Ash Ra Tempel — The Private Tapes
(Manikin, 1979/1996, 6CD)
by Tom Hayes, Published 1996-08-01
Germany — 1971 — Underground. Those three terms evoke images of the Berlin Wall, intensity, angst, freedom. And no band helped define this milieu more than Ash Ra Tempel. With a long overdue interest in German underground rock reaching a fever pitch, aided along by Julian Cope’s Krautrocksampler, Manikin records, in timely fashion, has released six CDs (each over 70 minutes long) of unreleased material from the vaults of Ash Ra Tempel’s guitarist Manuel Göttsching. The time-frame represented in these historical recordings are from the bluesy, pre-ART group, Steeple Chase Bluesband (1970) to the modernistic, electronic Ashra of 1979.
The immediate question I had, and I suspect many have, is ‘How is the sound quality?’ And the answer is ‘Better than I expected.’ Which is to say that the modern studio recordings (c. 1973) are outstanding while the early live ones (1971, 1973) are recorded, to quote the liner notes, “...with amateur equipment, by an amateur, and probably with just one (cheap) microphone.” In reality, these recordings sound better than that quote may imply.
Instead of assembling the titles in chronological order, the producer decided to place a mixed assortment of studio and live material from 1973-79 and then throw on one live song (at a length of at least 24 minutes) from either a 1971 or 1973 concert. The producer probably wanted to go for the “Wow” factor here. It would be too much to cover each individual piece, and since I believe the music contained over these six discs can be broken into six different periods, I will give an overview of how those styles are represented here.
1978/79 Ashra (Vol. 4, 3 tracks; Vol. 6, 3) — The trio of Göttsching (guitar, synths), Lutz Ulbrich (former Agitation Free — guitar, synths), and Harald Grosskopf (former Wallenstein/Cosmic Courier — drummer and synthesist). Represented by the albums Correlations and Belle Alliance. Their upbeat and rhythmic stage, with driving guitar in an almost danceable beat. These recordings show more kick than the comparable studio LPs.
1978/79 Gottsching (Vol. 1, 3 tracks; Vol. 2, 1; Vol. 4, 1; Vol. 5, 1) — Manuel Göttsching on guitar and synths. Style represented by the album Blackouts. A really strong period that features some outstanding expressive guitar like on the 22 minute “Ultramarine”.
1976 Gottsching (Vol. 2, 2 tracks; Vol. 5, 1) — Manuel Gottsching on synths and guitar. Correlates to the album New Age of Earth. Probably the least interesting era as this is almost pure electronic music with very little of the trademark and defining guitar that makes Ash Ra’s music so alluring. All three tracks are between 18 and 21 minutes each.
1973/74 Gottsching (Vol. 1, 1 track; Vol. 3, 4; Vol. 5; 2) — Manuel Göttsching on guitar, keyboards, percussion, and voice, Lutz Ulbrich on “Schwerer Dino” with guitar and keys, and Manuel’s long time girlfriend Rosi plays harp on “Begleitmusik zu einem Horspiel.” Somewhat represented on Join Inn (‘Jenseits’ side), Starring Rosi, and Inventions for Electric Guitar. To the reviewer, this was the most revelatory portion of the discs. The 75 plus minutes represented here show us a side Manuel never let loose on vinyl. The haunting yet serene keyboard layers, combined with some incredible echo electric guitar, create a web of emotions unlike anything I’ve heard. Brilliant. There are also a couple of light psychedelic ditties that are similar to Starring Rosi.
1973 Ash Ra Tempel live (One track each on Volumes 4 and 5) — Göttsching on guitar and electronics, Hartmut Enke on guitar and bass, Klaus Schulze on drums, guitar, and electronics. Similar to the ‘Freak ‘N ‘Roll’ song on Join Inn. ‘Ooze Away’ clocking in at 28 minutes along with the 40-minute ‘Dedie a Hartmut’ are the representatives for this period. A reunion concert that is loose, almost West Coast jamming. While it lacks the intensity of the original it still packs quite a punch. Hartmut Enke quit both music and, in a manner of speaking, life after these concerts. Of course, Klaus Schulze continued on to a very successful solo career that is well documented.
1971 Ash Ra Tempel live (one track each on Volumes 2, 3, and 6) — Göttsching on guitar, Enke on bass and guitar, Schulze on drums. Represented on the eponymously-titled first album, in particular the composition ‘Amboss’. With this period we have the CDs raison d'être. This is Ash Ra Tempel at its finest. Each song begins with Enke and Göttsching echoing their guitars slowly to build a deafening crescendo. Without warning, Schulze begins his definitive piledriver drumming pattern, and Göttsching complements this with some of the most intense psychedelic heavy guitar ever recorded. And since one of the pieces is over 54 minutes long, get ready for jams to end all jams. The whole effect just exudes a frantic and intense atmosphere. Yes, it’s Germany, 1971, Underground. Amazing.
The aforementioned Steeple Chase Bluesband (represented here by one 10-minute cut) and a couple of short, German language interviews, round out the collection.
These tapes were compiled and produced by Klaus D. Mueller, who was once an ART and Agitation Free roadie and is most known as Klaus Schulze’s business partner and confidant. His first-hand account of these groups helps him provide us with some very interesting liner notes including a detailed history, personal insights, interviews, old performing schedules, and many photos. So all said and done, this limited edition of 1000 copies is an absolute essential purchase for Ash Ra Tempel fans as well as Krautrock aficionados all over.
Bill Rieflin RIP – The sad news reaches us today of Bill Rieflin's death. Rieflin was best known as a drummer in bands ranging from post-punk to industrial to indie-rock to progressive rock, including work with The Blackouts, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Swans, Land, and King Crimson. Rieflin had been battling cancer for several years, and succumbed to it on March 24. He was 59. » Read more
Cruise to the Edge and Seaprog 2020 Festivals Postponed – The worldwide outbreak of the novel coronavirus has started to produce casualties in the music festival world, and music festivals are not immune. We've had word that both the Cruise to the Edge (originally slated for March 27 - April 1) and Seaprog (originally June 5-7) have been postponed to later dates, with those dates to be announced. » Read more
McCoy Typer RIP – Word reaches us today of the passing of one of the most influential pianists in the history of jazz, McCoy Tyner. His tenure with John Coltrane in the early 60s includes some of the most treasured recordings of the era, including My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme. After leaving Coltrane's group, he had a long and successful solo career. He was 81. » Read more
Jon Christensen RIP – Word reaches us today of the passing of Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen, a musician whose sensitive playing did much to help define the atmospheric sound of ECM jazz recordings. His work with Jan Garbarek, Bobo Stenson, Terje Rypdal, and many more was sensitive and varied, adapting to a wide variety of styles while maintaining a distinct identity of its own. Christensen was 76. » Read more
Gong Announces UK Tour for 2020 – Having spent the last few years touring the world, including dates in Japan with psych legend Steve Hillage, multiple headline European tours and festivals, America’s Cruise to the Edge festival, a South America headline tour, and a headline performance at Tomorrow Festival in China, the band have won the hearts of both traditional and modern Gong fanbases. During this live journey, Gong has delved further into the truly psychedelic, exploratory, and mind-expanding side of the music. » Read more