Julian Cope’s Album of the Month

A.R. & Machines - Echo

A.R. & Machines

AOTM #21, February 2002ce
Released 1972 on Polydor
Side A
  1. Invitation (20.32)
Side B
  1. The Echo of the Present (10.08)
  2. The Echo of Time (13.05)
Side C
  1. The Echo of the Future (18.13)
Side D
  1. The Echo of the Past (19.38)

Almost seven long years since the first publication of KRAUTROCKSAMPLER. Wow. So I’d presumed there was hardly anything left to champion. My job was done, and there was a whole other new generation of maniacs who, by now, probably knew even more about the Krautrock scene than I’d ever known. So I was a bit freaked out to discover from a coupla good friends and major heads that poor old Achim Reichel’s big psychedelic space-outs ain’t never received the treatment they deserved even to this day.
It was Steve Freeman from Ultima Thule who clued me into this particular sprawling 83-minute monster back in 1995. Soon after the publication of Krautrocksampler, Steve sent me a cassette tape which, in turn, got copied on to DAT and whizzed around other head-scratching inner spacers, who each waited with baited breath for a proper re-release which never came.
Then, the actual writing of The Modern Antiquarian took over, and Krautrock in the Cope household got temporarily sidelined by my return to the gonzo proto-metal of the Stooges, Funkadelic, Black Sabbath and the MC5, all fleshed out by new loves such as Sir Lord Baltimore, Blue Cheer, even early Grand Funk. But, of course, there were still those happy accidents, nay designs, which straddled both camps so successfully that I was soon back on track. And so it was inevitable that I should eventually return to this huge and sprawling inner world which Achim Reichel AKA ‘A.R.’ decided to call Echo.

And what an inner world this album is. Over four sides of vinyl, Reichel created a vast parallel otherworld which allowed listeners to sink so deep within themselves that the return to the real world at the end of side 4 always came as a genuine shock. Even more so than Walter Wegmuller’s Tarot, which allows the listener to rove from emotion to emotion, Echo operates on such a singular level that listeners actually start to feel inhabited by this record. It is such a long recording that Thighpaulsandra and I had difficulties transferring it to CD because we both became taken over by the sound. We’d worry about the length of times between each track, we’d try and add more treble to it when it was unnecessary purely because Achim Reichel’s super-echoed guitar was just too watery to listen to over and over without entirely losing perspective. Man, it just took hours.

But it was surely worth every moment. For this 1972 recording is a giant of an album, and any move that will help to push Polydor into its late re-release is nothing less than essential. Indeed, it was only last week when I called Alan Freeman at Ultima Thule to get a CD copy of Echo to Holy McGrail, that I discovered the album’s unavailability. I’d just presumed that the job had been done long ago, and can I buy a new copy myself please. Of course, with hindsight it’s possible to explain the oversight thus: Achim Reichel is nowadays a very successful German actor with seemingly no interest in his Krautrock output. He had begun as leader of The Rattles, Germany’s mid-60s answer to the Beatles, before jumping on to the ‘heavy’ scene introduced into Germany at the turn of the decade. From the Rattles, Reichel took Frank Dorstal and Dicky Tarrach with him to form Wonderland, after which a brief period of experimentation with the echoed electric guitar saw the recording of 1970’s Die Grune Reise. This stupendously weird and outrageous vocal and guitar and whatever-happens-to-be-around piece of post-psychedelia was then released on Polydor as the first official LP as AR & Machines. Five more albums of varying quality and experiment escaped during the 1970s. But Reichel himself had abandoned the project by the late 70s and then returned to making pop music. The jump from music to acting had obviously only alienated him still further from this idealistic work of the early-70s.

But, if artists themselves are uninspired by a particular period of their earlier work, as Achim Reichel has been shown to be, it becomes up to others more motivated to make that work available. And when that work could be utilised by major heads for some serious shamanic endeavour, instead of lying unloved in some freezing and damp corporate catacomb, then it is time for the forward-thinking motherfuckers to shine a light in the darkness and scream out: "Navigation! Navigation! Navigation!"
So please excuse the nature of this long and unwieldy introduction to February’s Album of the Month. And do please understand that, in these heady long-post-Krautrock days, it was first necessary to hip you to the Achim Reichel scene before I could, with any real sense of conviction, punch my fists MC5-like in the air and scream: "Bring it ON!"

Echo opens with the massive low key 20-minute rumbles of "Invitation", in which hugely echoed watery electric guitars minor-chord their way across a vast sky of long tape phasing, as rhythms of subterranean dripping punctuate the caverns of your unlit mind, and send listeners back into a proto-Gollum state. The tape-phasing spirals ever up and up as the cavern route takes you ever more down and down, like yo’ head is travelling to Jupiter and your arse fell into the sub-sonic wells of eternity. Your newly dead body is being rouged with face paint to prepare you for the next world, by chattering unseen spirit forms who minister to the bodily needs of your former corporeal self. Around seven minutes into the music, strange orchestras lining the route to your future home set up another massively tape-phased heraldic theme as Thor, or even some Armenian proto-Thor (Tarhunda/Tork), hammer wielding and mounted on the first of eight black flying warhorses burns across the sky. He’s an arc-welding forward-thinker with both eyes on the future, and his cohorts are elegant saxophone Gods and a sure-footed Mercurial drummer with a seven league bounce in his stride, who kicks in a big 6/8 rhythm as the skygods’ practise aerobatics overhead. It’s as though the Red Arrows were passing through some cosmically-sized ring modulator with hundreds of yards of one inch recording tape trailing off the back of their tail-planes. Intense co-ordination of musicianship is counted as a big plus in this Pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, and they’ve clearly been playing a higher form of Krautrock since the early Bronze Age. Indeed, these were probably the ur-deities who brought the first news of wire guitar strings to Ash Ra Tempel. For this is the territory in which we find ourselves – a mounting Schwingungen landscape lit by flares of pitch and torches of burning tar, each carried by some unknown horse-mounted earth spirit.
It’s an ever intensifying ever-speeding-up multi-guitar-led rock’n’roll rampage across the ancient starlit skies without so much as one hoary cliché passing across any of the guitar strings. Theme after theme opens out upon yet-more-themes, as drums build then break down to accommodate, then build up again only to fail like waves breaking on some ancient musical shore. When the drums break down for the last time, Mellotron-like real voiced cyber-choirs have taken over to orchestrate our descent into the end of the track with perfect spiritual applomb. "Invitation" is a big beautiful pagan darkness with the bright-eyed soon-come Zoroastrian promise of a wide-mouthed and smiling beaming enlightenment.

Four musical massifs straddle the next three sides of vinyl, each song dedicated to illustrating "The Echo of the Present", "The Echo of Time", "The Echo of the Future" and "The Echo of the Past". It’s so important (and so easy) to accept the artist’s metaphor when his vision is as clear and strong as this record. Though Reichel’s music here never sounds like it, Echo’s mystery approximates similar emotions to Klaus Schulze’s later masterwork Dune, in which muttering voices (in Schulze’s case Arthur Brown) are used so effectively to conjure up the sounds of lost ancestors.

Side B’s "The Echo of the Present" begins almost as "Invitation" had done, that same watery minor guitar preparing us for a sweet howling vocal, which, in turn, propels drums and multiple percussion off into another horse-mounted march through Middle Europe. Once more are there Gods on the landscape, bringing themes to the peasant population, all interwoven with an undulating and indefinable poetical gabbling. A.R. and his posse are here and they’re spreading mystery and enlightenment with sound and rhythm. Catch a few words and they say something about the mountains, something about coming from far away, and something about urging the populace to ‘come on’. Then the whole ensemble come to some musical ford, whereupon Achim declares: "When I was a little boy - 600,000 years… " As he declaims grandly about his fathers and his mothers, his lieutenants are searching the river bank to the north and south, determined to cross this wide stream, in order to get to the other side, where a magical music is generating as if from some enormous Mother machine. With resolve and care they eventually find some route like stepping stones hidden just below the surface of the water. Achingly slowly, they begin to cross to the other side, whereupon the musical Mother Machine opens her mouth and sucks them up in a flash. Blink and they are gone – through a cosmic portal of immense proportion.

Within micro-seconds, we are on the other side of that parallel world, with children playing in some forever playground. It’s a place where ancient life-forms dance around the Maypole of some half-life Medieval fair. This is "The Echo of Time". Reichel and his horsemen briefly investigate this other world before continuing on their epic journey. Reichel is the seerer of forever, the intoner of magic, inventor of words, poet of existence, and we are just there to be dragged onwards into his musical vision. Leaving the ensemble but still declaiming wildly, he climbs to the very top of a sacred mountain, which rears up before us. At the summit, he calls out:

"There’s a man on the moon, there’s a woman in the sun!"

Remember right now that real time for Achim is 1972. The astronauts are up there on the Moon’s surface and cosmic Humanity is truly at hand. Remember also that Achim is a German, for whom the Sun is a Goddess (noun Sonne f.) and the Moon is a God (noun Mond m.). Being of both Keltic and Scando-Germanic stock, our British psyche conveniently allows us to see Sun and Moon as being of both sexes. But that also allows us to often see them as being of neither sex, so there ARE disadvantages. Instead, we must here open our minds to a female Sun of constancy, and to a Hunting Moon which dances across the sky in a manner which is seemingly impossible to anticipate. THIS is the shamanic Moon. This is the Moon of chaos and lugh-na-cy. The Moon which draws the menstrual blood-flow out of our women, is that same Moon which causes the tidal flows of Mother Earth’s oceans to gravitate upwards, and whose energy pulls our shamanic other out through our third eyes and guides us up towards it. For the shaman belongs to Lugh. As shamanic Iggy was wont to announce: "Cause I’m Lugh’s." We are Lupine or, as shamanic Ozzy was wont to announce, "barking at the Moon".

Down and down and down and down goes the music until roaring rock’n’roll chords possess us and send huge legions of Amon Duul dervish drummers upon us. We are then sent through another portal into yet another driving and simmering and seething horse-borne riff. And on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. Until all mystery implodes on itself and the sounds of forever subside into a deep and relieving silence at the end of side B, leaving only the static crackle of the needle in the groove. Indeed, five minutes of silence right now woulda been very enjoyable. But we’re here stuck in a digital land where the CD determines when and where we should listen. Be brave, because we’re moving on.

Side C takes us deep into the ur-heart of this double-LP. For it is here that we get beyond Achim Reichel’s stylings and into a pure pure form of music. This side long piece known as "The Echo of the Future" commences with the electro-zither and strummed piano strings, as Turkish percussion and Eastern European tunings herald yet more massed ranks of fast strummed vivacious electro-acoustic guitars. Could be the middle of Walter Wegmuller’s Tarot right now, or even the massive side long "Hoch-Zeit" from Lord Krishna Von Goloka. We’ve entered a multi-layered sonic world of confusion and inspiration, where the higher spirit unites with other higher spirits to create a vast and cerebrally abandoned beauty. Endless layers of echoed vocals ‘aaaaaaaaaaaah!’ and ‘oooooooooh’, as Reichel declaims ludicrous and enthralling lyrics about the universe. It’s like Rainer Bauer’s delightful pseudo-English on Amon Duul 2’s "Sandoz in the Rain", and makes you realise just how perfectly English works as the language of rock’n’roll. No wonder Germans, Italians, French and Japanese are happy to scream such things as "Right On", "Motherfuckers", "All Right!", and all those other hoary rock cliches, never feeling the need to translate it into their own respective languages. These time honoured underground words register all higher forms and feelings of rebellion, release, obstinacy and youthful cerebration/celebration.
Meanwhile, back at the track, we’re still travelling deep into a musical landscape of vast horizons and endless flattened plains. Ancestor spirits lurk in every corner of this piece, muttering to themselves in some transcendental post-language that approximates Japanese here, Delta blues there, Burroughsian Pig Latin desert song elsewhere…

And so we come at long last to the final track, known as "The Echo of the Past." Here reduced to 16 minutes (by myself and Thighpaulsandra) in order to get it all on to one CD, this sidelong weird-out is, in its entirety, really close to being a full 20-minutes long, and is the wildest and most eclectic track of all. Beginning like a real song with real lyrics, "The Echo of the Past" kicks off like a more accommodating version of something from Peter Hammill’s The Silent Corner & the Empty Stage. But too soon and most bizarrely, it degenerates into a cosmic chimp out. Remember those apemen at the end of T. Dream’s Atem? Well, they’re here with a vengeance – indeed these babies are a full year earlier than Edgar & Co. But then, these babbling droolers are only giving the listener more of what A.R. & Machines had delivered one year earlier on their first album, 1970’s Die Grune Reise. Ever wondered what possessed Marc Bolan to finish certain early Tyrannosaurus Rex LP tracks by letting them just degenerate into a psychobabble something akin to an acid-fuelled bar mitzvah led by Jewish Donovan – I surely have. But I sure wouldn’t change those moments of inspired deformed madness for a fucking T. Rex LP, no way. And so it is with the bizarre ending which Reichel chose for Echo. It even gets weirder - a full sounding and beautiful orchestra starts up out of the blue and we’re soon digging the same trench as John Cale did on his legendary The Academy in Peril. Remember "Legs Larry at the Television Centre"? Well, he’s here again. And this time he’s accompanied by David Ackles all ready to perform his magnificent "Montana Song". See what I mean? What kind of wide references are these? From three sides of minor chord electric horse-riding to orchestras and the Ur-Men’s tea party, this wild double-LP is one greedy motherfucker. And just as you’re at your most confusal and beginning to think in a kind of Stanley Unwin-ese, an incredible music concrete of bells, pipes and woodwind tends to your poor outraged (and outreached) mind and soothes, soothes, oh how it soothes. On and on and on go the bells, until they inevitably begin to fade and a sense of termination-any-minute-now descends upon the reluctant listener. Too soon the record is finished and the needle is glitching heartlessly. Why, if Thighpaulsandra were in charge, we’d all be guaranteed of at least 10 more minutes. But greed is an ugly trait, and Achim Reichel must only be praised for his incredible and wide-reaching musical vision. Indeed, without a negative thing to say about the actual content of this album, I’d prefer to end this review by saying:

Petition your local record shop, your local Polygram office, your neighbours – U-Neeeed this record! The mental health of the west can only be uplifted by its re-release!