I always thought of Manuel Göttsching, who records under his own name and more famously as Ashra and Ash Ra Tempel, as the most soulful of the Berlin Trinity: Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel.
His compositions had a warmth the others lacked and his guitar leads flitted between dangerous micro-second precision on Inventions for Electric Guitar and sensual psychedelic trips into ecstacy on New Age of Earth and Blackouts.
When you wait more than three decades before you get a chance to see an artist, expectations can be high. That was the case for the three-quarter full house that sat in the pews of St. Mary’s Church in Philadelphia, ready to genuflect before the 55-year old musician. Produced by The Gatherings, this was only Göttsching’s second US performance ever. His first was the night before in a rain-drenched outdoor event at the Lincoln Center in New York
Göttsching opened with a 45 minute opus called “Die Mulde.” Originally composed for an art installation called 34 Mirrors R.S.V.P. by Mercedes Engelhardt, Göttsching projected a video of the original event where he was playing in a field with large mirrors, performing the same score he was now playing live in the church. With a film crew at St. Mary’s to capture the concert, Göttsching was being filmed in the church, playing in front of an 11-year old video of him playing at the original event . Given the mirror theme of the video, it seemed appropriate but also part of the consensual illusion the audience agreed upon, accepting that Manual Göttsching was playing live, when in fact, this was a Music Minus One performance with virtually everything coming off the computer. It was a prerecorded event of a pre-recorded event ready to be recorded once again.
Most of the music came off of Göttsching’s laptop, while he occassionally played some repetitive arpeggios or long chords on the synthesizer. He even soloed slightly. But rhythms, percussion, sequencer patterns and synth pads were all completely pre-recorded. Only when Göttsching strapped on his Gibson SG did the music come to some kind of life that was in the moment. Göttsching is a deft guitarist with a light touch on the strings and expressive use of pitch bends and delays. Hearing him play guitar live made me wish he’d just shut down the computer and wail. His concluding guitar solo to “Die Mulde” and his gentle riffing on “Midnight on Mars” revealed the possibilities of a truly live Manuel Göttsching concert.
I must admit that the last piece sucked me in with its cycling sequencer groove and Göttsching’s matching, understated arpeggiated guitar lead that seemed to chase its own tail in a hypnotic spiral. But I’ve heard this same effect done live with Steve Reich‘s “Music for 18 Musicians” and Terry Riley‘s tape loops, all performed in real time without pre-recorded sounds. And Göttsching himself has done it with the live version of E2-E4 performed with the Zeitkratzer Ensemble. And for all that, while E2-E4 is lauded as some kind of seminal dance record, it is under-rated as a masterpiece of minimalist composition and cyclical design.
Manual Göttsching has made important music that still sounds fresh every time I hear it. The process works on a recording, but a live performance is a different beast. Nevertheless, most of the audience seemed thrilled at the opportunity to hear a carbon copy that was often like an actor playing his role live while the other characters were on film. Actually, that’s an interesting concept. Someone must have done that already.
John Diliberto ((( echoes )))