Saturday, 27 February 2010

Congratulations to Ashra

Congratulations to Ashra. They have won the Schallwelle-Preis for electronic music in Germany 2009. Well done chaps!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Ich bin ein Berliner

...actually Kennedy made a mistake with that quotation and accidentally said: 'I am a jelly donut'. Look it up. I must emphasise that I am not a jelly donut but I am a part-time writer.....

Well last weekend after two years of writing I finally made the trip to Berlin and what a breathtaking, beautiful City it is.

A big thank you goes out to Alison from Strasbourg for helping me to see the sights on Saturday. We travelled in a motorised rickshaw from The Brandenburg Gate, past the magnificent Siegessäule and on to a fantastic flea market packed with beautiful jewellery, furniture and lots of interesting records too. Berlin has been going through a freezing spell for the last two months and the City is covered with ice and a blanket of snow. A cold walk back to the Brandenburg Gate meant it was time for some Currywurst sausages. After seeing this traditional national dish on the BBC programme Newsnight I simply had to indulge and it was delicious. On to Schloss Charlottenburg and then the Bröhan Museum for an art nouveau exhibition. Thank you, Alison for your company on a great day.

My accommodation during the stay in Berlin was at the UFA Fabrik, a stones throw from Ullsteinstrasse on the U-Bahn route. The UFA was a film storage unit during the early days of German cinema and was also used by orchestras to record the scores for silent films. Those avid Ashra fans amongst you will also know that the UFA was where the band began rehearsals on the run up to the Correlations album in 1978. The results of these jams were released as The Making of and now form a part of the 5 CD Complete Correlations boxed set. These days the UFA is an International Culture Centre used for live music events, film screenings, theatre, schooling, circus workshops for children, Tai Chi, not to mention baking fine bread. For those of you wishing to visit the place where Ashra rehearsed over 30 years ago the accommodation is very nice.

Bearing in mind the historical significance of the UFA Fabrik in the Ashra story it was very exciting to meet the band’s drummer Harald Grosskopf, returning for the first time in 30 years. We managed to track down the room where Ashra had rehearsed all of those years ago and it was great to have a chat with Harald. He’s a nice guy and interesting too.

On Sunday evening I had the privilege of seeing two great pieces of art. The first of these was Ilona Ziok’s new documentary Fritz Bauer – Death By Instalments in its premiere at the Cinestar, Potsdamer Platz. Bauer was a German judge and prosecutor, who emigrated to Scandinavia before the war as a result of his Jewish heritage. He returned to Germany after the war and was unswerving in his quest for justice and compensation for victims of the Nazi regime. Bauer was a key figure in the organisation of the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials but died in mysterious circumstances in 1968. Ziok’s documentary is unflinching, poignant and frequently very moving. It is obviously the result of a great deal of painstaking research.

Back at the UFA Fabrik later that evening I had the opportunity to see a restored version of the fifteen minute silent film Hiawatha, the first by Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle. As a centenary celebration of the film Manuel Göttsching produced a musical soundtrack and I am happy to report that if this music ever reaches a CD or DVD fans will not be disappointed. Pattern based, electronic and hypnotising the score gave the film an otherworldly quality and wouldn’t have sounded out of place amongst the very best electronic pieces on The Private Tapes. Superb.

Following the evening’s screenings I had the opportunity to chat with Manuel and Harald until 3:00am, which again was fascinating. On Monday I stumbled across Checkpoint Charlie and the Mehringplatz (formerly known as the Belle Alliance Platz) but that’s another story: one for the book.

What an amazing stay! For their kind hospitality I have to thank Manuel Göttsching and Ilona Ziok, not to mention Harald Grosskopf, Silvia and Rudolph Brünger at the UFA Fabrik. A nice guy, and a great place to stay. Wonderful!

Monday, 1 February 2010

E2-E4 and a whole lot more....

Well the last couple of weekends have been a non-event on the writing front due to tiredness and ilness but I've been very busy since Christmas and now that my cold is starting to subside it's time to update you as to what I've been up to.

Over Christmas I worked on a chapter about the first recordings featuring the Ashra line-up of Manuel Göttsching, Lutz Ulbrich and Harald Grosskopf. My writing for the book features track-by-track notes for each and every album, which can be a painstaking way of working but will hopefully prove to be the most interesting approach for both initiated fans and the curious. The 1978 Ashra jam sessions at the famous UFA Fabrik in Berlin ended up as a 3 CD release called The Making of (now available as a part of the Correlations Complete 5 CD boxed set) and I have written notes to accompany all 12 of the tracks, some of which are 30 to 40 minutes in length. Next I polished my review of the Correlations album and put everything together into a narrative. I elected to revisit Phantasus, (an early and until recently previously unreleased early version of Correlations) at a later date to keep my writing fresh.

Whilst the making of the Correlations album was a lengthy process, its follow-up album Belle Alliance was recorded quickly but with no loss in terms of quality. Again I have written a track-by-track review of this album but will revisit the second disc of the recently released Belle Alliance Plus double CD (which includes bonus material recorded at the original sessions) at a later date. Sometimes I find it’s good to move on and come back to certain parts of the book in order to keep the writing fresh and energetic.

As a big fan of Ashra I was thrilled to learn more about the making of Correlations and Belle Alliance through my interviews with Lutz Ulbrich and Harald Grosskopf. I am sure that other fans of the band will be as interested as I was to pick up some insights into the music and it’s creation and this is a part of the book that I’m particularly looking forward to sharing. What comes through is the story of a young, energetic band, channelling their chemistry into making great music together.

My most recent writing has involved a chapter about E2-E4, a slice of solo genius from Manuel Göttsching improvised/recorded in 1981 in just one hour. Taking the influence of the minimalists and melding it with electronics and guitar, Göttsching produced a piece of music that was arguably more seminal and influential than any other as regards the emergence of techno and the recording continues to endure. As the chapter I’m writing at the moment describes E2-E4 took several years to be recognised as a classic but has since been worshipped by highly influential DJs and music fans at large, adapted with very minor changes to become a no. 1 dance hit across Europe, played by a modern semi-classical ensemble, along with Göttsching himself and the music still draws massive audiences when it is played in concert as a solo work. In recent years Berlin and New York have been treated to such shows and a 2006 performance at the Metamorphose festival in Japan has also now been released as a limited CD/DVD set.

So: this sums up my writing as of late. My next chapter will focus on currently unreleased Manuel Göttsching projects that are in the vault but more on this later…