When the Wordless Music series first invited legendary Krautrock giant Manuel Göttsching to Lincoln Center to unveil the American premiere of his 1981 composition E2-E4 at its upcoming “800 Years of Minimalism” showcase, the organizers might not have been aware that this was essentially the equivalent of asking Giorgio Moroder to play the Met. But then, Göttsching may be the least pin-down-able of all the Krautgreats who came of age in a 1960s Germany desperate for a pop music that didn’t echo the Volksmusik of the Nazi generation (who were, at the time, still running the country). While a few groups, such as Can, are rightly lauded for their ability to hopscotch from Velvets-inspired freak-out to disco-dub grooves, most Krautrock acts had a hard time of it once their RAF acid contacts were killed in prison.
But, starting as a 17-year-old guitarist in the Dead-influenced Ash Ra Tempel (and after recording an album with an exiled Timothy Leary), Göttsching went on to pioneer (and help coin the term) “new-age music” (back when that wasn’t a jailable act), assist the evolution of multi-track recording, and, almost as a lark, spend an hour recording E2-E4 in real time, the sonic link between the minimalism of Steve Reich (whose 1975 Berlin residency was a huge influence on the “Berlin School” of musicians there) and the then-emerging dance-floor culture.
Even before the Detroit sounds of the mid-1980s made their way to Prussia, there were German musicians pioneering the sounds of proto-techno, most notably Kraftwerk and their producer, Conny Plank, whose album Zero Set, recorded with Cluster’s Dieter Möbius and Guru Guru drummer Mani Neumeier, was similarly ahead of its time. But E2-E4 finds itself echoed—if not out-and-out duplicated—in myriad microgenres, from techno to house to electro to IDM to ambient to Italo-disco. Essentially sampled and remade as DFC’s “Sueño Latino,” it became a landmark of Balearic Beat almost two decades ago; years earlier, Larry Levan would close his Paradise Garage sets by playing the album start to finish.
Through Levan, the album—which initially sold about 300 copies worldwide—would seep its way into the cracks of the club circuit. Göttsching, at the time, hadn’t a clue. “E2-E4 represents my great interest in the development of sequenced/pattern-like music, but was never intended to be a piece of dance music,” he’s insisted. A technophile with an early interest in electronic music and sequencers, he used no overdubs and favored a compositional style not dissimilar to his earlier space-rock/new-age classics, such as Ash Ra’s (sequencer-free) New Age of Earth and, in particular, his own 1975 solo release Inventions for Electric Guitar. Those albums, however, are dreamier, with an emphasis on fluidity. The sonics and patterns of E2-E4 possess a greater mechanical insistence, sometimes reminiscent of a distorted version of Reich’s marimbas; they can also strike you as a precursor to the futurism of Juan Atkins and Derek May.
Göttsching first performed the seminal piece live onstage last year in Berlin; he repeated the event on his 55th birthday, accompanied by a disparate pair of New Yorkers: DJ Joe Claussell and downtown guitarist Elliott Sharp. Now he’ll be taking it on a short tour. In keeping with the Wordless Music mind-set, E2-E4‘s classical bona fides are well established: Berlin’s Zeitkratzer Ensemble, which recently released their version of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, has performed the piece, as has the pianist Maxence Cyrin. Meanwhile, recent works like Francesco Tristano’s 12-inch “The Melody” are still copping from E2-E4; oddly, Tristano is a classical pianist. This is music for all seasons and all genres, for the mish-mash that is this new age of Earth.
Manuel Göttsching performs as part of Wordless Music’s “800 Years of Minimalism” event, also featuring Rhys Chatham, Beata Viscera, and the Joshua Light Show, at Damrosch Park Bandshell August 15