Posted by CHRIS on August 09, 2012 at 02:02 PM
A rainy day in Berlin, another fucked up summer? I am preparing dinner when all of a sudden there’s a phonecall from Kaos, Dj Kaos… what’s the name of the program? Yo! We have an appointment with music legend Manuel Göttsching, Ashra Tempel, in 20 minutes, get over to Schöneberg! …Well, what other choice did I have but to drop everything in a matter of seconds as it’s a truly rare occasion to have the opportunity to sit down with Manuel.
He doesn’t give interviews unless it’s for the cover story of a British or French magazine. So, I’m quite honored… I run down, grab a cab, cos my car is blocked in and I rush over. Kaos is already in the house talking with Manuel about new projects and the interview has already started somehow. Manuel is talking about his influences and what he believes is the beginning of minimal music…
>> We are talking about Perrotin here, he is called the inventor of minimal music, a Notre Dame composer living in the 12th century. He composed chanting vocal songs in a modalrythm, that somehow define the beginnings of minimal music.<<
I have missed the beginning of this conversation, but I think it is an interesting fact, that he refers to monk music. Kaos is already changing the topic to Terry Riley and I remember I saw him on youtube the other day playing the electric keyboard in a monklike caftan in blurry washed-out youtube quality.
>> I met Terry Riley in 1973 and it really impressed me how he played the electric piano in such a free-flowing style… with very little equipment. By that time there wasn’t much on the market, maybe the Minimoog, Odyssey, or the first little synthesizers. He was so virtuously playing his minimalistic patterns by hand and ‘on time‘ with his left and right hand just using a tape delay with a tapemachine to spice it up. So I thought: I should try this with my guitar.<< Manuel had a classic guitar education in his childhood. >> So, I bought a Revox band machine and used it as a delay… I experimented a lot and finally decided to work on a real composition in 1974, which became known as my first solo record ‘Inventions for Electric Guitar.‘ A composition focused on the electric guitar with a few effects that this era allowed. All sounds on this record derived from the electric guitar.<<
I flip the topic to the infamous E2-E4 record, which has its 30th anniversary this year. A milestone in post-war music history, even praised by Steve Reich. A blueprint for pattern music using multiple sound layers. I ask if he had a feeling of making an elemental piece of music right from the start.
>> I think you can’t predict your creation in such way, but surely I was fascinated by the sound I created in this one hour session. Everything was fitting so well and I was really happy about the outcome. I must admit I had a totally different approach in the beginning; after producing two records with Ashra Tempel, ‘Correlations‘ and ‘Belle Alliance,‘ I wanted to work on a solo project, a monumental composition with an orchestra and all that. But somehow I couldn’t finish it… and then one evening in December of 1981, I recorded this session and everything was fitting perfectly, no technical problems, it just flowed like a river very quiet. I didn’t plan on it, I just wanted to play from scratch for the fun of it. It was like the fruit of my extensive practice over the years was dropping right in front of me and it turned out perfectly. I was working on this complex composition and then I created this piece of music just by improvisation in the frame of one hour. It took some time for me to decide to really publish it in the end. First, I didn’t know where I should publish it and then I had doubts if it would really make it on the market. So I kept it very low-key. It was released two years later on a small label of a friend - Klaus Schulze. The track was somehow growing over time, a couple years later I heard that the track was played in clubs in New York and I was wondering how this could work and if people danced to it or whatever. From New York it went to England and Italy. Finally in 1989, I received a call from the Italian dance music production DFC who wanted to produce ‘Sueno Latino‘ which was based 80% on E2-E4 and became this number 1 chart hit. But this wasn’t the final stage of this track. A lot of remixes followed up on this one… even now. I am planning to a recording with Renate Knaup from Amon Düül who will sing over the E2-E4 theme. This track is somehow made for adding bits and pieces here and there and I think that’s where its success lays. <<
Now I want to know more about the golden Krautrock years…
>> Well, by that time many of the musicians, didn’t like the term ‘Krautrock,‘ they thought it was not appropriate for their music. Like it wasn’t real rock… it was just Kraut-rock. But in the end it was just a humorous name-giving picked up by the foreign music industry who needed to label it to sell it. In Germany by that time in the early seventies, artist management was forbidden by law, which was really strange and not understandable for the rest of the world. I remember I had to use artist management from the Netherlands. But these underdeveloped structures also gave us a lot of freedom in creating music. We wanted to let everything out and since we couldn’t build on a structure due to Germany in the sixties being a cultural wasteland and still crippled by the Nazi reign, we were able to fill a vacuum with our own sound. Without any need to satisfy a music market which simply didn’t exist. It was a time of change, just think of the ‘68 generation… I think it always depends on every era’s social circumstances and free territories or mindsets that can be conquered. The western music scene in America or England didn’t have this creative freedom, so they were looking on very interested at our experiments… it was similar to the techno movement in the nineties especially here in Berlin. Electronic music was kinda dead and over-saturated at the end of the eighties and with the fall of the Berlin Wall, techno suddenly became a huge impact with not just new experiments in sound but also with conquering new (abandoned) spaces with its very own culture because there was no restriction.<<
What about the technical aspect of creating music, when did he start using computers, switching from guitar to keyboard, I ask:
>> I started to play around with Apple computers in the early eighties, but computers weren’t very stable around this time and you couldn’t work with them on stage yet, I remember I wanted to control the graphic output on the computer with the sequencer I connected, but it went so hot that I burned my fingers whilst unplugging. But somehow I knew this would be the future and I experimented a lot with this new medium. Later, I used Atari and what came thereafter. At some point I figured out that these programs where too static for me and that I’d rather use my old synthies where it was easier for me to play around with the sound. These old machines don’t have static programs, everything has to be set manually, and trial and error holds lots of creative bifurcation and - it was relatively easy to set up those machines, just plug and play. For me it seems very complicated to set up new sounds with the new software and I think others feel the same about it. You are tempted to use existing programs, you just switch around prefab patterns which are hard to combine compared to just let it flow on the old machines. But I think the best is to combine both advantages.
It was always thrilling to me to explore new sounds and it is also an essential part of my work. After ‘Inventions for Electric Guitar‘ in 1974 I felt I did everything I could do with this particular instrument. Playing it front and backwards, looping it, scratching it, loosening or tightening the strings…and so on and so on… I even blew on the strings and amplified the outcome. But it was kinda hard to do this on stage. So after this record I became very interested in keyboards, synths, and what electronic music had to offer. It started with an old Farfisa electric piano, I bought from a friend. The compositions totally change with the instruments you are using. You can’t make a composition for a guitar which you need twenty fingers to play as an example… and keyboards allow different approaches. This was the path of invention for me to go further into musical exploration.
The next thing I got was a EMS Synthesizer. You can find those compositions on ‘New Age of Earth‘ which was my second solo album released in 1976. I always wanted to use sounds that I could create with what I had and not so much sampling, I was really conscious about this electronic, sometimes declared fake sounds. Especially the fake string sounds attracted me a lot…. later I was in the position to work with real orchestras like the Berlin Zeitkratzer Ensemble who focus on post war experimental music, real strings, and the tuba playing the bass line… a very exciting journey from electronic to analog and back to digtal.<<
Continue reading on the next page
One more thing I want to know is about the collab with Timothy Leary, how that came about…
>>Actually, we wanted to a record with Allan Ginsberg in 1972 because with Ashra we wanted to combine text and music, and Ginsberg was the most influential poet to us at that time,
but his prominence made it difficult to get a hold of him… Whilst trying to get in contact we stumbled over Timothy Leary, who was in exile in Switzerland haunted by the US-Nixon administration for his drug-promotions or whatever they accused him of. He was set free by a spectacular rescue by the Black Panthers and fled to Algeria with Eldridge Cleaver. But I think they had totally different mindsets and so Leary left off to Switzerland in a cloak-and-dagger operation. There is a good biography written by John Higgs called ‘I Have Surrounded America,‘ which is pretty accurate about that time. So Leary wanted to work on an experimental record and he really liked our album ‘Schwingungen.‘ Leary was writing his book on the seven stages of consciousness… so it was kinda suggesting itself to conceive a piece of music out of it. So we started recording ‘Seven Up‘ in the summer of 1972 which was a lot of fun and Leary even performed as a vocalist. But as soon as the project was finished he had to leave Switzerland at his own will… I think his restless mind was driving him out of this little Alps republic and soon he was caught by American authorities at the Afghan border and sentenced to prison for a few years in California. I visited him one more time afterwards in 1977 and he was was in a very good mood… he even bought a little synthesizer which he was using for little sound experiments…<<
Now my recording device is conking out, and the transmission ends here. When I ask him where he sees the musical avant-garde these days, he says for him it lays not so much in intellectual conceptions, that are only comprehensible for a few but in music that you have feeling in… music you can feel that triggers wider audiences whether it’s conceptual, intellectual, or purely popular. And there is always something new coming up!
Thanks to Ilona Ziok and Kaos