A.R. + MachinesIII
Released 1973 on Zebra
Reviewed by phallus dei, 11/10/2015ce
A.R. & Machines = A.R. + Machines = A.R. (see above); + (the universal language of mathematics, the ur-language, the original language that was spoken by All before the destruction of the Tower of Babel); and Machines (hinting at modernity, post-modernity, and the approaching singularity – which will perhaps reunite us with each other and/or with math? Does out of the coming singularity arise another big bang? Or will it be a black hole?)
A.R. and His machines / musicians / magicians probe into the Jungian collective unconsciousness to remind us of Ur-Time, the period before the Big Bang (or at least our individual “Big Bang” this time around – i.e. our most recent birth), the period where we, as individual representations of the Unified We / Unified Field, chose this “existence,” in this “time” to both test ourselves according to the “game” and also to – ideally, if we possess daring – subvert the rules of the “game” and create a new “game” – one in which the illusions of the present are stripped away and we (begin to) manifest ourselves as We Really Are.
During a period of intense shamanic exploration I discovered a method to mix the tracks of A.R. + Machines’ 3rd-6th albums into a single listening experience that delivers peak results. Rather than being brought down by the “reality” which tells me that A.R. followed up Echo with four lackluster albums; I prefer to focus on the “hyperreality” which informs me that A.R. surpassed the mighty Echo with “III,” his quadruple-album magnum-opus. Here is the breakdown of “III” by album side, with the original album and track number following each song (3=3; 4=IV; 5=Autovision; 6=Erholung), followed by the total length of each “side.” (1) The eight sides have then been further grouped into an artistically satisfying arrangement for three CD-Rs: 1-2-3; 4-5; 6-7-8.
Side One – Vita (4:1) 21’55”
Side Two – Eisenpferde (5:1); Warum Peter Nur Noch Ferien Macht (3:1); Tarzan’s Abenteuer Im Sommerschlußverkauf (3:2); Wie Ich Mir So Ich Dir (3:8) 19’41”
Side Three – Erholung (6:4); Alles Inklusive (6:3) 17’28”
Side Four – 10 Jahre Lebenslänglich (3:3); Die Tochter Des Frostriesen (3:4); Tanz Der Vögel In Den Winden (5:2) 20’13”
Side Five – Atmosphäre (6:2); Heute Ist Es Wärmer Als Draussen (3:6); Auf Deutsch Heisst Das Gewissensbisse (3:7); Drei In Eins (5:3) 20’55”
Side Six – Aqua (4:2) 23’00”
Side Seven – Gute Reise (6:1); Alles Geht Nach Goa (3:9) 17’24”
Side Eight – Turbulenzen (5:4); Jay Guru Dev (5:5); Kopf In Den Wolken - Beine Auf Der Erde (5:6) 19’46”
“III,” despite being released across four different albums, features the same line-up and no discernable change in style. Indeed, when you mix it this way there is no difference in sound, either, even though it was “objectively” recorded in three studios and Erholung was a live set. The band was obviously collectively mining the same source of inspiration for each release; they were riding the same wavelength throughout, over the three years in which these tracks were recorded. But in the paradox of “existence” – and the inevitable shortsightedness of “reality” when compared to the Ideal – the information / idea / inspiration that nourished these releases was not received and transmitted Whole, but over a period of time – and delivered to the world in a fragmented fashion. (Like a prophet delivering an ordained work that only comes down one sutra at a time, instead of all at once.) But regardless of the piecemeal nature in which it was channeled, “III” is clearly meant to be experienced in one setting. The difference between “III” and “3-IV-Autovision-Erholung” is akin to the difference between four “trips” on weak acid spread out over a three-year period and wondering what all the fuss is about (gee, I must already be so “spiritually evolved” (wink, wink), because LSD does nothing for me) and one genuine psychedelic experience of the life-changing sort.
Before digging in to the album proper, let’s reflect a bit on A.R.’s hypothetical mindset: “First album – a single; second – a double; third – a quadruple, released on my own label!!” And he just might have been able to pull it off. For A.R. was the Odin of the krautrock scene, the overachiever, the elder, the knowledge-seeker, the trailblazer of the Way (and here “the Way” is the same as the Chinese Way, i.e. the Dao). Able to use the symbolic capital he had accumulated during his years with The Rattles as W. Germany’s first genuine rock/pop “hero” to not only convince Polydor to grant him supervisory status over their Zebra sub-label, but also to finance and release a 4LP-boxset of Prophecy disguised as “progressive” music. Because if even the girlfriend of a Phillips record-exec was able to secure the release of 3LPs of underachieving dreck with the auspicious title of “Trip – Flip Out – Meditation” – and housed in attractive packaging, to boot – then why couldn’t A.R. manage a similar feat just a few years later, with music that was actually worth hearing? Hell, A.R. strikes me as such an egoless fellow that I’d bet he’d even agree to a royalty cut just to sweeten the deal (à la The Clash with their best album).
The beauty of the early 1970s was that it offered a window of opportunity to dream big – and not be limited by fears of perceived “arrogance” or post-modernist rejections of “grand narratives.” So if the 1st album was an exploration of self-identity, culminating in a sonic recreation of Jacques Lacan’s “mirror stage”; and the 2nd was about the “echo” of time, the progression / regression of time on a universal scale, or the experience of time within the tesseract of the movie Interstellar; the 3rd chose as its subject the dissolution of the “current” configuration of matter which constitutes “you” into the sum total of the matter & dark matter of the universe, thereby achieving a state of “cosmic awareness,” literally. Had it been released correctly, there would be an endless and irresolvable debate over which was the best A.R. + Machines album – Echo or “III.” (And of course there would be that persistent minority who, taking pride in having a contrary point-of-view, would periodically opine, “Now wait a minute. It’s clear that The Green Journey is A.R. + Machines’ meisterwerk.”)
No matter which of the three home runs you lay claim as “the best,” it’s clear that from 1971-74, A.R. was a man possessed. Not just by inspiration, but by actual Spirit. In hindsight, it is perfectly understandable how A.R., the temporary manifestation of Odin, became so crushed by the lack of response to His Message, that he subsequently became Achim Reichel, the “established, respectable” “musician” who released Dat Shanty Alb’m (1976) and a string of other releases whose covers look so unappealing and titles so unambiguous that I’ve never even dared listen to them. Achim Reichel’s rejection of this period and refusal to talk about it is symptomatic of much of the ’68 generation – who now dismiss that glorious time via variations of an unimaginative “follies of youth” theme – naïveté, being misguided, being on drugs, etc – all cop-outs to help them deal with the unbearable pain that what they once glimpsed as Absolute Truth did not come into fruition. Rather than face the magnitude of this loss, on both an individual and societal level, they choose to dismiss it – it was just a passing fad, it never could have happened, it wasn’t right for me, & all that other bullshit which does nothing more than support the status quo. But in fact, what we need today are not people who are skilled at “explaining away” past glories, but people who, like the generation of ’68 in its prime, are willing to put forth a “grand narrative” for the sake of our collective good. People who are willing to stake out a claim for “objective truth.” As an aide to that process, let’s give “III” the attention it deserves. Not just for A.R.’s sake, not just for a generation that dared to dream, but for our sake. Let’s use “III” to deprogram ourselves out of the episodic timespace and solipsistic headspace of transnational capitalism to begin to live (and imagine) beyond the limits imposed by the greedheads, who only value us as consumers that perpetuate their M-C-M circuit forever.
Because “III” in its glorious totality exists so brazenly “counter” to our established notions of “album length” and “album purpose,” it requires a particular sort of engagement. “III” demands a time commitment. “III” demands a willingness to let its magic reconfigure your perception of “existing.” For both of these goals, “III” demands psychedelics. (2) (In this case, I recommend dissociatives). Once you’ve partaken of your sacrament, allow A.R.’s echoed guitar to propel you toward contemplations of infinity. The wrench on the cover can be used not only to tighten, but to loosen, as well. Loosen your mental inhibitions, your culturally and temporally determined understanding of “reality” to grasp the Truth Which Is Always Present, no matter how much the material shallowness of our culture tries to bury it (and thankfully, they will never bury it, because It, unlike they, is truly indestructible).
Side One is the “come up.” It starts with the nausea you feel at the beginning of a trip – the disorientation of your psyche being ripped out of the illusion of the present for something real. (This nausea is also akin to that described by Sartrean existentialism.) A groove starts to slowly take hold as A.R.’s guitar wriggles like sperm traveling up a fallopian tube, reminding you of currents / possibilities / alternate realities within the Now. “Some say pray, I meditate,” suggesting a basic difference in perception / approach – valuing inner truth at the expense of external truth – but yet, as you are beginning to see, the internal and the external are but manifestations of the One. More words (only a bare minimum of words throughout the album) and then sitar (signifier for the “exotic,” the “mysterious,” the indefinable). “Home” – “OM, OM” – the sperm has (re)united with the egg.
Side Two – Expelled from the womb and hurled onto the pulsating streets of the city, brought to life by shiny brass. Next to A.R. the other hero on “III” is Jochen Petersen who handles all manner of woodwinds, playing each with a cosmic sensibility. He sounds so drunken and ecstatic. The next track opens onto a desert, with the sound of bongos. Like all good trips, “III” pushes you beyond your limits – just when you thought you had reached the extent of your high, you find out that you were actually only at the beginning, and there is so much more to see & experience. The album encapsulates the entirety of lived experience, on both macro and micro scales. A limitless series of ever-expanding vistas. The third song – the return of the brass, quite furious, shaking you out of any residual resistance you have toward Letting Go – and then a final state of bittersweet reflection in the last song. The city has gone to sleep.
Side Three – The sound of church bells, followed by an apocalyptic saxophone, resigned to the coming cataclysm while foreboding storm clouds gather overhead. The church begins to crumble in slow-mo, either due to the passage of time, or the evolution of power structures (it’s not quite clear). And then it’s like we’re right back where we started, albeit from a slightly different angle. The city from the previous side is now a village from 600 years prior. Oh, it appears that we’re in the Middle Ages and there’s something going on. The villagers have begun to congregate but it all seems hesitant, like they can’t get their act together. It doesn’t really get into a groove until the last minute of the song. Suddenly we’re riding a horse across the North European Plain at breakneck speed, coming to a stop at the edge of a cliff. Welcome to modernity.
Side Four – now in the heart of the album, a subtle pull of a repressed realization / repressed truth; something buried deep inside – someone singing again – there are vocals on this record? You had forgotten – a sort of moaning universal speak – the fires of multiple realities, multiple lives, manifesting themselves like an over-exposed photograph with ghost images on top – lyrics again – “Those goddamn lies, yeah.” What would A.R. think if he saw the incessant lying of today, made all the worse by the cloak of “political correctness?” How did we make that sorry diversion from ’68 to Now? And how do we not only reclaim, but go beyond, our past glories? Then the band starts up again and Jochen Petersen really begins to shine. The band itself is demonstrating how to approach the continuation of struggle, the continuation of life. The answer is exceedingly simple: try again.
Side Five – sound of birds, wind, a sunny day by the coast – but with a sense of lurking tension behind the tranquility, as if something is about to happen. Petersen’s playing is not quite “right,” like the odd way animals act before an earthquake. And then it does (happen); the highpoint of the album, leading the listener to an emotional catharsis capable of invoking tears – the sound splits reality open before your eyes and you catch a fleeting glimpse of what lays beyond. And as your eyes struggle to readjust to the blinding light, the door closes, leaving only a not-for-certain memory. And then into a deep groove, the return of lyrics – “Somebody’s trying to make an outlaw out of me” – Oh no! Who would do that, A.R.? The same people who try to silence all speakers of Truth? Why can’t Truth be directly expressed? “Now that I’m older, I’ve come to know, that god has lost control and I’m on my own.” Then a laidback, carefree song, bringing back to mind a childhood spent in a body that was slightly overweight. Followed by a brief coda.
Side Six – starts with a bomb / thunder, then rain. The side-long track is subtitled “Every Raindrop Longs for the Sea,” reminding us of our desire to return to the cosmic One. Our latent desire for (re)union, which is the underlying drive behind everything we do (sorry Freud, you were wrong). Reminding us of the water within our veins, water which contrary to popular belief did not come from a comet, but likely existed since our current planet’s birth. At times it sounds as if the band is struggling to assert itself from the din of the water / beach / birds which surround it; the never-ending desire to wrest free from physical limitation, perhaps; but then the band changes tactics and becomes the very forces it was trying to fight– water, air, etc; yet even those forces remain temporal and earth-bound. How to break free from the endless cycle of evaporation and condensation? How to end the process of reincarnation?
Side Seven – Starts again with water, birds, continuation of the same scene, but this time the tide is a bit rougher, the result of seismic shifts from below the ocean floor. The final monologue by Jochen Petersen, whose piercing notes soar above the stew of echoed guitars, drums, and bongos. Maybe it is J.P. who is the real star of the album? His is the only truly individual voice. Sound of echoed laughter, a cosmic joke – then the return of the sitar from before. Indian conception of Maya – world of illusion.
Side Eight is the comedown. After everyone else has already gone home, A.R. is still goin’ strong, thanks to the quality of the drugs he is on. So he decides to ride out the rest of his Trip multitracking himself. And then it’s just guitar, capturing the fading memories of an amazing journey, followed by a short lullaby offering the perfect end to a perfect album. A life’s masterstroke.
1. The only song not used in “III” is the “revolution” track on A.R. 3 (Die Eigentümer Der Welt, 3:5) which speaks to then “temporal” concerns, and appeared during a period when collective consciousness was much higher than the present day. But without the accompanying mass movement of which it was a part, the track seems out of place. The power of “III” is that it speaks outside of time, outside of temporal concerns. We all need to first step out of time before we can then get back to work at changing our society in time.
2. Our “current” society is so misguided that we view the comment “it sounds good on drugs” as a detriment, as if that implies that “objective” musical value is absent, and can only be “imagined” while under the influence. But “it sounds good on drugs” is actually a compliment, suggesting that the material is not so obvious in its delivery, that it is operating on a higher plane than mere normality, mere “reality”; a plane that can only be accessed with help. Like Rufus Collins of the Living Theater once said – “I don’t take drugs to escape reality; I take drugs to reach reality.”