Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Guru Guru—
UFO


Released 1971 on Ohr
The Seth Man, September 2006ce
As demonstrated on their first pair of albums for the German Ohr label, Guru Guru were the loosest, most experimental and most out there of all power trios of the early seventies. And the title of their debut “UFO” album was appropriate, as many of the sounds within are not immediately identifiable. Although the drums and guitars are recognisable enough, lodged as they are between breeze blocks of heaving, sprawling abandon where all manner of contact microphone misuse, tweaking of volume knobs on both amplifiers and guitars while everything else coursed through all manner of fuzztone and echo boxes to make the studio air hang heavy and leaden as it curled at the corners like burning parchment and loads of fuck-knows-what-else. As a result, the five tracks that comprise “UFO” are saw-toothed, broken and resistant to all smoothness in their haphazard execution as they only approach the loosest organisation teased out from the knotty and matted wig of raw noise that hung atop their collective heads.

Guru Guru furiously nudge and burrow through silence with their mammoth ensemble clashes of processed signals, treated bass and guitar assaults pummeled senselessly to the ground by a battery of percussives that never seemed to quit. And on the rare occasion when it does relent, it’s just as easily content to simmer in a stew of disquietingly becalmed noise until inevitably re-boiling over into eruption. An altogether spasmodic musical proposition, “UFO” cascades fluid and free down corridors of improvisation caught in the throes of abandon with all apple carts of pop conventions overturned and in flames. It’s an ongoing rush in no hurry, heavy as bronze boots, looser than drunken shoelaces and all the while maintaining a top speed of about 8kph with enough elbow room to strike out at any (and all) directions at once.

Even in the studio, the three interlocking ‘Sektions’ that are Mani Neumeier (Percussion-Sektion), Uli Trepte (Bass-Sektion) and Ax Genrich (Gitarren-Sektion) play off each other as though from neighbouring Bavarian fields equipped with only a drum kit, guitars, amplifiers and a batch of cheap radio shop communication devices and play them like a trio of underground superheroes emerging 20,000 leagues beneath the sea to impart an new method of communication. Perhaps it’s really that Neumeier is a crazed and flailing octopus man with a stick from every limb and a penchant for high spirited thrash attacks, Ulrich Trepte an intercom/contact microphone obsessive dredging frequencies from the ocean floor while weighing bass lines as anchors and Ax “Victim” Genrich the proud carrier of a six-foot tall conch shell used not only for amplification (double stacked and rigged with a front line of wah-wah, fuzz and echo boxes as knobs on both guitar and amplifier are tweaked and twirled to yield maximum viscosity) but to part oceans as well. Or perhaps they only sound like it.

The improvisation of “Stone In” opens and features the sole lyrics of the album -- If you could call it that when Neumeier’s vocals intone the title with an accompanying set of words brayed out unintelligibly at the back of the ensuing racket, now commencing at the speed of a mid-level and high scoring pinball session. Neumeier hits his crash cymbal-positioned gong with drum sticks (not mallets) and it sounds like an oversized oil drum lid utilised as a pang while simultaneously sounding like a traffic accident as heard through a plastic tube half a block in length. Trepte is content to treat his rhythmic strumming bass with massed amounts of compression while Genrich plays his guitar through echo through fuzz through molasses through a block of amber and steeped in a basin of distortion. It’s reelin’, feelin’ squeelin’ and a-squallin’ all over the place. “Girl Call” is a further perpetuation of the previous track, and no less a breaking down of the senses. A damp electronic hiss permeates the air, interrupted by the eruption of a refried slapback bass note that reverberates and cracks open a primary fissure in the uneasy crust of silence. Then stillness. It erupts again, this time trimmed with feedback and cymbal swishes. Contact microphone picks up and magnifies all the tenseness in the air and makes it seem as though a wobbly dam of silence is about to burst... Which it does as Genrich cuts in to wail ceaselessly on guitar as a return to the slow, wallowing tempo at rune-cutting stone upon stone pace of a forced march into tomorrow. Genrich is one of the first German Rock guitarists who successfully channeled Jimi’s Electric Sky Church music while dispensing with its blues slurry, condensing the flurry of erratic notes and organic groove-tone placement into an electric storm. Neumeier methodically thrashes in the background while Trepte keeps a strong series of pulsation intact until Genrich slowly works up another elongated solo that burns, smokes and just melts into the ensemble’s roar. It’s a gloriously haphazard rush until it simmers down to allow Trepte’s bass to gain some sort of prominence. But this is only temporary for it’s soon overrun by a forcibly shaken-out storm emerging from the surrounding air. A series of high pitched squeals and squonks and it’s one rude match cut into “Next Time See You At The Dalai Lhama” that catches them in progress several minutes later where they’ve picked up into a hammering stride. Trepte has switched over to a two-note propulsion, ratcheted up to soar above the chaos of Neumeier and Genrich which is now a darkening cumulonimbus mushroom of slammed cymbals, tom-tom rolls and fuzz/wah-wah guitar patterns. Trepte maintains the same grinding sludge bass at yo-yo speed, only to reassemble the sequence of notes until it’s all running together into noisy unison when it crossfades into a field recording of the band freaking out and vibing up the countryside with whistles, shakers, congas and tambourines until a young lady innocently asks “Guru Guru?” With no response forthcoming, the album side has no choice but to submit to the run-off groove and end.

Side two of “UFO” is far more abstract as it edges at points towards the outermost boundaries of stillness, as though confined to the innermost spaces and furthest points of ambient-dexterous reaches with two sonic elongations where no one really leads as everyone has the space to free-form out of the ether. Unidentified sounds emerge, which is appropriate for they usher in the ten-minute odyssey “UFO.” This is where the component parts of Guru Guru are broken down and strained into degenerate composites of crackly, intermittent amplifiers, echoed shards of guitar and contact microphone treatments translating once quiet surfaces into sandpapery static. A high-pitched tone builds with forgotten kettle-boiling-the-last teaspoon-of-water-into-steam qualities sound the alarm to prepare for approaching interstellar craft and the piece builds ominously with amplified, whirring guitar and gongs smashing against a background of amplified heat. Single chords are plucked out, bass strings are detuned, scraped and left to resound and croak in the open air. The mix throws down the right guitar channel as soon as Genrich has found a repeated phrase to let his Stratocaster rear and buck and explode upon as the increasing accumulation of sounds and random static all gather into a focussed dissonance that continues to unfold and unravel at the same time. Volume dials twist out pitch shifting sculptures while contact microphones pick up an amassing of signals into a decaying, arrhythmic improvisation. As the flaming meteorite remains true to its holding pattern, cats fight, sparks fly and the song is left to fry interminably on the third rail with electric guitar building and building as it echoes and echoes and echoes and echoes... The air then clears, only to rage once again with humid flurries of sonic scrap metal and hit cymbals until the freak-out they’ve been holding back on for so long finally lets loose just in time to be crossfaded into sounds of a leaky boat adrift upon the roiling wake and flotsam of the song’s crash landing. It quickly fades to reveal only a quiet drone and the onset of the dazed wonderment of “Der LSD-Marsch.” Circular, undulating guitar lines glide gently back down to earth while plastic flute dances shrill with trills, signaling a lone bass line to emerge unblinking at the edge of silence. Drums edge in, opening the door for the piece to expand into the sort of free-form-heavy-thing-always-mounting-and-on-the-brink-of-toppling-over that opened the album. One muted and hyphenated drum solo later, Genrich unleashes the last wailing guitar solo and before you know it: they’ve settled on a gradual fade out. If “UFO” were a double album, then time constraints would be of no concern and this and every other piece could traipse on thrice as long -- much like "Der LSD-Marsch” did in live performance as additional guitar solos, two separate drum solos and several hoarsely sung verses (“Every cell/ Owns a code!/ Every cell!/ Pierce your bone!/ Set you freeeee!/ LSDDDD!”) stamp it out forever.