Essential albums: Ashra (Manuel Gottsching)

Alongside Tangerine Dream's classics of the same period, the early albums Inventions For Electric Guitar (1975), New Age Of Earth (1976) and Blackouts (1977) are essential slices of mid-70's German electronica.


country of origin:

Krautrock, Berlin-school ambient, ambient trance, psychedelia, prog rock

decades active:
70's - 10's

essential releases:

  • Inventions For Electric Guitar (1975, Spalax)
  • New Age Of Earth (1976, Virgin/Spalax)
  • Blackouts (1977, Spalax)
  • Correlations (1979, Spalax)
  • Belle Alliance (1980, Spalax)
  • The Private Tapes 6CD set (1996, Manikin)

Reviewed by Mike G

Ashra emerged from the remains of the legendary Ash Ra Tempel, the innovative and often raucous Krautrock band revolving around guitarist Manuel Gottsching and soon-to-be synth master Klaus Schulze. After Schulze - who had actually played drums with the band - left to continue his solo career Gottsching shortened the name and recorded a number of fine instrumental albums that range from spacey Berlin-school ambient to more rock-inflected sounds.

Alongside Tangerine Dream's classics of the same period, the early albums Inventions For Electric Guitar (1975)New Age Of Earth (1976) and Blackouts (1977)  are essential slices of mid-70's German electronica. New Age Of Earth is Ashra's most electronic-sounding album with its pulsing, rhythmic sequencer passages and nebulous synthetic textures. "Ocean Of Tenderness" is a magnificent evocation of innocent hippie bliss with soft euphoric keys and a perfectly pitched guitar solo that seems to float in the ether. Blackouts focuses more on on Gottsching's superb electric guitar playing in various processed guises, though still accompanied by lush layers of analogue synthesisers and bleepy sequenced rhythms.

With the return of a live backing band on drums and bass guitar Correlations (1979) and Belle Alliance (1980) appear to signal a return to the Ash Ra Tempel template of psy-rock instrumentals. But on closer examination the tracks are shorter, the melodies clear and ideas more concise than a typical Ash Ra Tempel jam. Tangerine Dream also flirted with a live rhythm section in the late 70's but in Ash Ra's case it sounds like a natural evolution rather than TD's rather clumsy attempt at rock cred. It's certainly impressive how the keyboard sounds and bubbling electronic throbs of the previous Ashra albums are integrated effortlessly into the new configuration. Again Gottsching's guitar writing, playing and multi-tracking is wide-ranging and at times exhilarating. Tempel fans will enjoy the occasional psy-rock freakout like "Pas De Trois" and "Screamer", while at the opposite end of the scale the nearly beatless "Code Blue" with its layered organs and keyboard motifs restates Ashra's mastery of pure Berlin-school ambient loveliness.

That ends Ash Ra's classic period. Since Belle Alliance new albums have been infrequent and generally mediocre, though for fans the massive 6-CD series The Private Tapes (1996) is an essential purchase. Here Gottsching has unearthed an extraordinary amount of previously unreleased material - some of it very good indeed - from all incarnations of his group spanning 1970 to end of the 80's.

On a closing note, electronic dance music historians will be interested to know that it was Gottsching who - under his own name - released the overlong but influential electro-minimalist experiment E2-E4 (1984). Its stark, clean, repetitive structures make it a remarkably prescient work and it's often been sampled and name-checked by house and techno dance producers.

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