Monday, July 09, 2012

Interview with Manuel Göttsching

Manuel Göttsching (photo: Sven Marquardt, 2006)
Ash Ra Tempel, 1970 (left to right: Klaus Shulze,
Manuel Göttsching and Hartmut Enke)
Manuel Göttsching was born in Berlin on September 9, 1952. He began his studies of classical guitar when he was a child. At age 15 Manuel formed his first band, The Bomb Proofs, with his classmate Hartmut Enke and decided to play the drums, but soon he became the singer of their band. It was also with Hartmut that Manuel studied improvisation with the swiss avant-garde composer Thomas Kessler and it was in Kessler studio that the two met Klaus Schulze, the drummer who was just leaving Tangerine Dream, his previous band. Manuel, Hartmut and Klaus decided to form a new band, Ash Ra Tempel. Schulze left the band a year later, leaving for a solo career and from that time on Manuel and Hartmut had several guest drummers playing in their records. Hartmut left Ash Ra Tempel in 1973 and Manuel began to release both solo albums performed and produced entirely by himself - at his own Studio Roma - and albums performed and recorded with Lutz Ulbricht (ex-Agitation Free) on rhythm guitar and keyboards and Harald Grosskopf on drums (who had already played on the album "Ash Ra Tempel Starring Rosi", from 1973) as AshRa, shortening the name Asha Ra Tempel.

Manuel as a wax figure (photographie)
and his releases in
Tokyo Tower Museum
Manuel has over 60 albums in his discography (check out: including solo records, albums recorded with various formations of Ash Ra Tempel, with the name shortened to AshRa from 1977 on and a few collaborations on albums by other artists. He has his own label since 2002, MG.ART, responsible for the release of his latest musical works and for the reissues of several titles originally released in the '70s that now we can find on the market again on CD's remastered by Manuel himself (some of this CDs with bonus tracks!!!!). In 2003 he founded CV Films, a film production company that he runs with his wife, the internationally known film director Ilona Ziok. Manuel divides his time between film production and constant gigs around the world (the next one will be on August 11, in Japan - a country in which he has a huge contingent of fans of his music - playing his famous album "E2-E4" entirely, in a benefit concert for victims of the Tsunami and the Fukushima accident that happened last year). On next september 8 - one day before his 60th birthday - Manuel will perform with the legendary Joshua Lightshow in Warsaw (Poland) at the Copernicus Center!

I contacted Manuel Gottsching - via Facebook - for the first time last year and since then he has been always very kind and gentle! And not only him but also his wife Ilona Ziok, whom I thank very much for sending me the interview with Manuel by email! I hope to have the opportunity to watch a Manuel Göttsching show soon, either a solo performance or with Ashra (featuring Harald Grosskpf on drums - also a friend of mine and interviewed by me in last February - and Steve Baltes on keyboards and electronic devices).

French solo concert tour (photo: Klaus D. Mueller, 1976)
ASTRONAUTA - How was your first contact with music and how do you became a professional musician?

MANUEL - In the house where I grew up as a child was a piano which attracted me, and which I wanted to play. But my early childish attempts turned out to be rather non-musical noise and much too loud for the well-educated ears of the adults, and I was soon forbidden to use it. But I did not give up the idea and one day I found an old guitar of my grandfather, and I began to like the sound of the guitar. Some years later I got a chance to actually learn the classical guitar. I found a wonderful teacher in Mrs. Scheibitz, whom I liked and respected a lot, as she gave me a valuable and profound knowledge of the instrument in her lessons throughout the next six years.  

ASTRONAUTA - And how was the beginning of Ash Ra Tempel, how did you met Hartmut Enke and Klaus Schulze - your band mates in the early days - and Conny Plank - the recording engineer of your first album?

MANUEL - Hartmut Enke and me were class mates, and on Hartmut's 15th birthday we decided to start our first band called "The Bomb Proofs", just for the fun of it. I actually wanted to be the drummer of the band but ended up as the singer :-) We covered famous songs of the time, and had some lovely concerts, but very soon we got bored with it and we wanted to create our own music. One year later we started our next group "Bad Joe", with completely free experimental music, and very soon we got the chance to work  with famous Swiss avant-garde composer Thomas Kessler in his new project which was called Beat Studio in Berlin's district Wilmersdorf - to study our improvisations, now with the help of an experienced composer.  In this place not only us were learning how to improvise, but some Berlin groups like Agitation Free or Tangerine Dream were rehearsing. One day Klaus Schulze, the drummer of Tangerine Dream, who had just left the band, joined us proposing to start a band together. This was Ash Ra Tempel. It was Hartmut Enke who created this name, each word according his philosophy. We 3 stayed together for 1 year. The result was the first Ash Ra Tempel album with the same title, finally recorded in Hamburg by famed Conny Plank  - our one and only collaboration. There was no other engineer who would understand our music better at this time.  1971 Schulze left for a solo career, Hartmut and me continued with the next album SCHWINGUNGEN recorded with some guest musicians at Studio Dierks near Cologne. And not even noticing it we have become a professional band...

ASTRONAUTA - And how about Conrad Schnitzler and the concerts you played with Eruption, Schnitzler's group?

MANUEL - Conny was a great musician and composer. I also met him in 1970, and I bought his old VW Bus, which soon became the legendary Bus of Ash Ra Tempel. Conny Schnitzler's Eruption was one of his next projects after Kluster, and I played two of the first concerts with Eruption end of 1970. We always stayed in a friendly contact over the years. I am very sad, that it never happened that we played together again, and also Conny - shortly before his death - said in an interview with a German newspaper that one of the things he regrets to not having done is to perform again with me :-)

ASTRONAUTA - In the summer of 1972, Ash Ra Tempel recorded the album "Seven Up", with the participation of the writer Timothy Leary and many other guests. 

MANUEL - Sorry to interrupt you, but Tim Leary was actually not a writer but a Harvard professor for neurology experimenting with LSD, and as such he also had to write :-)

ASTRONAUTA - How was this meeting and how was the recordings of this album?

MANUEL - Hartmut got to know that Timothy Leary was on the run from the CIA and had ended up in Switzerland. This was because Timothy Leary had escaped from prison in the US where he was sentenced for 10 years for a ridiculous little amount of Marihuana, because the US president Mr. Nixon had accused him as United States Enemy No. 1 for his research on LSD. Tim Leary was interested in music as a kind of illustration for his theory of the "SEVEN LEVELS OF CONSCIOUSNESS", the title of the book that he was writing. Hartmut went to Switzerland to meet him - and after listening to SCHWINGUNGEN Tim happily agreed to collaborate with us. We gathered some friends and musicians from Germany and Switzerland at a farm in the Swiss mountains, rehearsed there and finally recorded the album SEVEN UP at Sinus Studio Bern, Switzerland , which was later mixed at Studio Dierks near Cologne where we already recorded SCHWINGUNGEN. This was the third Ash Ra Tempel album. We had a great time in Switzerland, Tim was really energetic, he even started singing on the recordings, and still today it seems to me like a miracle that all this has really happened.

ASTRONAUTA - You commented other day, in a Facebook message, that your wife Ilona Ziok is directing a documentary about "Seven Up". Is there already any date to finish/release this film?

MANUEL - That is true. She is actually searching all the girls and guys who joined Hartmut and me (Ash Ra Tempel) for the session with Leary, and is also trying to find money to finance this project, as well as a TV station - but this will work out for sure, as she has done some very successful films in the past, so people in film business know her well, and everywhere there is a big interest in this project.

ASTRONAUTA - You have used some Moog synthesizers (and many other analog synths) during your career. There is a video on youtube where you talk a little about the Moogs you played on your albums. Do you still have any of those Moogs or other analog synthesizers that you used to record in the '70s and '80s? Do you still use analog synthesizers in recordings or live performances? Is there any prefered analog synthesizer for you?

Manuel Göttsching and Joshua Light at
transmediale festival, Berlin (photo: Keiko Yoshida, 2012)
MANUEL - I recently had a concert in Berlin together with Joshua Light Show - it was on February 4, 2012 - being the highlight of the transmediale music festival at a famous place of our capital, where I already performed in 1979 the music "Big Birds" for a fashion event with various analog synthesizers. I performed now with some of my old equipment again, my old Minimoog and my beloved Farfisa Synthorchestra, the one I used for my album "New Age Of Earth". I really enjoyed playing these instruments again after such a long time, they need some maintenance and replacement parts from time to time,  but they are still doing fine. But I also love new technology, I perform with Ableton, combined with various "retro" plug ins like EMS Synthi A, ARP Odyssey, Farfisa organs, I also sampled my old EKO Rhythm Computer.
Nevertheless, it is the guitar which will remain my favourite "analog" instrument :-)

ASTRONAUTA - In october of 2011 I had the pleasure to meet film director Andrew Horn in a festival in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. In this festival I also watched "The Nomi Song", Andrew's movie about Klaus Nomi and I noted that the film was realized by CV Films (your production company) and that you and Ilona are the producers. So I researched on the internet and found more films films produced by you! How do you find time to keep a cinematographic carrer and a musical carrer at the same time?

MANUEL - My wife Ilona Ziok is film director from her profession, but also writer and film producer. And because she is always helping me when I need her, I started to help her as well, not only supplying her films with my music, but with producing them while she is directing. So CV Films was founded as our family business, which is also our label MG.ART - run by our daughter :-).

ASTRONAUTA - What are your next film projects?

MANUEL - There are some interesting project which we are developing - all documentaries or music films. For example Alex Snelling, an awarded BBC film maker, proposed us to do an art movie on my "E2-E4". Ilona thinks that this is a brilliant idea and she already suggested Alex a film title - she is very good at that - it is "E2-E4-Eternity" (she has created already a T-shirt like this:-)). And Richard England, a famous UK producer, f.e. of the film about the SEX PISTOLS, proposed to make a biopic about me - and here again Ilona suggested the concept and title: "From Berlin with Love! - yours, Manuel Göttsching" which means that my work and life in music will reflect the Berlin culture of the last 40 years, and doing so Berlin will tell about me :-). So lets see which of the two films will happen. Ilona thinks, that both would make sence :-).
And regarding other subjects that we are working on, it is about forgotten personalities important for German history, so f.e. the most famous Sudan archeologist, Mr. Hinkel or the music composer Werner Richard Heyman - but this film is meant to be more a piece made on theater stage - more artistic than being documental.  Werner Richard Heyman was the one who brought songs into movies as a part of its music, and many German songs from the 30s actually originate from the films to which he wrote the music, but he also is the composer  of famous Hollywood films like "To be or not to be" or "Ninotchka". 

ASTRONAUTA - Various albums from Ash Ra Tempel were recently remastered and re-released and also your solo albums "Inventions for Electric Guitar" (recorded in 1974 and released in 1975) and "E2-E4" (recorded in 1981 and released in 1984). Is there any possibility of more reissues?

MANUEL - My label MG.ART also re-released the AshRa albums "Belle Alliance Plus" - a 2-CDs-album - which beside the original Virgin album contains bonus material on the second CD. And then there is "Correlations Complete", a 5-CDs-box: CD 1 is the original Virgin release, mixed by famous UK-producer Mick Glossop, CD 2 is the first never released mix by Udo Arndt and me, and CD 3-5 is the "Making Of"-material, i.e. our rehearsals at the legendary ufaFabrik (, a place where German films were born in the 1920s,  and where in the 1930/1940s Goebbels produced his horrorful propaganda material. Today this historical location is an important cultural center, which started 1979, being occupied by young poeple.
Regarding other reissues, the next will be my solo album "Dream and Desire" from 1977. In Japan it is going to be re-released in July already, in the rest of the world in autumn. But while Japanese prefer the original, the world-edition will be a 2-CDs-album, because I found an additional track belonging to it :-) And I will also write a bit about its history.
And of course the re-release of "Blackouts" and " New Age Of Earth" will follow soon. - All reissues are re-mastered by me, but not reshaped or pimped as if they were made with today's technology.  

AshRa (Steve Baltes, Manuel Göttshing
and Harald Grosskopf)
ASTRONAUTA - And what about new material, is there any possibility that we have a new Ashra album, now with you, Lutz Ulbrich, Harald Grosskopf and Steve Baltes?

MANUEL - Lutz Ulbrich is no longer with AshRa, the last concert we did with him was in 2000, since then I play only with Harald and Steve.  We had a great concert in Japan in summer 2008 and just now again in Berlin at the ufaFabrik. Of course I hope to release these concert recordings in the near future, but I am also working on some new AshRa material.
At first - the next concert release will be a CD/DVD of my recent solo performance with the Joshua Light Show at the transmediale Festival Berlin in February 2012 (here you can listen to some old Minimoog and Farfisa Synthorchestra:-)). For some fan videos check out here: (

ASTRONAUTA - And how about live shows in Brazil and South America, any chance?

Manuel Göttsching performing with
Steve Hillage, Elliott Sharp
and Zhang Shou Wang
at Mt. Fuji in Japan, 2012
MANUEL - The Brazilian promoter Alain Patrick invites me to Sao Paulo for a solo performance with my composition "E2-E4", but may be one day we can also play there with AshRa - who knows. Would be great!
Actually I also plan to show a film to which I did the music back in the 70s as Ash Ra Tempel: "Le Berceau de Cristal" by internationally awarded French film director Philippe Garrel, starring Anita Pallenberng, Dominique Sanda and Velvet Underground singer Nico - the muses of the 60s/70s, combining it with a concert, and of course I hope to perform again "Inventions For Electric Guitar", in an original line-up with four guitar players as I did in Japan in 2010 for the first time with Elliott Sharp, a central music figure in avant-garde and experimental music scene in N.Y.,Steve Hillage from London (former member of Gong, today System 7), and Zhang Shou Wang from Beijing (member of the Chinese bands Carsick Cars and White, who also plays with Sonic Youth).

French solo concert tour (photo: Klaus D. Mueller, 1976)

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