Manuel Göttsching “E2-E4” (Electronica/Synth) 1984 [Music/Review]

9/10

Year: 1984
Genre: Synth/Electronica
Album Versions: Discogs

Information/Background

The British press calls him The Göttfater (Godfather) of Techno. With the album E2–E4, Göttsching created music that influenced the development of electronic music (almost) as much as Kraftwerk.

When Manuel Göttsching released the album E2–E4 in 1984, but he received criticism at home in Germany for not understanding the path taken by electronic music. Several years later, reviewers apologized. It was they themselves who did not understand what a groundbreaking album Göttsching had created. Today, the album is considered almost as important for the development of techno as Kraftwerk’s legendary album from the seventies and eighties. Jeff Mills, for example, refused to remix E2-E4 “because it was already perfect”.

Originally, Manuel Göttsching just wanted to improvise some music he could listen to when he flew to Hamburg to visit a friend. But everyone he played music for said one thing: “you have to release this”. After a few years, the record came out – and today it has been declared a cult.

E2-E4 was released in 1984, by German musician and Ash Ra Tempel founder Manuel Göttsching. The album consists of one minimalistic, hour-long electronic track that Göttsching recorded in one take using a sequencer, with improvised keyboards, metallic percussion, and guitar playing.

The album is named after the most popular opening chess move 1. e2-e4 (which is expressed in long algebraic notation). A noteworthy pun on E2-E4 exists—when expressed in standard scientific pitch notation, the harmonic range of a guitar’s strings extends from E2 (82.407 Hz) to E4(329.63 Hz).

Pitchfork and The Guardian named the album one of the best of the 1980s for its important role in the development of house and techno music of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Though inspired in part by New York’s Latin club rhythms in addition to minimalists like Steve Reich, Göttsching was surprised when he learned that people danced to the track.

The song became a hit at New York’s Paradise Garage dance club. Sueño Latino sampled E2-E4 on its 1989 song “Sueño Latino.” The album also would be an early influence on ambient techno works by Carl Craig, the Black Dog, and The Orb. In 1994, Craig released a remix named “Remake” under his alias of Paperclip People. Basic Channel released a “Basic Reshape” remix of “Remake”, which would be included on their compilation album BCD under the name of “e2e4 Basic Reshape.”

The Pitchfork Article

Earlier published in 2016 on Pitchfork

Some classic albums have origin stories that threaten to eclipse the music itself. My Bloody Valentine almost bankrupted Creation over Loveless. Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska was just a cassette demo that he carried around in his pocket before deciding to release it. Brian Wilson’s inability to finish SMiLE caused him a mental breakdown. Add to these E2-E4, the marvelous extended electronic work by Manuel Göttsching, former leader of the key krautrock band Ash Ra Tempel.

After the dissolution of Ash Ra Tempel in the mid-’70s, Göttsching began working solo as Ashra, moving away from his earlier band’s wooly psychedelic rock and toward structures based on ambiance and his interest in Terry Riley-style minimalism. Both the trance-inducing repetition of 1975’s Inventions for Electric Guitar and the softer drones of 1976’s New Age of Earth showed his mastery of these forms, and he would build on them. In December 1981, having just returned from a tour with his friend Klaus Schulze, Göttsching was alone in his home studio and decided to create an improvised piece as an exercise, and also to give himself a tape to listen to on an upcoming trip. Moving between his battery of synthesizers and sequencing devices, he settled on a gentle two-chord vamp on his Prophet 10, to which he added an array of pinging electronic percussion and simple melodic figures. And over the second half of the piece, he laid down an extended guitar solo. Cut live without overdubs in a single hour, E2-E4 became, upon its eventual release in 1984, an electronic music landmark.

E2-E4 has an elusive appeal, one that is mysterious even to its maker. In 1981 and ’82, Göttsching was partway through planning a new solo album—it was quite complicated, with different sections and laborious themes. He wasn’t sure what to do with this new music, which came so easily. By 1981, Göttsching had made many pieces at home on his own for many purposes, but this one was lightning in a bottle. Like the longjumper Bob Beamon—whose one perfect jump at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics set a world record that he never came close to reaching before or since—Göttsching puzzled over his flawless moment. He listened to his creation over and over, trying to figure out why it worked so well, looking for some reason it wasn’t as good as it seemed. But he was at a loss. There were no mistakes, no incomplete ideas. It wasn’t too loud or too soft or too derivative. For one magic hour, the perfectly realized music floats in space, inviting listeners to admire it from the outside and then dance within it.

There are two things to hear in E2-E4: what the music is, and what the ideas within it would become. It’s sublime as a present-moment listening experience, with beautiful textures and a glorious symmetry. E2-E4 is like one long pop song stretched over 60 minutes, which is to say it’s sort of like its own DJ set. It plays with pop structures, but on a much larger canvas—a change that might last for a few bars in a pop single might last, here, for four minutes. At the 23-minute mark, there’s a several-minutes-long section where Göttsching starts flanging the tones and it feels something like dub; it’s kind of like a bridge. At the 3:35 mark, a pinging melody first enters, and that feels like a verse. As with many pop songs, there is an instrumental break, and in this case, it’s a guitar solo that lasts for a full album side. Göttsching vibrates with his riff in harmony, winding out fluid lines in the middle register that function as a rhythmic counterpoint and shifting melody simultaneously.

The Japanese CD version

If three chords form the skeleton of punk, then two chords are the soul of techno, the minimum the music can move and still be changing. Göttsching’s guitar solo is reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, with its clean but expressive tone that mixes a touch of jazz and blues with a more free-floating pointillist psychedelia. And Göttsching’s guitar work highlights one of E2-E4’s most appealing qualities: that the music sits precisely at the point where the human meets the machine. The great bulk of the music is synthesized and sequenced, a Rube Goldberg-like device that winds through pre-programmed sections, but when his guitar enters, we hear the touch of a musician brought up playing classical music on nylon strings. The human hand and the circuits also switch roles, though. If the warm tone of the machines can feel almost human, like an invitation—a friendly and welcoming sound perfect for the communion of the dancefloor—Göttsching’s tightly controlled guitar work sometimes has a mechanical quality, existing in clear relation to the sequencer’s grid.

So that’s the music as it plays. But for those interested in the larger sweep of history, it’s impossible not to listen and hear how ahead of its time this record was. Simply put, E2-E4 sounds a great deal like techno would when it emerged roughly a decade later, and it came from someone with no interest in dance music. As he was contemplating releasing E2-E4, Göttsching visited Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Records, his then-current label, on Branson’s houseboat in order to play him the tape. In a beautifully told story from the liner notes of this reissue, Göttsching says that Branson was rocking his baby in his arms as the tape played, an apt image given the gentle undulations of the chords. “Manuel, you could make a fortune with this music,” Göttsching quotes Branson as saying, and indeed, a fortune would be made from the ideas found on E2-E4. But Göttsching wouldn’t be the one to collect it. Göttsching eventually issued E2-E4 in 1984 on Klaus Schulze’s label, and it didn’t sell well, moving only a few thousand copies. But a handful of those wound up in the right hands.

E2-E4 is also the story of formats. When Göttsching first contemplated releasing it, he realized that its 58-minute length presented difficulties. It was conceived as a single flowing piece, but an hour was generally considered too long even for a single LP, if one wants it to sound good. A skilled disc cutter was able to get a 30+ minute side down in 1984, and thanks to the record’s popularity in clubs, it still feels like a vinyl artifact. Which is one reason this exceptionally well-done reissue is so welcome. Great care was taken in getting the cut right. The 31-minute side, though at a relatively low volume, is clean and clear, even in the inner grooves. One could argue that a seamless digital version of the piece is the “real” version, but if vinyl was good enough for Larry Levan—who, unbeknownst to Göttsching, made the record a regular part of his sets for a time at the Paradise Garage—it’s good enough for me.

The music’s reputation in dance music circles reached a peak when three Italo producers approached him about re-working the tune for a dance music 12” in 1989. That record, released under the name “Sueño Latino,” turned out to be an international hit, and a 1992 remix from Detroit producer Derrick May brought the music full circle. Which gets back to one of E2-E4’s essential qualities: cut in a single hour, it wound its way across the world, morphing and changing with formats and remixes, finding new contexts, a music that is constantly in the process of becoming.

Manuel Göttsching

Manuel Göttsching was born on the 9th of September 1952 in Berlin, Germany. As the leader of the groups Ash Ra Tempel and Ashra in the 1970s and 80s, as well as a solo artist, he is one of the most influential guitarists of the Krautrock (also known as Kosmische Musik) genre. He also participated in the Cosmic Jokers sessions. His style and technique influenced dozens of artists in the post-Eno ambient and Berlin School of electronic music scenes in the 1980s and 1990s.

Early Life

As a child, Göttsching was exposed to the music of Verdi and Puccini by his mother, who was a fan of opera. He also listened to radio stations run by American and British allied forces. Too young for early rock and roll, it wasn’t until the 1960s that Göttsching found the music that really inspired him such as Motown music from the United States, as well the Rolling Stones and British blues bands. Originally a classical guitarist, the music he heard inspired him to switch to the electric guitar.

In school, Göttsching played with a cover band. “We played some Rolling Stones, we played some Beatles, we played some Who, some what was the popular music and that was just for fun,” he recalls. However upon hearing Blue Cheer’s proto-metal cover of “Summertime Blues” and learning about the free jazz movement inspired Göttsching and his bandmates to pursue a freer, more improvisatory approach to music.

Ash Ra Tempel

As Göttsching and his bandmates moved from song-based music to free improvisation, Ash Ra Tempel was born in 1970. “We didn’t play blues,” Göttsching recalls. “We used some elements of it but tried to keep the freestyle of improvisation and using some blues themes.” Along with Göttsching, the group included Klaus Schulze (who had just left Tangerine Dream) and Hartmut Enke. Just after Ash Ra Tempel released its self-titled debut album in 1971, Schulze left to pursue what became a successful solo career.

In 2000, Göttsching and Klaus Schulze released a studio album and a live album as Ash Ra Tempel. The live album was recorded as part of the Cornucopea concerts curated by Julian Cope at the Royal Festival Hall in London.

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