There are a lot punters in the Barbican carrying vinyl copies of Manuel Göttsching’s seminal E2-E4, the distinctive chess board cover of various pressings all missing a valuable signature perhaps?
Tonight’s performance, presented in two parts – E2-E4 in full and an hour of Göttsching’s early band work as Ash Ra Tempel – has roused a number of experimental music acolytes from their slumber as an undoubted highlight of Convergence 2017’s programme.
E2-E4’s enduring appeal seemingly lies in its ability to touch on so many different forms within the electronic canon without being indebted to any of them. The repetitive chord progression feels very techno, the guitar strains in the second half are wholly balearic in their movement and the minimalism of the early part of the piece showcases Göttsching’s fascination with the standout composers of the era.
His preamble to the audience before the show confirmed that he hardly ever performs E2-E4 in full, and that he never thought such a performance would have been possible as the original recording and its composite parts were so rooted in his studio set-up. Modern technology eh? Moving between pads, his guitar and two laptops, the performance is static but there’s an alchemy to Göttsching’s limited movements, a touch of the slightly eccentric professor piecing together his old creations. E2-E4 moves sufficiently fast as to never cause boredom and slow enough that the layers and intonations within the piece can be subtly digested. When new strains come in the hairs stand on the back of your neck and wholly make up for the lack of dynamism on stage.
The second half of performance showcased Göttsching’s work when he performed with Ash Ra Tempel in the early to mid-70s. With the undisputed talents of Oren Ambarchi on drums to start with, the group’s psychedelic guitar leanings were explored before eventually nodding to the group’s more melodic, synthesiser influenced output. The variation – and the magnitude of Göttsching’s guitar work – not only provided contrast to the previous hour but also showcased a man whose musical vision and parameters were constantly in flux during his career. Is it these qualities that keep Göttsching relevant some forty years on? The two separate standing ovations in the grandiose setting of the Barbican Main Hall would suggest so.