Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Christian Wheeldon: Deep Distance -- The Musical Life of Manuel Göttsching

(deutscher Text hier bei Manafonistas!)

Manuel Göttsching, guitarist, keyboardist, composer, looks back to a career that started in 1971 (he was active even before, but not on records). Stations of his career are Ash Ra Tempel, Ashra, albums under his own name, collaborations with Klaus Schulze, Steve Hillage and several others, he also worked as a film composer. Of late he is even part of a Japanese krautrock exhibition -- as a wax figure.

The British librarian Christian Wheeldon, after six years of work, comes up now with a long overdue biography. This very well-written book leads chronologically through Göttsching's life and time as a musician, following events as well as his records. Usually, the author first tells the well-researched story of the record and its production, followed by a review of the record. Especially it's nice that he includes not only Göttsching's own records but also some works of his long-time companions; the solo album Synthesist by drummer Harald Großkopf as well as the long forgotten project Central Europe Performance or the recordings Lutz "Lüül" Ulbrich did with Nico.

You will notice immediately that a fan wrote this book. Sometimes it's just too obvious that Wheeldon is not willing to touch his hero. Without question Göttsching made a lot of enjoyable records, but, as it's unavoidable in a more than 40-year-spanning career, some are not as good as others. It wouldn't have done any damage to the book if he would call a spade a spade in these cases. For Wheeldon everything seems to be "masterpiece", "genius" or "incredible", also the term "legendary" is used much too often in this book. Again and again Wheeldon uses Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley as standards of comparison -- I would be open to reason about the latter, but Glass, even more Reich, definitely play in a different league.

Another little rub in this book is the fact that the author several times doesn't get the meaning of German puns, phrases or words with double meanings, and so his translations are blurred, misleading or wrong. One example: Göttsching wrote and recorded a sort of "suite" about the "Mulde", a little creek near Leipzig. The last part of this suite is entitled "Zerfluss".  This word doesn't exist in German, it's combined from "Zufluss" on the one hand, which means something like "feeder creek", and "zerfließen" on the other hand, which could be translated into "melting away" as well as into "to dissolve". Of course it's not possible to find a direct translation of "Zerfluss", but the meaning could be explained. Wheeldon simply translates it into "inflow", and that means: He misses the key point. Unfortunately, this kind of flaw is something to be found constantly in English publications about the German rock music scene.

It remains to mention that, probably for the reason of cost-saving, this book is set in an extremely small typeface. To make matters worse, it's a sans-serif one. For an old geezer like me it's simply a torture to read this.

But this is all there is to complain about. Without dwelling on too much krautrock nostalgia this book makes you feel like going to the turntable to have a new listen to the old albums -- without forgetting the new ones. A couple of website recommendations and a well-done index complete the book. 

Christian Wheeldon:
Deep Distance -- The Musical Life of Manuel Göttsching
King's Lynn, GB 2015
ISBN 978-1-91069324-7

The book can be ordered only here.

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