Manuel Göttsching - Biography

Manuel Göttsching is a modest individual, but the legacy of his musical influence echoes louder and louder as his history grows. Founder of legendary German psychedelic rock band Ash Ra Tempel, with bassist Harmut Enke and ex-Tangerine Dream drummer and electronics pioneer Klaus Schulze, Göttsching and his band mates, along with groups like Can, Kraftwerk, Faust, and Neu! put progressive German music on the map in the 1970’s. As a solo artist Göttsching has created some of the most invigorating music for guitar and electronics ever made. The influence of his work fans out across genres, from rock and improvised music to ambient and techno.

Göttsching, born in Berlin on September 9th, 1952, grew up listening to The Rolling Stones, Hendrix and The Who. He studied classical guitar from early childhood and when he was sixteen he took lessons in improvisation from Swiss avant-garde composer Thomas Kessler. Friends since they were children, Göttsching and Harmut Enke formed their first band at age fifteen. Only later would the two realize they were on to something serious.

Ash Ra Tempel was founded in the early 70’s after the duo recruited Klaus Schulze. The story goes that the band bought Pink Floyd’s used equipment in London and immediately got started. Their self-titled debut is a massive, monster of a record. Consisting of two lengthy jams of swirling, roaring free-rock mayhem, Ash Ra Tempel (1971 Ohr; reissued 2004 Spalax Music) sounds like if Cream was actually a six piece and had ingested an elephant’s share of LSD, tape rolling. All three musicians are at the absolute top of their game on this recording, playing with jet engine ferocity and utter abandon, Göttsching’s searing blues-inflected leads never sounding clichéd. It’s a shame then that Schulze decided to leave the group after the first record to concentrate on a solo career. Göttsching and Enke would make two more seriously wild records; even one with acid-guru Dr. Timothy Leary called Seven Up (1973 Kosmische Kuriere; reissued 1993 Spalax Music). After Seven Up Enke left the band and quit music altogether. Göttsching would continue working under the name Ash Ra Tempel with various guests, eventually morphing the name to Ashra.

Since the dissolving of Ash Ra Tempel proper around 1974, Göttsching has used both his given name and the Ashra moniker to explore solo work and working with musicians Harald Grosskopf and Lutz Ulbrich. In 1975 Göttsching released Inventions for Electric Guitar (1975 Ohr; reissued 1991 Spalax Music) under his given name. On his solo debut he laid the groundwork for a signature style he would continue to explore across genres until today. Inventions is a stellar work, combining metronomic guitar arpeggios in a hypnotically minimal style with ambient textural drift and searing acid-rock leads. So adventurous are the textures on the record that the liner notes exclaim, “All sounds made with guitars!” It’s the combination of pulsing minimal Reich-ian rhythm and ambient drone with an electronically treated sound that makes Inventions such a landmark record and arguably Göttsching’s best guitar oriented solo work.

Recorded in the spring of 1976 at his own studio in Berlin and released that same year, Göttsching called his next record New Age of Earth (1976 Isadora/RCA). This time the focus was on various synthesizers and keyboards more than guitar. The opening “Sunrain” is almost an electronic version of Neu! with its motorik beat and glistening synth melodies. The record then dives headfirst into an ambient sea of filtered synths and deep bass pulsations. Closing track “Nightdust” combines the two approaches to intriguing effect. Clocking in at over twenty minutes, featuring all manner of otherworldly electronic sound and ending with a radiant guitar solo, the piece is truly progressive for its time.

For his next release Göttsching adopted the Ashra moniker. Blackouts (1977 Polydor) is a seamless merger of the guitar-centric sound of Inventions and the electronics used on New Age of Earth. Signature minimal electronic rhythms, spacious ambience and deft guitar playing dominate the sound. The record can only be faulted for its slightly polite production qualities. In fact it has since been cited as a forerunner to the emergence of new age music in the 1980’s. Regardless, even if the raw sound of his early work is less prominent, Blackouts is still a set of well-structured and interesting compositions.

Since 1976 Göttsching had been touring his solo records with the help of Grosskopf and Ulbrich and in 1979 the band decided to finally record together. The result was Correlations (1979 Virgin) and Belle Alliance (1980 Virgin). Both records are fairly strange, combing Göttsching’s soaring lead guitar with funk and disco rhythms and airy production techniques. While there are interesting moments and beautiful guitar playing on both, neither record ranks among Göttsching’s best work. 

Dissatisfied with the way Virgin handled the promotion of the last two Ashra releases, Göttsching seemed to vanish during the early 80’s. In fact, what he was doing would prove to be one of the crowning achievements of his career. In December 1981, Göttsching recorded a one-hour session in his Berlin studio. Unwilling to give this recording to a major label, the record was not released until three years later on his old friend Klaus Schulze’s label. E2-E4 (1984 Inteam; reissued 1992 Spalax Music) has since gained mythical status. During the late 80’s, it was heralded by the emerging house and techno music communities, along with Kraftwerk and disco, as one of the cornerstones of modern electronic dance music. It has since been remixed dozens of times by the likes of Carl Craig, among others. Consisting of one long track comprised of a racy but minimal rhythm that subtly morphs and changes over the course of an hour, with Göttsching’s signature guitar coming in towards the end, E2-E4 can certainly lay claim to vast influence in today’s minimal techno scene. It’s astounding the music was made in 1981, and it's mind-blowing that the track was made in one hour with no overdubs!

Göttsching recorded a few more records with the Ashra trio including Topical Heat (1991 Spalax Music) and Walkin’ The Desert (1992 Spalax Music). The 90’s, and into the next decade, saw him reemerge as a live performer, again touring extensively with several live recordings surfacing including Concert For Murnau (2005 MG.ART), E2-E4 Live (2005 MG.ART), and Live At Mount Fuji (2007 MG.ART). His solo records, as well as the early Ash Ra Tempel records, were rereleased by the French label Spalax Music. In 1996 a massive six-CD box set of Göttsching’s personal recordings was released as The Private Tapes Vol. 1-6 (Manikin).

Through psychedelic free-form blues rock and early ambient to electronic dance music, Manuel Göttsching has had a profound impact on many of today’s artists. His early guitar work with Ash Ra Tempel and solo is in a class all its own and he laid the foundation for electronic dance music in the early 1980’s. Few artists can claim such a far reach of influence across so many different forms of music. Göttsching’s music is a joy to experience and his importance cannot be overstated.

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