Flash back to Germany of the early Seventies: when Ash Ra Tempel was born to forge a new pinnacle of progressive rock with psychedelic riffing, producing a monumentally transcendental sound without the use of electronics. The band is considered one of the greats of the Krautrock sound.
Back then, the band consisted of Manuel Göttsching on guitar, Helmut Enke on bass, and Klaus Schulze on drums. (Technically, Schulze only appeared on Ash Ra Tempel's first and fourth albums.) The band's first four releases were "Ash Ra Tempel", "Schwingungen", "Seven Up" (with Timothy Leary), and "Join Inn". These albums are still considered classics of raw sonic energy.
Meanwhile, Klaus Schulze put down his drumsticks and took up the synthesizer to commence his monstrously influential solo career.
In 1977, Manuel Göttsching reduced the band-name from Ash Ra Tempel to Ashra and continued releasing albums under this truncated name. Göttsching pioneered the use of multi-tracked electric guitar in conjunction with sequencing and loops on subsequent Ashra recordings. Old friend Lutz Ulbrich (from Agitation Free) joined Göttsching on these releases.
To understand the impact Göttschingand Schulze have had (and still do) on modern electronic music, one must realize that nearly every synthesizer band or performer bears a deep debt and lasting influence to the stylings of these two musicians. Their individual sounds, along with the early works of Tangerine Dream (remembering that Schulze was an original member of T-Dream with Edgar Froese and Conrad Schnitzler), are what define the "Berlin School" of electronics. While Schulze's later recordings have borne integral influences on much that has come afterwards.
In 1994, Göttsching and Schulze were reunited on Schulze's double CD release "In Blue".
ASH RA TEMPEL: Gin Rose (CD on Manikin Records)
Jump ahead to 1999, when Julian Cope (who authored the book "Krautrocksampler" about the German music of those bygone days) invited Göttsching to perform at his Cornucopea Festival in London. What Cope got was a surprise to many: the reunion of two-thirds of Ash Ra Tempel!
This CD documents that historic concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London, in April 2000. While this music bears no resemblance to the classic Ash Ra Tempel sound, it is a wholly new blending of Göttsching's and Schulze's mastery of the electronic medium. The music on this CD is one 69 minute-long journey into electronic brilliance.
Göttsching's "sound" often defies identification as even originating from a guitar. His style of processing notes and looping them through further treatments produces a crystalline quality that scrapes at the sky, reverberating beyond heavenly sounds. There are even clearly guitar notes going on in this live performance too, chords that ring true and add a humanity to the otherwise electronic soundscapes.
Schulze's synthesizers possess a unique quality, but his versatility expands this uniqueness into innumerable avenues of sound. From squealing pitches to densely layered passages of sequenced sound to vibrantly demonstrative keyboard riffs to complex E-perc rhythms...the man's output can be quite dizzying in the vastness of its scope. Yet it all still retains a keynote that is recognizable as "Schulze".
Together, the union of these sonic tapestries achieve a majesty sense that freezes the breath in the listener's lungs.
The music begins with languid openings, meticulously setting the mood with drifting tonalities and airy passages...before the atmospheric qualities adopt a dynamic cohesion. Once the intro-ambience slides into this more powerful luster, the music takes on a compelling nature, with surging sequences and relentless rhythms.
This energetic attitude continues to grow with intensity, layering more and more driving melodies, with delicate guitarwork evolving into passionate frenzies.
To an immense degree, this release realizes the wildest wishes of every electronic audiophile, manifesting an ultimate fusion of everything that embodies the greatness of Göttsching's and Schulze's music.
However, the result is not the raw power or the distinctive sound of the original Ash Ra Tempel. This live concert is a product of the styles each of the performers have refined over the last thirty years.
ASH RA TEMPEL: Friendship (CD on Manikin Records)
Long before they were invited to perform at the Cornucopea Festival, Manuel Göttsching and Klaus Schulze engaged in studio sessions (during the summer of 1998 and March of 2000) that produced this release.
This music is also not a return to the band's original sound of the early Seventies. In fact, the 79 minutes of superb music on this CD goes further into new territory. Where the live concert explored a union of Göttsching's and Schulze's established styles, meshing them beautifully, this studio music explores entirely new realms of such a union of their sonic expertise.
Possessing a forcefully rhythmic quality, this music foregoes the intro-ambience, diving right into peak terrain with soaring electronics and wailing guitar and exhortative E-perc.
Göttsching's guitar manifests with both electronic growl and acoustic charm, generating intertwining riffs that crackle and whisper with emotion. There is actually more outright guitar going on than Göttsching's normal mega-looped technique.
Schulze's electronics surge like sonic tidal waves, gripping with nimble keyboard arrangements and swooping riffs. The electronics seethe with a pulsating vigor, initiating ancillary rhythms that generate a constant state of evolving motion. Yet lurking among these robust torrents are also flute-like tones and dreamy orchestral textures that lend a floral quality to the dominance.
The presence of sinuous and varied synthesized percussives injects powerful tempos, sensual and engaging, urging the tuneage into rather enthralling stride. These rhythms demonstrate a constant tendency to liven already busy melodies to intricate structure.
The result of this ecstatic guitar and electronic grandeur creates a sound that ascends with dizzying effect, spiraling and swirling amid the E-perc complexity, achieving a remarkable sense of potent music. This potency flows like a hungry beast, capturing attention with a ruthless yet unthreatening fervor.
This studio release features three compositions, each one exhibiting definitive mastery and inventiveness, pushing the electronic envelope beyond even the phenomenal innovations characteristic to either Göttsching and Schulze.
ASHRA: Sauce Hollandaise (CD on Serie Poeme, marketed by Manikin Records)
For those interested in what Ashra had evolved to just prior to the brief Göttsching/Schulze reunion phase of the band, there is this 75 minute CD from 1998, which features a live concert in Nijmegen, Holland in October 1997.
Although Ashra continued to release material through the Seventies and Eighties, the band went into a reclusive form of retirement during most of the Nineties. With the release of "Ash Ra Tempel: The Private Tapes" (a limited edition 6 CD set on Manikin Records featuring live tracks, rarities, and some previously unreleased amazing jam sessions by the original Ash Ra Tempel) in 1996, Ashra reformed with a line-up of Göttsching, Ulbrich, Harold Grosskopf (whose drumming has graced several classic Schulze releases), and Steve Baltes.
Here, Göttsching's looping style of guitar rules, filling the music with ricocheting riffs of serpentine glory. With Ulbrich adding more guitar textures, this tuneage bristles with a transcendental quality, enhanced by Baltes' liquid keyboards, and driven into epic proportions by Grosskopf's incredible drums.
Intricate and awesome are truly understatements in connection to this release.
For more data on Ashra, check out their website.
For more data on Klaus Schulze, check out his website.
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