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An interview with Manuel Göttsching (2002)

"It's only rock'n'roll, but I like it"

The following interview was conducted by members of the Kosmische Musik Group with Manuel Göttsching via email from 8 July 2002 to 9 October 2002:

Stevo Wolfson (USA): Reflect on your experience of the "Cosmic Jokers Sessions"

MG: I always had a positive feeling towards those sessions. It was a nice and harmless get together, like parties with a couple of musician-friends during full moon (as Kaiser always had chosen full moon time for them). Besides we young musicians had the unique chance to play around in a professional and state-of-the-art sound studio for some days and nights, without the pressure and stress feelings you are usually faced in an average commercial production. The multitrack tapes were running night and day to preserve every possible cosmic intuition, and I suppose there must have been a hell of "cosmic silence" recorded in between - for whatever purpose. It was just fun.

Stevo Wolfson (USA): Does your music develop from a concept or spontaneously?

MG: My music can develop according to a concept or just spontaneously, it always depends. Some of my pieces are very straight compositions (sometimes even with scores) like Sunrain, it took about four weeks to complete. Some are developed in a certain mood like Oasis, which also is a straight composition but finished in one day. And some came out of the blue like E2-E4, where I only prepared the technical set-up, and then I played and recorded the piece in a kind of "live" situation for one hour and that was it! No additional overdubs, no further editing. I only had to cut the piece in two parts for the initial vinyl release (no CDs yet at those times...).

Bill Frederick (USA): How did your collaboration with Timothy Leary come about, and with the hindsight of 30 years, do you feel his influence and your motive was positive?

MG: In fact, after the release of our second album we wanted to work on something together with Allen Ginsberg, but he was somehow disappeared at those times and nobody knew where he was. So we could not get hold of him. Then, Rolf Ulrich Kaiser (our producer and label owner) told us that Timothy Leary was staying in Switzerland at the time working on his new book release and on the theory of the "Seven Levels of Consciousness". Hartmut was fascinated of the idea to work with him, but I only asked "who is Timothy Leary?"

Finally we decided to get in contact and to discuss the possibilities of a collaboration. Hartmut took our album Schwingungen and went to see him. When he came back from Switzerland everything was settled. We formed a special new line-up for the band including two additional singers and electric organ player. After three months rehearsals in Berlin we all went to Berne/Switzerland to meet Tim for the recordings, who finally liked the music and ideas we had so much that he even started to sing during the recording sessions. We later called the album Seven Up, not only for the seven levels but there was a bottle of Seven Up lemonade in the studio, which was obviously spiked with acid. (By the way, Switzerland is the home of LSD, it was a certain Albert Hoffmann, working for Sandoz Chemical Industries, who invented the stuff. Maybe someone remembers the title of the legendary band Amon Düül "In the garden of Sandoz")

Bill Frederick (USA): With the birth of digital equipment came the demise (or certainly downplay) of analog equipment. Are there still intrinsic positive elements to analogs or are they historical footnotes?

MG: Regarding the sound I share the opinion of many musicians that analog equipment just gives more warmth to the sound than digital equipment. I remember when I first listened to a digital recording of a classical orchestra, it was a presentation back in 1980/81 at the Frankfurt music fair. I was with Klaus (Schulze), and afterwards we both shook our heads, looked at each other and agreed: Very strange sound indeed! But the choice is simply what suits the music more you want to do, which sound do you want, what instrument is appropriate to achieve it. As a user, I tend to prefer the old analog equipment, I just find it more convenient to play with all these knobs and switches.

Bill Frederick (USA): Who are your musical influences both in growing up and today?

MG: When I was a child I loved Elvis and Conny Francis, but as my mother was and still is a radio addict I was also influenced by Verdi operas and the music of Schubert and Schumann. Beginning of the sixties I listened a lot to American Soul music, the early Temptations, The Four Tops, Supremes, all the Phil Spector productions. When I began my classical guitar training I liked to play the short pieces and etudes by Carcassi, Carulli, Sor, and Küffner.

When I formed the first band at school with Hartmut Enke it was the time of the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Small Faces, and The Who. Later in developing our own style we became interested in Blues related music, I listened a lot to Fleetwood Mac and Free (Peter Green played a beautiful guitar and Paul Kossoff of Free was a fantastic moderate player ), John Mayall's Bluesbreakers with Mick Taylor on guitar, and of course Cream and the one and only Jimi Hendrix. They all influenced me more than, what probably most people would think of, Pink Floyd. I was never a big fan of Pink Floyd, although I liked the atmosphere of their first recordings, especially More and parts of Ummagumma.

Of the German bands of that time my favourites have always been Can, later Kraftwerk as well as Popol Vuh (Florian Fricke) and Cluster. I remember that I found some of the early Tangerine Dream concerts very interesting, but I lost that interest in the seventies when they became more and more a pure electronic band. It is difficult to say something about Klaus Schulze and his music, his influence is maybe better to compare with Hartmut Enke as a partner and friend over so many years.

At the time I produced Inventions for Electric Guitar (1974) I became aware of the so called minimal music, and I began to listen to composers like Steve Reich, Phil Glass and Terry Riley, which is still of an influence today. And I liked the works of Brian Eno. Beginning of the eighties I listened a lot to Rap, Scratch, Dub, Reggae and all sort of electronic influenced experiments, but end of the eighties I returned to my classical guitar and played Scarlatti and Eric Satie transcriptions and some rather unknown Spanish composers, which I will possibly record one day for a release.

Bill Frederick (USA): What do you think of the current trend in electronica to be "techno" oriented with an insistent metronomic beat?

MG: Trends come and go, but essential changes in music happen gradually over decades. The phenomena of the "metronomic beat" is very old, it started possibly already with German composer Kurt Weill, who created a very mechanical music, reflecting the industrial progress and the faith in (or the fear of) technical perfection. And I remember the James Brown Band in the sixties who were famous for playing like a rhythm machine (Somebody once wrote about ASH RA TEMPEL that we would sound like the James Brown Band on acid! Thank you, very nice).

The trend to play as precise as a metronome continued in the seventies especially in Funk and Disco music, whereas at the same time the use of electronic instruments grew rapidly. Although drum machines were widely known in the fifties, they played only a minor role in contemporary music, nobody would have the idea to record it, it was thought of just a replacement for a one-man band or entertainer playing in bars or restaurants. But more and more these machines became standard equipment in every recording studio, together with the sequencer/synthesizer, Midi equipment, and later Computer etc., and today only a few musicians can imagine to work without it all. I remember that in the beginning of the seventies the English unions were complaining that electronic instruments would kill musician's jobs. No, I don't think they were right, all these tools can be beneficial for your creativity, but to be honest I often favour the human "ritardando" and "accelerando".

Bill Frederick (USA): Why don't EM (electronic music) concerts draw more attendance?

MG: Electronic music is no better or worse than any other style or genre of music, and that also means that a good percentage of it is more or less boring, maybe a nice sound here, a pretty sequencer line there, but all in all rather undemanding. Nevertheless it requires a greater amount of equipment, more costs for transport, a bigger stage, and for the audience you need an appropriate place, preferably seated with a calm atmosphere to listen to and enjoy the music. So if you are not a very successful EM artist you cannot easily perform in a club or any place, like musicians do in blues, rock, jazz or folk music. Therefore, most electronic music events must be financially supported by either a private sponsor or any cultural funds, a radio-station, a music magazine, or how it worked for ten years with the legendary KLEMdag, when the numerous members of the Dutch KLEM were celebrating their annual meeting.

And - of course - watching some brave boys in the dark seriously fiddling around with some knobs and switches isn't that catchy as a Janet Jackson concert, is it?

Bill Frederick (USA): What do you think of the Rolling Stones still rocking at nearly 60 years of age, and how long do you want to perform to live audiences?

MG: I have always been a fan of The Rolling Stones and their music (Beatles were second). I love the Glimmer Twins Jagger/Richards, they are just an everlasting couple, looking like their own Muppet-show edition. And, I fairly believe that Keith Richards is a genuine guitar player. Me, I'm not such an ambitious performer, but I love to play and surely will do as long as I can hold my guitar.

Bill Frederick (USA): What is your take on RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and online trading/piracy of music?

MG: Piracy is not a new problem arising with the Internet. This is only a new tool, which will become more important in the future for the artist to publish and for the consumer to listen to music. One day the old CD player/recorder, tape machines etc. for consumer will all vanish from the market, because they will be monsters from the past and too expensive to manufacture. You probably then just dial your Internet access number, choose a title you want to listen to and your account will be debited with a minimal fee - like the way you pay your horrible telephone bills today. Maybe you can keep that music in a memory chip for a certain time but then it will destroy itself (or you will do it because you run out of capacity). Nobody will take the effort to copy something, if it costs only a fraction of a cent to call it back again. Big Brother is watching you, if you like it or not. We as the artists only have to make sure that it's not Big Brother who gets the bigger share!

John Wilby (UK): I was very attracted to the album Ash Ra Tempel when I saw it in the shop, and decided to buy it because of the brilliant cover design. I had no idea what it would sound like, but with mysterious Egyptian heads on the outside, a sleeve that folded out from the middle, and the famous (to hippies at least!) poem of Allen Ginsberg, "Howl" as the sleeve notes, I thought it had to be good. How much planning by the group was there in this design?

MG: The graphic designer Bernd Bendig was a close friend of us at the time when ASH RA TEMPEL was founded. When you are forming a band you always have a group of people around you, friends who support you in one or another way. Some are acting as roadies or just giving a helpful hand in sticking posters on the wall, some are only telling everybody how sensational you are, but also telling you their opinion when the concert was really bad.

Bernd Bendig was with us at the early rehearsals, the concerts, he created the painting of the band's name on the front of Klaus Schulze's bass drum, he designed a concert poster for us and so it was just natural to entrust him with the cover of our first album. He also made the cover for the second album Schwingungen and even came for a visit to Switzerland in summer '72 when we were producing with Tim Leary the Seven Up album, although Bernd was not involved with that anymore. Since then I lost contact with him, some years ago somebody told me of a friend of a friend of a friend who knows that he lives in the USA... well. But thank you, I will surely pass your compliment to him when I have a chance to meet him again.

John Wilby (UK): I was not disappointed when I got the album home and played it. I was familiar, round about that time, with the works of Tangerine Dream, Mike Oldfield, and Gong. There were some fantastic albums released in the early '70s. How do you relate your first album with the other works that were coming out around that time? Were you aware of other things that were going on at that time, or were you concentrating on your own music?

MG: I have written about my earlier influences before, all of which have certainly determined my own way to play and to compose. Curiously or naturally I was always more attracted by different musical forms and styles, and less interested in music that was similar to mine. Of course I listened a lot to my "colleagues" - not only from the Berlin school, which was a very lively music scene in Berlin at the time - but it was more in a kind of social behaviour to know what's going on in their minds, their latest ideas, sometimes just for practical reasons to borrow an amp or to see how the new echo-unit works. I have always seen music as a language, and to communicate is essential to find your individual style.

John Wilby (UK): Me and some friends listened to this album under the influence of LSD and we thought it was very good indeed (to put it mildly!!!). I wouldn't take acid today, to try and improve my experience of an album, but how relevant and how important do you think acid was at the time? What impact do you think it had on what you were doing and on the experiences of your listeners?

MG: Seven Up production, and it was interesting to talk with him being known as the impersonated LSD guru, but later I felt little necessity of going back to it. I liked the way Leary described the functionality of drugs: You have to see it as a matter of transport. If want to move from A to B it's only your choice if you walk, ride on a bike, take the car, the train, or you can fly - there are many ways. But you must use your common senses to find out every time about the appropriate one. And in fact, Seven Up is not an album about LSD, although it might help to understand it, but it explains the various levels your consciousness is moving in and out, all your life.

Drugs of any kind have always been good and bad friends for the majority of artists at all times, and of course I had my experiences which certainly had an influence in my music. But somehow this always remained a kind of side effect, as I found it sometimes more restrictive than helpful. To close it with a simple word: Music is the drug.

John Wilby (UK): On Amboss the playing of all the band members is excellent, but particularly special for me is Hartmut Enke's bass playing. He also carried this forward on Freak'n'Roll on Join Inn. How he could play so fast and so melodic at the same time is beyond me. I hope you will pass on my best wishes when you see him next. What do you have to say about Hartmut's contribution to ASH RA TEMPEL?

MG: I will pass your best wishes to Hartmut Enke. Thanks.

I always found that Hartmut was a very sensitive player. He was impressed by musicians like Jack Bruce, who turned the role of the bass player from the traditional accompanist into the function of a soloist. Hartmut was the driving force to try out new sounds and different ways for his bass playing. He was always joking that he has got only four strings which makes it a lot more difficult to invent something new than with six strings. Actually he always wanted to play guitar as well and in fact he did on some parts of the second album Schwingungen, a beautiful solo on the first track.

Hartmut and me were class mates and friends from the beginning. We were the same age, we formed our first group The Bomb Proofs at the age of 14, which was a cover band. Then we had two more bands playing Blues, Improvisation and experimental stuff before we founded ASH RA TEMPEL.

What to say about his contribution? We were friends and partners in all these years until he decided to quit during a concert in 1973... It was our common work to form all the groups, to develop our ideas and styles, we spent endless nights in discussing the sense of music and the sense of life at all, and I dare to doubt if I had ever become a musician without him.

John Wilby (UK): I saw ASH RA TEMPEL at the Roundhouse in London in 1975 (I think it was, supporting Magma). You blew my mind by walking onto the stage with candles in holders as your lightshow. This was so effective and so right for your music. Your music is very simple and very effective. What do you have to say about simplicity/effectiveness? What is your viewpoint on this question? My other question about this occasion is "Who was the other guitarist at this gig?"

MG: I remember the Roundhouse concert very well. It was our first small tour in England with very little money, just Lutz Ulbrich and me. When we arrived for the first concert in Guildford there were some people at the backstage entrance welcoming us and asking: "Where's the truck?" (to unload the equipment). They were quite impressed when we shrugged our shoulders and said: "Sorry, there is no truck!" All our equipment was packed in our VW beetle, two keyboards, two guitars, a Revox A77 for the echoes, a mini mixer, and of course the legendary candle-holders.

It was in a review from England about one of my earlier albums (I don't remember which one) when somebody wrote "simple but effective", and I liked the term a lot. To create something new out of very few ingredients is a challenge for me and in my opinion it can give more inspiration to people than excessive use of material. Of course you can produce a great show with tons of equipment, twenty five trucks and your own hair-dresser, but often people are disappointed because the expectations are equally high, and some will merely say: if I had all this...

The other guitar player in London as aforementioned was Lutz Ulbrich (LüüL). He was co-founder of the Berlin band Agitation Free (with Chris Franke - later Tangerine Dream). He joined ASH RA TEMPEL for a first concert in Paris, December 1974, and we are good friends and partners ever since. We played only as a duo in 1975, in 1977 I shortened the name to ASHRA and Harald Grosskopf joined the band on drums, now becoming a trio. Although being more familiar with the rhythm guitar, Lutz had been a fantastic counterpart to perform the compositions from the Inventions for Electric Guitar period and later the keyboard parts from New Age Of Earth.

John Wilby (UK): I had the fantastic privilege of being at the Royal Festival Hall on April 2nd 2000 and seeing Manuel and Klaus performing together for the first time in many years. It was great from the nostalgic point of view as well as the excellent performance. Manuel's beautiful Spanish/acoustic guitar performance was a highlight. It was also important to note the intensity of expression of Klaus' playing. Do you prefer the guitar or the synth? Does it matter to you which instrument you are playing? How does the choice of instrument affect the music you produce?

MG: My familiar instrument is of course the guitar: Electric as well as the Classical guitar and derivatives like Hawaiian or Synthi-guitar. I began with compositions for keyboards and synthesizer in 1975, the melodic and harmonic structures are different if you create them on a guitar or on a keyboard.

I like all the electronic machines especially for the composing and producing process, but the soloistic parts I tend to play with the guitar, sometimes with the keyboard and on rare occasions with a pure synthesizer (like the EMS Synthi A solo on the track Nightdust of New Age Of Earth).

In our first band I wanted to be the drummer, and I think I would try the violin one day. For my wife's film (she is film producer, author and film director) KARUSSELL on Berlin cabaret of the '20s I even played pianoforte... The only group of instruments where I don't seem to be talented at all are wind and brass instruments.

John Wilby (UK): What do you think is the place of musical virtuosity today? Is it possible to produce fantastic sounds from synthesizers and computers without necessarily being a musical genius. Also, being a technical wizard can be important. So what do you think is the essence of being a good musician today? Musical brilliance, technical expertise, or somewhere in the middle?

MG: The technical knowledge of your instrument is essential, if it's a flute, a guitar or a computer. It doesn't matter where you get it from. Jimi Hendrix never had any guitar lessons, as far as I know, but you can hear that he knew how to play. Whereas I can still rely on basic exercises I made in my first guitar lessons, and I'm happy that I have learned and understand musical terms, the relation between notes, what means well-tempered, what are non-European scales, why does a cello sounds like a cello. You can reach virtuosity on anything, but buying any Groovebox won't necessarily make a genius out of you within the next three weeks. It is your imagination and your fantasy combined with a profound knowledge.

John Wilby (UK): Are you trying to evoke particular emotions in the listener with your music or do you leave it to the listener to respond in any way they wish?

MG: This answer must be very short: I give to the listener something I want to say, and sometimes it is something that he/she wants to hear.

John Wilby (UK): Finally, I notice that many of your song titles are in French. Is there a particular reason for this?

MG: France was a good place in the 1970s. For many of the German groups it was their first step to become known internationally. The people were open-minded and they liked this new development in music from Germany. My manager was French, and I played many concerts in France. The USA was too far, in England was little money, and to France there was no need to take the ferry-boat...

The French influence in Germany is history. In the 18th century the upper class and the complete Prussian court spoke only French, and still today we have words with French origin. So I just found it natural to have some titles in French as well. But curiosities can happen: In 1994, when I wanted to release Le Berceau de Cristal on Spalax, the French label that re-released most of my old catalogue, I proposed to include a text in French, and make the credits in French as well. Surprisingly my former manager, now being the record label owner had objections that this would probably cut down chances on the international market. I couldn't believe it! The original recording for the title track was made during a concert in South of France, it is the music for a French film, the title is French, the record company is French, and he didn't want a release in French language? After all the friendly support I had received from there over the years I thought this might be understood as a little thank you, but it was more a piece of work to finally convince my French friend.

Anyway, I love languages, but my life is just too short to know them all. So I'll keep concentrating on the one which I call music.

Jim Tetlow (UK): After the early '73 jam sessions that became the Cosmic Jokers albums, how long was it before any of you actually found out about the releases? I've heard a story about you being surprised to hear one of the albums playing in a record shop - were you the first to find out, and how much time had gone by since the sessions were recorded? As well as not receiving royalties at the time, you must have been frustrated at not being able to have artistic input over your material. These days, how do you look back at the whole fiasco and the way you were treated by Kaiser and Ohr, the people who gave you your break as a recording artist and then exploited you? How much has legend obscured what really happened here? And finally... Klaus Schulze for example has disowned these recordings, presumably because he was unable to exercise artistic control on them (apart from the financial side) - how do you feel about your own connection with them?

MG: I don't know where you got your information from, it's probably one of KDM's myths about this story of the Cosmic Jokers Sessions. Of course I knew about the releases, of course I had contracts before, and I received royalties, even an advance. This all was very little money, but that should be no argument to spread around rumours like this. You can say many things about the producer Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser but I have no reason of saying him to have acted incorrectly so far.

Yes, there were strong discussions amongst the musicians and with the producer about the artistic value of these sessions. But as they were not meant to be ASH RA TEMPEL records nor Manuel Göttsching records, only me participating as one of The Cosmic Jokers, I never had any objections for a release, why should I? If you'll never try, some of the most exciting experiments would have never seen the light of the day. I was only wondering who the hell will ever listen to that and even buy these records. You must have a pretty good lack of self-confidence towards your artistic abilities, if you feel that some crazy nights in Studio Dierks would harm your further career.

Jim Tetlow (UK): Steve Schroyder is a comparatively shadowy figure in Krautrock, joining ASH RA TEMPEL for a while after having to leave Tangerine Dream, drifting into the scene and then out again, before emerging again much later. What are your memories of him? Was it purely substance abuse that caused his departure from both bands, or were there more personal reasons?

MG: You named it, Steve Schroeder was really a shadowy person, it seems until today. He was recently performing at Berlin's Love Parade, as I heard from Dr. Motte, I don't know if I should believe it.

I first saw him in a Tangerine Dream concert, beginning of '72, and I liked his playing sitting in front of his electric organ completely absorbed in his dreams. He was a nice guy, but when he was looking at you, you never knew where he was really looking at. At the time he was leaving Tangerine Dream (I don't know why, but I presume the characters of Edgar Froese and Steve were simply too contradictional), we were preparing the Tim Leary production and we wanted to invite some guests. We asked him to play for the recordings, and I believe, it was a good choice. After the production he vanished somehow and we never performed together. One year later I played some ASH RA TEMPEL concerts with a guitar player called Gene Gross, another dreamy figure, and these two, Gene and Steve then formed a duo and moved to South of Germany.

Jim Tetlow (UK): Krautrock and Kosmische Musik is shrouded in legend for us, 30 years later. Having not been there at the time - I was born a few months after "Inventions" was recorded - many of us tend to romanticize about the scene, something Klaus Müller has expressed concern about. To paraphrase Einstein, the sense of mystery can actually seem to make the music more beautiful! Have you yourself ever regarded in this way any music that you weren't around to experience properly at the time - rock and roll, for instance?

MG: I hope that my answers can wave away some of the romanticism and let a light shine on it. I'm not the type for nostalgia, at least not in music. I was always looking forward to experience the future, and still I am interested how the music will further develop in the 21st century. I decided that it is more important for me to make music than to listen to music - in other words, if I want to listen to music I prefer to make it myself. I therefore never had thoughts of living not in the right time, I live in my time, and that's just the right time for me.

On the other hand I love to read about the old Egyptians or the Romans, how they lived and loved, and when I am listening to music from the past, I try to imagine the cultural situation at the time, when there was no television, no radio, no telephone, no cars, no movies, not everybody owned a watch, life was different and so was the music. The scores that are left give only a rough idea of what this music actually meant to the people.

Jim Tetlow (UK): Ever since I bought Inventions for Electric Guitar I've wondered about your techniques for that album. I read somewhere that you used tape loops for the repeating motifs but I doubt this, as the riffs gradually change over time. To me they sound played - very exactingly played, but played nonetheless. Is this correct? For example, on the looping patterns on Pluralis you actually alter the notes as you see fit, as if you were using a sequencer. Did you use any tape loops at all, or is it really all played, note for note?

MG: Be reassured: On the Inventions for Electric Guitar note for note is played, there are no loops at all. I placed a big stop watch in front of me and recorded the basic riff on track 1 for about 20/25 min., which forced my girl friend to make a three week holiday in Greece, because I had to switch off the refrigerator in the kitchen, as the start and stop of the aggregate always produced unpredictable clicks on the tape. Then I added the other guitars on track 2, 3 and 4. I only used different tape speeds in some parts, and the mix was quite opulent: I used a 2" 16-track for having a quadraphonic echo for each of the four tracks. Simple but effective? I hope the final result sounds like it.

Stevo Wolfson (USA): What does the future hold for you musically/artistically? Do you have any goals you have yet to achieve?

... and finally: What do you, most want to communicate to your fans and express about yourself?

MG: I am still working with passion on the symphony that was supposed to be performed in St. Petersburg this year, which will hopefully happen next summer. I am preparing new ASHRA material and, strongly recommended by my wife, a new solo recording.

When I was a child I was pretty sure that it would be no problem to travel to the moon when I was grown-up. Then becoming a Cosmic Courier in music was not too bad. I love dreaming, it seems to be essential for me, therefore I'm very careful with dreams to come true. There might be one dream less to dream of anymore. Thus, with no deficiency in dreaming, I am working in my new studio during the nights, and during the day I care for my nice family. It's only rock'n'roll, but I like it.

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