigs per week, everywhere. After a year everybody in Berlin knew Ash Ra Tempel. The group was quickly signed by OHR label, releasing their self-titled debut LP recorded in Hamburg by famous Connie Plank.

As electronics began making a bigger and bigger impact on the German progressive scene (Krautrock), Ash Ra Tempel emerged at the vanguard of the new technology, acquiring new equipment with seemingly each passing performance, the group even played live in Switzerland with Dr. Timothy Leary, a collaboration which yielded 1973’s “Seven Up”. By the following year both Schulze and Enke had left the group, however, with Göttsching moving forward as a solo artist now working simply as Ashra.

Around this same time he issued “Inventions for Electric Guitar”, a groundbreaking album which is still forward looking, almost 45 years later and greatly furthered his experiments with electronics.

It was a breakthrough, played in one continuous uninterrupted rhythm precise like a metronome. Manifested Manuel’s significant style. He keeps the name Ashra going and participates in other projects like soundtracks, fashion show live performances, music for radio shows and theater acts.

Manuel records in December 1981, in an one hour session,”E2-E4″ . A masterpiece often cited as the first electronic dance album, released three years later on the label Inteam Records. One of the most extraordinary things about this album is that it took as long to record as it does to listen. No overdubs, no edits. This recording gained a great deal of attention at the end of the 80s in the house, techno and dance-floor scenes and was remixed as well as sampled by dozens of bands and DJs. Larry Levan made the record a regular part of his sets for a time at the Paradise Garage and three Italo producers approached him about re-working the tune in 1989. Under the name “Sueño Latino”, a 12″ released and became an international hit. Later in 1992 a remix by the Detroit based producer Derrick May brought the music full circle.

There were no mistakes, no incomplete ideas. It wasn’t too loud or too soft or imitative. For one magic hour, fly into a stellar cloud inside the perfect sonic experimental music that floats in space, inviting listeners to admire an unfamiliar environment which can draw cosmic thoughts and feel universal.

The other amazing thing about E2-E4 is the story of formats. When Göttsching first thought of releasing it, he realized that its 58-minute length presented difficulties. It was conceived as a single flowing piece, but an hour was generally considered too long even for a single LP, if someone wants it to sound good. A skilled disc cutter was able to get a 30+ minute side down in 1984. Great care was taken in getting the cut right. The 31-minute side, though at a relatively low volume, is clean and clear, even in the inner grooves. An artifact for the vinyl culture!