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An interview with Manuel Göttsching (1998)

"Music is an international language"

Jeremy D. Rotsztain, "Frequency", 1998

"This was a period that was a long time ago. I have moved on to something new. There were so many names Ash Ra Tempel had been traded with - electronic music, 'Kosmische Musik', new age music, and synth-pop. It is just a marketing strategy. What keeps me a little bit against this development was that there were some good times and some good music, but there were many things that were not so attractive. I thought that this period was over and now it comes back again. I've had my experiences" explained Manuel Göttsching after I asked him how he felt about the new found interest in Krautrock.

Göttsching's answer shows the dilemma that arises when an artist is asked about his or her past accomplishments. The difficulty of this problem increases proportionately with the amount of time that has passed since the accomplishments in question. This is true because musicians are concerned most about what they are doing in the present. If they have been making music for 30 years then, for many musicians, the past is just the past: an event that took place, and affected them in some way. It becomes part of them, part of their history - but it ends there. Musicians prefer to or are most interested in discussing what they are currently doing.

In the early 70s Manuel Göttsching played guitar and essentially was the heart and soul of the very cosmic psychedelic rock group ASH RA TEMPEL. Today, he is still making music under the name ASHRA, a name that he created when the other members of ASH RA TEMPEL left the band in the late 1970's. At the time of our interview, Göttsching was about to release his most recent record, a live CD titled Sauce Hollandaise, and was least interested discussing in his early past. Unfortunately, his early past was the time in his life that I was most interested to learn more about.

Ash Ra Tempel released five records during its life span: Ash Ra Tempel, Schwingungen, Seven Up (with LSD guru Timothy Leary), Join Inn and Starring Rosi. It all began with Ash Ra Tempel's 1971's self-titled recording - a mammoth LP that came with beautiful packaging. Its cover opened up from the middle, revealing a drawing of a pyramid on the first layer, and then a picture of a faceless being floating in a group of spheres on the second. Its metaphoric packaging represented the thoughts and ideas behind the intense music contained on the LP. Ash Ra Tempel's first side-long track, Amboss, was a battle of sounds: Göttsching's heavy droning guitars, Hartmut Enke's bluesy bass, and Klaus Schulze's thundering drums. The second, Traummaschine, was a marvelous arrangement of dark guitar drones and warm melodies. From its start to its finish, the mysterious power of Ash Ra Tempel's music never dissipates. It is, without a doubt, one of the most intense recording released to date.

A year later, the group released Schwingungen, with Wolfgang Müller replacing Klaus Schulze on drums. It was a very soft and psychedelic recording that used a different approach to making music. Though there was still a lot of improvisation, this recording featured more song-like arrangements and more instrumentation - with additional musicians providing vocal, Jaw-harp, percussion, alto-sax and bongo accompaniment.

The next recording was a collaboration with American LSD guru Timothy Leary, on which a large group of musicians and singers worked together to release a recording with a strong philosophical message. Seven Up's seven tracks were based on Leary's seven levels of consciousness (from his infamous book Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out) and the recording was divided into two major sections that were also musically contrasting: the Rock'n'Rollish Space and the ambient Time. This was the first record released by Rolf Ulrich Kaiser's Kosmische Musik label.

After recording Seven Up and participating on Walter Wegmüller's Tarot in Switzerland, Ash Ra Tempel returned to Berlin to record Join Inn, which saw the return of Klaus Schulze, playing both drums and synthesizers. Though it was more blues-influenced, Join Inn's improvisational a-side, Freak'n'Roll was as intense as the a-side of Ash Ra Tempel's self-titled record. Join Inn's b-side, provided a contrast that was found all of Ash Ra Tempel's early LPs. It was a synthesized electronic piece created by Schulze on which Göttsching provided pulsating guitar accompaniment. Jenseits floated with sprawling, haunting ambience. Rosi Müller, Göttsching's then girlfriend, provided a vocal accompaniment - telling the story of the band's experiences in Switzerland with Timothy Leary.

ASH RA TEMPEL's trip to record with Leary in Switzerland allowed the band to a meet a whole new group of musicians: Dieter Dierks, Harald Großkopf, Walter Wegmüller, Walter Westrupp, and the members of Wallenstein. In 1973, Göttsching and Schulze returned to play with these musicians in studio jam-sessions organized by Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser. These recordings were later edited by the Kaiser and Dieter Dierks and released on the Kaiser's Kosmische Musik label. He named the super-group THE COSMIC JOKERS. In all five very different records were released: The Cosmic Jokers, Galactic Supermarket, Sci Fi Party, Planeten Sit In and Gilles Zeitschiff. The first three contained original material and featured many original and mind-blowing psychedelic sounds and cosmic arrangements. The last two were created using a very noticeable cut & paste method, and lack the consistency and quality of the first three records. However, the real problem with these recordings was that the Kaiser never discussed his intention to release them with any of the musicians. He actually only paid them studio fees. The Kaiser's actions left many of the musicians unhappy and caused many arguments as well as a law-suit.

ASH RA TEMPEL's next recording would be a new start for the band. Rosi Müller returned to sing, play vibraphone and harp on the band's next record, which also boasted her name. Göttsching also recruited producer Dieter Dierks to play bass and Harald Großkopf to play drums. Recorded in 1973, Starring Rosi was ASH RA TEMPEL's first recording with this new line-up and their first recording with fully structured songs. These were pop-songs more than anything else, with bluesy guitar riffs and sounds that were very reminiscent to early Grateful Dead recordings. This record brought ASH RA TEMPEL their first experience with commercial success.

Though they were written solely by Göttsching, his next two releases, the guitar-only Inventions for Electric Guitar (1974) and New Age of Earth (1976), still carried the ASH RA TEMPEL name. In the late 70's, Göttsching decided that ASH RA TEMPEL was no longer a group and renamed it ASHRA, representing the fact only he was making the music. With ASHRA, Göttsching released Blackouts, Correlations, Belle Alliance, and so many more. Göttsching also made his mark with his first official solo effort, E2-E4, in 1981.

Manuel Göttsching has released so many records, that there is something for everyone. One can get a taste of everything that he has written on The Best of The Private Tapes, a two-CD set taken from the out-of-print six-volume CD series The Private Tapes. It is now available on Cleopatra Records.

Q: I get the impression from speaking with you and Klaus Müller (Klaus Schulze's manager) that there is a lot of incorrect information about your music circulating. What are the more common or frustrating misconceptions?

MG: It's not that much. It's always the same things: the names, the dates. It's because people don't get the information from original sources. They read it somewhere, where someone has written something wrong, and they take it as a fact and you write it again or you tell it to other people. But this is just normal. But if you wanted to find out about it, it could be done. I told you about the book called The Works.

Q: Yes you did. I did a lot of my research from articles found in The Spalax Files, the promotional booklet that Spalax sent me. The articles dated back from the 70s and often did not contain a lot of information. A lot of people are relying on newer information, which is more accessible.

MG: You just have to live with it. Mr. Ibos from Spalax asked me to read it and make corrections. I thought that we would do it a little later, but then it was published.

Q: Will you be playing any shows soon?

MG: No. The only country that we were supposed to play was Japan. Unfortunately the festival was canceled. It was a very big open-air festival for 300,000 people at Mount Fuji. But they canceled it for, how do you say, ecological reasons. 300,000 people make a lot of garbage. We will probably go later, maybe next year. I have a very good friend there, a Japanese guy who owns a wax museum.

Q: I understand that there is a wax figure of you there.

MG: Yeah. It's very funny. He's a very rich Japanese man who is my age and studied in America, in Detroit. At that time he was listening to a radio station that played German music, like AMON DÜÜL, ASH RA TEMPEL, and he liked it very much. Now he is able to build his own wax museum and he's making models of all the people that he likes. He has normal people, like Queen Elisabeth, Mao Tse Tung, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, the Beatles. Then he has some more subtle musicians, like Frank Zappa, for example. And in a little corner there is Klaus Schulze, me, and the drummer of Guru Guru, Mani Neumeier and he calls it "Electronic Meditation" or something like that. It's in a big place called the Tokyo Tower, and it's a replica of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Q: Is it a big tourist attraction then?

MG: Yeah, yeah. Of course I had to go there and see it... take pictures and do a press conference. My records were going to Japan in the 70's because of Virgin. I had some contacts there but I had never been until recently. Four or five years ago, I had some contact with some people from Japan. They wanted to invite me and I didn't know what to say, I didn't know what exactly they wanted to do. And two years ago, a German promoter made a contact in Japan. So I went over.

Q: Was it a big thing?

MG: It was a tour. We played two concerts with Steve Hillage and System 7 and two other concerts were solo concerts.

Q: Did a lot of people turn out?

MG: Yes. I was surprised that so many people really knew about the music... that there were so many collectors. They came with their collections for autographs. They were really informed. In their interviews, they had very precise questions.

Q: I wanted to know about your musical education. Did you start learning from guitar teachers?

MG: Yes, I learned classical guitar for six years.

Q: And with Thomas Kessler, did you learn guitar-oriented things?

MG: No, it was more composition. After my years of classical training, I started, just for fun, playing with a band at school - British and American music that was popular in the 60's - what was called 'Beat Music' - Rolling Stones, Beatles and that kind of stuff. That was just for one year. But there I found a good friend, Hartmut Enke, who later played bass in Ash Ra Tempel. We wanted to continue and we wanted to dive deeper into music, so we started to create our own music. We played blues and we tried to improvise. That was basically what we continued to do with Thomas Kessler. There was this place in Berlin, a studio and rehearsal room for TANGERINE DREAM and AGITATION FREE. We all met there. Thomas Kessler guided the studio. These were not real lessons - he was always there, listening in. He was a composer himself. He made very abstract mathematical music that I didn't understand very much. But he gave us some very good advice about how to play in a band, and how to improvise, how to create very rough forms of music, how to develop an idea, and how to play together. In a band, everybody has to listen to the people, what they are playing, to catch on to somebody else's theme. It was nice training.

Q: What upsets me today about learning is that professionals are neglecting to teach others who are interested in learning. People who have the knowledge refuse to take in students and teach them in the same way that Kessler did, or Stockhausen. There's nothing that you can do about it. I've spoken to people who've said that they would never think about teaching.

MG: Was this for you?

Q: No, this was a theoretical question that I had for an American composer named Jim O'Rourke. I don't know if you're familiar with his work, but he's a very talented man who knows his way around tape machines and so on. He has the ability to teach people a lot, but he would never consider it. Perhaps it's because he's too modest.

MG: Oh, yeah [laughing]. I am currently teaching a nice young student. I am giving him guitar lessons, private lessons. It takes time because you have to prepare for it. You have to educate in a certain way, to go step by step. Of course, it takes time.

Q: Oh, that question wasn't in reference to you, it was referring to Kessler.

MG: Yeah, but Kessler was working on his own music in the studio. He had tape machines and he was composing his own stuff. Basically he left us alone for most of the time. If we had a question, we could always go to him and ask him. He would tell us "try this, try that."

Q: The band that you practiced in the studio with Kessler, was this the STEEPLE CHASE BLUES BAND?

MG: Yes. And in that studio, because Tangerine Dream and Agitation Free were there, I met all these musicians. So I knew Klaus Schulze from before. Klaus Schulze left Tangerine Dream, after their first record, Electronic Meditation, and wanted to form a new band. He asked us and we formed Ash Ra Tempel.

Q: How did the music local scene in Berlin affect ASH RA TEMPEL? Were there a lot of people making experimental music or were there a lot of people playing commercial music? Did you want to try something different?

MG: Actually, there was no scene at all. There were older musicians, who were in the jazz scene, and there were younger people who were trying to imitate American and British rock bands. What was missing was a typical popular German music. Well, of course, there were popular German songs sung in the German language. But there was no progressive music or an equivalent. We were all influenced by British and American music, of course, and there was a real big demand to create something original on your own. The first bands that I remember were Amon Düül and Can, in the late 60s, and later Tangerine Dream, who were completely in the other direction. They played very long sessions with no structures.

Q: Bands like ASH RA TEMPEL, and Amon Düül used titled their songs in German, while other bands, like Can, titled their songs in English. Can also sang in English.

MG: It was always a big problem because if you sang in English, then it would be easier for people to understand in France or Italy. German is not so popular. If you write on German lyrics, then you only have the opportunity to sell it to German people.

Q: So it was a marketing thing?

MG: Yes. This was another reason why we tried to avoid lyrics. We just made music. Music is a language, it is an international language.

Q: I definitely agree with you.

MG: Well, if you have something to say, you can sing. I did it a few times, but it was never important. Sometimes, you're right, it is just a marketing thing. New Age of Earth was originally in German. Then I thought that I wanted to sell it in England and France, so I just translated it.

Q: Is there significance to the three words Ash-Ra-Tempel?

MG: Yes, and I could talk about it for hours. Basically these were three words - one in English - 'Ash' - Ra, the Egyptian sun god - and the German word Tempel. Actually, I just liked it because it was a very curious name. This was a relic from a time when we had a band at school and were always looking for catchy names, but we could never agree on a specific name. But then Klaus Schulze came and he proposed this name. I just had to laugh, because it was such a crazy name. We had one guarantee - that nobody else in the world will name his or her band ASH RA TEMPEL. Hartmut could explain it very well - the relation of Ash to the Egyptian god…

Q: Was the cover art for the first record based around the same concept?

MG: Yes. Bernhard Bendig was a good friend of ours at the time. He studied graphics. We asked him to make a cover. He also did the second cover, for Schwingungen, and he made some very nice posters for us, for concerts.

Q: Well, I got the impression that the cover art was appropriate for the music, and as the music changed, so did the artwork. I wouldn't see it to be appropriate if you used his artwork for Starring Rosi, for example.

MG: Yeah, it's completely different. We put a lot of effort into the first record. We wanted to make it very special, with an opening in the middle. It was very complicated to manufacture.

Q: What were your goals for the band, in the early days?

MG: To make music (laughs).

Q: So it was just to enjoy yourselves?

MG: We were all a little surprised about the success. Hartmut and I were still going to school when we recorded all of these albums. It was not our idea to become professional musicians. We just liked it and so we continued. For me, it came a little later, when I finished school and split from Hartmut. I was thinking about whether I should continue. I thought "Well, why not?" If you start very early and have a good basis, then why not?

Q: I read once that that Klaus Schulze saw the band as an excuse to "get stoned and make music." But I've got the impression that you feel that drugs did not play an important role in the making of your music, rather, as you once said, "the drug was the music."

MG: Drugs played a role at that time, not only in music. They were always around. It was a period…

Q: The hippie days...

MG: The hippie days... of course they played a role. In the early days, especially. Like I said, we were just surprised that we just made music that people liked. In the beginning, we just couldn't believe it. We actually discussed whether we should charge admission to our concerts [laughs] because we were just playing for fun. But, if you arrange a concert, you make posters and you rent a place, and you say "yes, we'll play at 8.00", then you have to play at 8.00, if you like it or not. In the beginning, our music was like - we play if we like it, but if we don't like it, then we won't come.

Q: I understand that your concerts were quite incredible. How were they different from your records?

MG: Not so different. The first record is a very good example. We tried to record as much of the album as possible in the way that we played our concerts. We made long titles. We recorded it in just three days, without overdubs. We just wanted to keep the atmosphere of the concert, as much as possible, on the record. I think that this was very good for the first album. Later, we went a different way because I wanted to introduce more structure, more formal ideas into a real studio production. Our concerts were also long sessions - we played two parts - each of which were one and a half-hours.

Q: You would play for that long without getting tired?

MG: Well.

Q: I could imagine that your fingers would hurt a bit, and that Klaus would be on the floor.

MG: [laughs] This was a kind of a battle between Klaus and I. I always liked it very much. He was a fantastic drummer. Unfortunately, he doesn't play anymore.

Q: I wanted to know about your relationship with Ohr records and Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser.

MG: The contact was through Klaus Schulze, who had released his first record with Tangerine Dream on Ohr, which was very good at that time. It was not easy to get a record contract. You have to understand that the record business here in the 60s was not as developed as it was in England or in America. For example, it was not permitted to have private management. So you had to do it all by yourself and you were very lucky if you found a company to work for you. The Ohr label was part of a big label that released 'Schlager' music, that wanted to release something new, something modern. We recorded our first six albums with Ohr.

Q: Was he a friend to you in any way?

MG: Yes, he became a good friend. We were quite often together and we made all of these sessions with the Cosmic Couriers. We knew each other quite well. For the first few years, the Ohr office was in Berlin. Then he moved to Köln.

Q: The chapters that I read about him in the Krautrock Sampler made him sound like the most horrible person.

MG: Well, in a way, he was horrible [laughs], but I had no real problems with him. I liked him. He had his really strange ideas, and he was really far ahead of his time. What actually happened was that he lost contact with the ground. He became very unpopular with all of the journalists and other people in the music business. They said "he's just crazy, forget about him." This made him a little angry, and then he reacted like a child and said "I'm better, I know it." So he always tried to top himself, and, in the end, nobody listened to him anymore. It was sad, but I had to leave the company because I had friends who said "Of course, I will write about your music and I will support you, but not if you are still affiliated with Ohr music." He was sending out promotional material everyday, letters and letters, and nobody wanted to read about it anymore, because it was just crazy. He said that we are bigger than the Beatles and that we play on Mars and that this is our century. For a while it was OK, if you can laugh about it or take it as a joke. But after a while, it was just too much. It was always a turbulent time. The other musicians didn't want to work with him anymore, and he didn't want to let them go.

Q: This was Klaus?

MG: Klaus and Tangerine Dream. There were lawsuits and everything. It didn't end very nicely.

Q: He had disappeared, I understand.

MG: He tried to keep it up. I stayed two years longer than Klaus and Tangerine Dream. They went to Virgin and to Island Records in England. The business mentality was not serious anymore.

Q: Musically, how do you feel about the Cosmic Couriers' recordings?

MG: These are sessions that we did in the studio. He organized it like a big party. We were in the studio for one week. People met from different groups, like Wallenstein, Witthüser, or Schulze. This was day or night, the tapes were running. People could play or not. Every note was recorded. Sometimes for hours nothing was recorded, and then somebody had an idea. We went in and out. For me, it was a learning experience. I got a good feeling from being in a studio. If you don't know anything about it, the first time you go, even if you are very shy, you have to give it your best. And if you work in a very relaxed atmosphere, you lose the distance and you learn a little bit about the technical things. I never thought negatively about these recordings because it was something different. It was a loose conglomeration of musicians who played notes.

Q: I wasn't sure about whether or not you knew that he would be releasing it.

MG: I knew it or, at least, I could have expected it (laughs). Of course, he offered me a little contract. I said "OK, I don't care, just do it." But Klaus, especially Klaus, was very upset because he never wanted it. I was not performing under Manuel Göttsching, I was performing under the name Ash Ra. This was not an Ash Ra record. I felt like I was a guest.

Q: So you don't have any problems with the music?

MG: No, it was just a curious edition. It will always be interesting for very special friends and lovers. I never thought that this will have a world-wide audience. I can also imagine that people wanted to know more about the music, how it came together. It may be interesting, informational. Of course, we had more control when we recorded Ash Ra - the music, the record covers. Another reason that Klaus became upset was that he was just beginning his solo career and he was probably uncertain about his solo career and he didn't want to be marketed in that way. I think that, today, he wouldn't care about it. He would just take it as it is. He wouldn't, for example, intervene if they re-released it, like Spalax has done.

Q: Well, Klaus told me that he disagreed with the records, that he didn't think that they were good. I though that you might have felt the same way. I find the music very interesting, very different.

MG: You have to understand that Klaus Müller is a kind of doorkeeper for Klaus Schulze. He has to check the questions for what Klaus would like or what he would not like. He just tells you very harshly. If you ever meet Klaus Schulze, you will realize that he is a very nice guy. He will explain it to you in very nice words.

Q: I didn't take offense to it. I'm not a professional, I'm still only learning. I can't consider myself to be a journalist because of my education.

MG: If you see yourself like that, it's OK. You have to be aware that, for Klaus Müller, you must be a professional. It's very difficult to get in touch with Klaus if you do not have a serious business.

Q: I get the impression that you were frustrated with a newfound interest in your music. Was this because of the generalization of your music with the "Krautrock" movement.

MG: Yes, this was a period that was was long ago. I have moved on to something new. There were so many names Ash Ra Tempel had been traded with - electronic music, "Kosmische Musik", new age music, synth-pop. It is just a marketing strategy. What keeps me a little bit against this development was that there were some good times and some good music, but there were many things that were not so attractive. I thought that this period was over and now it comes back again. I've had my experiences.

Q: Right, you've grown from that.

MG: I'm far away from that. I have my memories and no regrets. It's just part of my life, part of my career, part of my history. But it's nothing that I would do again. On the other hand, I understand that people are interested and that they want to know about it. They are just asking. They say "What was it, and what did you play?" They want to hear it and I have to compromise. When I play a concert, they can maybe hear it. Tangerine Dream and Schulze are still playing from time to time. I wouldn't go with Ashra on tour every week, or play concerts every week. It's not attractive for me. It doesn't interest me.

Q: Because you have experienced it, people are going to ask you questions. You are easier to tract down that many other musicians, because you are still making music. I got in touch with you through Spalax. They were very helpful.

MG: It's quite dangerous if I go to far back into that life again. It's just a kind of fashion that is, for a while, popular again. Two or three years later, I don't know, there will be a punk-rock revival.

Q: It comes and goes, but there are still people who care about the music. There are fashionable music fans.

MG: I don't want to spend too much time with this because I need to spend my time to further develop what I do now. Of course, I can understand.

Q: Now you just released a record two months ago, on Klaus Muller's label. Will there be American distribution for that?

MG: No, it is just a small label here in Berlin. It will went out to some distribution labels in Europe. The CD is a live recording. The tracks are from the live program that we played in Japan last year, from an open-air festival that we played in Germany, and from the last concert that we played in Holland.

Q: Have you been writing material for a new studio record?

MG: Yes, that's what I've been working on. Last year we started playing with a fourth member, a young musician - he's 26 or 27. He's playing all of the parts that I used to play before - the sequencers, machines and sounds - so that I can concentrate more on guitar and keyboard playing. For our show last year, we played new versions of old songs. We played Echo Waves, for example, and compositions from The Private Tapes. It was a success, and I want to continue with it. But first, we have to work on new ideas, new things. It's a little bit difficult because the rest of the band doesn't live in Berlin, they live near Köln.

Q: Oh, the other side of the Germany. That's a problem.

MG: Yes, we have to keep in contact. We send tapes. The Japan tour was very funny, it was a very good experiment because I hadn't played with Harald Grosskopf and Lutz Ulbrich for five years. Then we introduced a new member, so it was an adventure for us to go to Japan and play.

Q: But it worked out well?

MG: It was beautiful. I just gave Steve some basic themes of these titles and then he made samples of them, and some variations.

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