Ashra – New Age of Earth
Choosing a focus for my introduction to the world of writing quickly became a quest just to find something I could write about that hadn’t already been used and exhausted numerous times over through out magazines and online articles.
However, someone very special to me recently enlightened me. Directing myself toward an album, or more importantly a song, that swiftly became both a joy and a misery to hear.
Ashra – a project created and fronted by Manuel Gottsching in 1976, progressing from the German Krautrock group Ash Ra Tempel. As Gottsching floated towards a calling for electronica and his previous music most notable for its psychedelic sound subsided – he managed to create an album that would shine through as a pinnacle and milestone for early electronica and audio production.
The initial song Sunrain will remain both a personal inspiration within my composition and production. As well as a constant niggle and realisation that even with the technology of today at my disposal I will never attain such a milestone in music. As my friend put it – “1976, let’s just quit now….”
EXTENDED REVIEW FROM JOHN HOWES
The first Manuel Göttsching album I came across was Invention For Electric Guitar, a phenomenal album released in 1975. The entire album is created through the manipulation and processing of a guitar, but sounds as though Göttsching had an entire arsenal of synthesisers and studio equipment at the ready. A must have for any guitarist looking to be inspired to open up the sound of their guitar to space and beyond. Though modern listeners might be turned away at the long track lengths, it’s worth noting that at this point in history artists were attempting to fill length that vinyl records allow with one movement or song. Had CDs been around at this point maybe we could have experienced an 80 minute version of the masterpiece “Echo Waves”! I’ll maybe write more about this album in the future but for now lets stay on task.
New Age Of Earth was recorded and released a year later in 1976 and demonstrates the shift Göttsching made from early 70′s psychedelia to electronica. The swirling delaying guitars of “Inventions…” are infused with sequences of moog warmth and shimmering synthetic strings.
Yet again the highlight of this Göttsching’s album is the opener, “Sunrain” easing the listener into a trance that is maintained throughout the track as Göttsching’s delicately weaves together an almost film score like blanket of sound that covers the listener comfortably. “Ocean Of Tenderness” swirls around sedately and the immediate impression of the lack of direction may be too much for some listeners to enjoy, however those patient enough will succumb to a warm pulsing tone that eases the song back on track. As the melody and chords develop, Göttsching’s ear for detail becomes more apparent. There is not a single sound here out of place, everything here is here for a reason, any more and the track would be cluttered, any less and the texture would vanish. Though the sound design aspects on this record are limited, each sound comes and goes without ever causing offence. “Deep Distance”‘s rhythmic white noise blasts and bass sequences subtly keep the track nodding along whilst the soaring lush synthesiser melodies create a humble ending to the first side of the record.
“Nightdust” is the darker edge to Göttsching’s work. We hear Göttsching experimenting freely for the longest period of time on this album, not a lot happens and maybe I’d enjoy it more if I was more stoned or trying to fall asleep, but the first three minutes of resonating tape echo left me cold to this side of the album. As the bass notes creep in the mix, Göttsching’s talent for harmonic and melodic structure are showcased in a moving and unsettling manner. When the rhythm arrives you feel as though you are headed towards a different ending, Göttsching quickly changes setting from a desolate atmosphere to something more reminiscent of the optimistic “Echo Waves”. The melodies and harmonies are expanded upon and developed as the tension and excitement builds towards the end of the piece, this is an experimental guitar solo at it’s best as Göttsching shows no sign of slowing down. The effects are turned to 11 and the bleak soaring strings re-enter, personally this caught me by surprise and I find the final solo to be slightly self indulgent and devoid of subtlety, however as the final chords fade out and we hear the last of the electronic birdsong you can’t help but feel the album as a whole was worth it.
To a lot of listeners this album will serve as being too drawn out to be a regular listen, I doubt I will come back to this for some time. Though this review is mainly positive I do feel as though the album is at times slightly too much to handle for an ambient album. Göttsching has a tendency to attempt to take me a little too far and I get lost somewhere on the way, I want to open up to it more, but some of the turns he takes aren’t in the direction I find pleasing. I’d say this album will mostly be cherished by space-rock devotees and will be held dear to the Eno/ambient fans, but for everybody else, try Sunrain and see how you feel, but the chances are its a bit much.