Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

A.R. & Machines—
Die Grüne Reise


Released 1971 on Polydor
The Seth Man, June 2006ce
“Die Grüne Reise” (‘The Green Journey’) doesn’t sound like the handiwork of one person, but this first solo album of Achim Reichel’s is exactly that. He wrote all the tracks, played all the instruments, and produced the entire scene himself (Actually, make that co-produced with Frank Dostal, who also penned the English lyrics within and had previously done time with Reichel in the popular West German beatgruppe, The Rattles.) And since its ‘realization’ is credited to A.R. himself, it would seem obvious that the album was more or less his effort and his alone. The refined qualities dash from the ridiculous to the sublime in a place where wordless vocals rhythmically run amok alongside trance-inducing interplay of multi-overdubbed guitars as the background fill of bass and drums, then percussion and acoustic guitar are all tweaked into a Möbius strip of interconnectedness plotted to perfection. For whether it is a signal or signal as repeated echo, all lands rhythmically assured on their assigned and intended position despite the dense amount of sonic looping at work.

Despite such potentially confusing effects at play, Reichel exhibits a skillful juggling act of sound on “Die Grüne Reise.” It is the end result of the kind of heightened awareness that goes beyond merely coaxing results from equipment (as only the most committed technicians do) to making that leap to communicating directly with his equipment and operating in a specific place where the interfacing going down is at such a basic and mutual level that it is the distance between the source (Reichel’s untreated guitar lines) and the result (the echoed playback) that Reichel seems to be playing as much as the guitar AND its echoed counterpart. Parlaying this mental, three-dimensional game of ping-pong with innumerable multi-tracking of further guitars along with the supporting instrumentation at a variety of shades and strengths, it’s a marvel to behold the breadth of Reichel’s vision at work here (He even paid tribute to this relationship by whittling his own name down to two initials and credited the record to ‘A.R. & Machines’.) And then there’s the vocalising -- Which one cannot even begin to describe, let alone conjecture exactly HOW he made it all fit together so harmonious it sounds as complete as if the entire album sprouted from his head fully formed or if the tool that draws from the impulses of the human brain is fed directly into the equipment in a marriage of electricity stamped directly upon the output...in a rhythmically-based latticework with many simple layers comprehensively distributed throughout with a Teutonic sense of organisation.

And if you think that’s a head full, it’s nothing compared to the record itself for it is one seriously giddy experience. Although Reichel’s following “Echo” LP was twice as long and even fathoms deeper, “Die Grüne Reise” was where the idiosyncratic world of A.R. & Machines first assembled and took to flight, flow and funnel all at once. (It would be disingenuous to label the majority content here as a mere milk run for the navigating vision Reichel so wonderfully finalised on “Echo.” Although the tracks do exhibit the same filigreed expansiveness with respect to the use of sound layering via multi-guitar overdubs Reichel pushed through delay to yield rhythmically rich textures and a similar predetermined energy flows with fluid and precise assembly, I can only conclude that without the arduous procedures Reichel undertook single-handedly with the writing, arranging and recording “Die Grüne Reise,” along with its comparative amount of studio and compositional lessons learned, “Echo” would never have existed so I view them as equally burning achievements.)

A final bizarre note is that this album was conceived (and quite possibly, undelivered) in the unlikely form of a film soundtrack, as the back sleeve notes ‘The Green Journey: Sound Track to the intended motion picture.’ Judging from some of the lyrics and song titles, it would appear to be for a religious-themed film. But if the producer had in mind a treatment more in keeping with the saleable fad of religion-based pop operas soon personified with the trilogy of “Godspell,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat” (throw in their more secular roots that first germinated on “Hair” and “Tommy” and you have the top five candidates for the turntables of growing legions of flipped out flower children that had switched from unsuccessfully trying to find god in a sugar cube after innumerable misses to the more widely accepted means of studying the New Testament -- during their successful completion of drug rehabilitation programs) then he would have been sorely disappointed.

Not to mention overwhelmed. For this album was no such methadone clinic in LP form because Reichel had no Broadway aspirations and was already leagues ahead in innovative sound arrangements with far-reaching possibilities that what he wound up producing was deeply coursing music that weaved through myriad forms and spaces without ever getting lost in the process while simultaneously surfing several depths of the electric ocean in sound. The front sleeve of the album depicts Reichel’s image faintly reflected from inside a green marble parked gently in-between his Muse’s lips that kaleidoscopically refract all around and is a keen representation of the delayed, layering techniques applied throughout. Multi-tracking and echo are manipulated with a detailed weight that practically turn them into instruments themselves, as they wield and yield a battery of effects to the proceedings.

Side one is a suite of seven tracks crossfaded with the umbrella title, “Ich Bin (Fröhliche Abenteurer für Sinne, Geist und Triebe)” and in English translates into “I Am (Happy Adventures For Senses, Mind, And Inclination).” Organised into four separate ‘stations,’ the constant bleeding and continuous merging of reoccurring themes and parallel motifs weave in and out more as waves of particles pulsating through various wormholes of space and sound with millipede-like proportion than the by-product of a West German longhair playing looped e-guitar sequences. It is as dense as it is economical and so evenly paced that the 20 minutes of side one manages to feel half the time in length despite (or because) there is so much going on. After a brief introductory passage, the first ‘happy adventure’ is the main theme that kicks into a triple time with triple guitars laying down a galloping passage as percussion hitches a ride at full speed, pounding the earth under its hooves as it approaches “In The Same Boat.” Here, phased hi-hatting and a punked-up “Spirit In The Sky” lead rhythm guitar riff gets spat out with the first verses running short and tersely repeated: “All/Love all...All/Kiss all...” until it trails off into the vocals getting slowed down, sped up and extending into a flurry of high pitched, agape vox as Reichel slowly intonates and clues us in beforehand: “Understand-ing/The sudden/End-ing...” Which, by the way, is how both sides of the album conclude. The airlock opens and the main theme comes spilling out once again, this time with further deftly handled guitar overdubs and Synthi-A lines that are dazzlingly echoed. Drums savagely break in but oddly do not commit with any sense of discord. “Beautiful Babylon” sees a quiet interlude of relaxed beauty emerge, but is soon touched by a growing awareness that soon evolves into a sorrowful reflection on Babylon’s skin-deep beauty, simmering gently into cymbals and an acoustic guitar strumming against further percussion comprised of fish belly, congas, handclaps as Reichel goofs, “Hello!...Hahaha...Huh?” and proceeds into “I’ll Be Your Singer, You Be My Song.” Located somewhere in feel to a less organic version of Can’s “T.V. Spot” crossed with the rhythmic repetitions of their earlier “Yoo Doo Right,” it may very well Reichel addressing the relationship he shares with his Muse, the tools of his creation or quite possibly, just the rest of the universe.

“Body” is a percussion-laden instrumental that builds with multi-tracked guitars playing tightly-knit cross-patterns as prominent bass and vocal gibbering joins into a conga line. As it starts building, it also funnels into a tight yet spacious arrangement of deeply echoed chords that quickly shudder and fall to gravity’s pull as it segues into the brief “A Book’s Blues.” A slow and single bluesy guitar much like Ash Ra Tempel’s “Downtown” enters with finger snapping, drums and bass falling in backing the song’s one and only verse and consequently ends with another pull of gravity. Segueing into the seventh and final track, “....Als Hätte Ich Das Alles Schon Mal Gesehen” (“....As If I Have Seen All This Before”) a wonderland of echo returns as vocals cry and are echoed to next Donnerstag and back without missing a beat among rapped bongo skins and vocal things. The main guitar theme returns to flatten the plains on horseback once again and drums start up with a great clatter that in turn sets off the crystal machine Synthi-A with great reverb that transcendentally breaks it all apart. Once it calms and settles down a lone guitar is struck several times and sways in its tracks. The introduction from the side’s beginning throws the old dénouement switch as if to regroup, but it’s too late for all gets quickly swamped yet again by a passing cloud of more fantastically echoed Synthi-A. The drums shoot up once more into clamour, but the sonic stew is finally set to simmer. A guitar gently disassembles, plink...plink...plink...Until Reichel stomps on the foot pedal to draw to a close the epic first side with a ‘sudden/end-ing.’

“Cosmic Vibration (An Afternoon-Concert)” commences the second side, building with successive layers just added and added from one guitar line to five (ten? twenty??) as percussion and bass easily adhere to its predetermined rhythmic girding. Cymbals hit and signal the piece’s ascent across the horizon. Several guitars vie within the boundaries of the predetermined sonicscape to split off into faked double-trackedness with a pair of different guitars performing the same riff. Once this has fallen away, a skeletal “Hurricane Fighter Plane” rhythm guitar weaves in followed by cowbell and then shakers and begins wending off into the repetitive and echoed unknown. Soon, crystal machine Synthi-A is awakened, discharging a glittery snowfall that dusts the piece and ushers it into crossfade with the most song-oriented moment of the album, “Come On, People.” It’s a secular revival meeting/street anthem played on madly strummed acoustic guitar set to a Bo Diddley rhythm with metronomic high-hatting. If there was a cameo for Reichel in the film that was never made, it would be this song and he’d be be-robe on a sunset mount above a crowd of assembled groovers. Melody vocal effects darken the approaching horizon while subtle vocal treatments whizz by, oscillating and manipulated into synthesizer-like cooing.

“Truth And Probability (A Lexicon For Self-Knowledge)” is the weighty title for the album’s massive finale and is the place that most obviously points the way to the heady excursions Reichel would next achieve on “Echo.” Tiny bells strike over a guitar pattern that nudges along and is shored up by its brother echo riff with the speed and curled motion of feathers floating downward. A flurry of guitar rises gently in molecular amassment then edges into sustained feedback as vocal freakery enters to remains for the rest of the piece. And oh how it remains. It’s the “Surfin’ Bird” midsection on laughing gas in an echo chamber/hall of mirrors, stereo-panned and multi-tracked to make it seem like hundreds of little Achims prattling on/off and off/on at the speed of speaking in tongues for all his combined ancestors/future descendants all once. These vocal noises stretch, condense and extend into symphonies of wordless vocalese that build up, break down and spread out over guitar feedback and bass auxiliaries that needle and dive-bomb from the rear. The vocals go into in freefall and still manages to keep to the rhythm, despite being echoed to the four (times four) corners of oblivion with crying, laughing, cawing, you name it. Reichel even manages to approximate a water tap dripping. And it’s all Echoed...echoed...echoed... Like a Ligeti vocal score recorded by a bunch of short attention span cadets behind his back. There’s a slowdown into further realms of Überchatterung until the whole labyrinth lurches to an abrupt close with a final ‘sudden/end-ing’ and the silence is deafening.