Ash Ra Tempel—

Released 1972 on Ohr
The Seth Man, December 2022ce
Beginning in 1970 as a West Berlin power trio comprised of guitarist Manuel Göttsching, bassist Hartmut Enke, and Klaus Schulze (drums and electronics), Ash Ra Tempel had reconfigured by February of 1972 into an entirely different group once Schulze departed to commence recordings that would become his first solo album, IRRLICHT. In fact, it expanded to twice its former size after Göttsching and Enke reclaimed Wolfgang Müller (the drummer from their previous group, the Steeple Chase Bluesband) alongside an additional auxiliary of likeminded West Berlin musicians: Matthias Wehler (alto saxophone), Uli Popp (bongos) and the outrageous vocalist from Agitation Free, John L., who also accompanied on Jew’s harp and percussion. Göttsching and Enke doubled on electronics and with the final addition of Göttsching’s girlfriend, Rosi Müller on accompanying vocals, the now seven-piece Ash Ra Tempel were ready to record their second album, SCHWINGUNGEN.

Engineered by Dieter Dierks at Studio Dierks, Stommeln, West Germany and produced by Rolf Ulrich-Kaiser, the results were both blazingly heavy Frei-Rock and stupefying psychedelia for SCHWINGUNGEN (or: ‘VIBRATIONS’) was a nakedly cosmic record that sought to capture and interpret the penetrating beauty and multiple blisses of the psychedelic experience -- and it succeeded. Thoroughly. Bassist Enke, who at this point went by the name ‘Indra Roger,’ was getting supremely far out, writing both the words and music and concocting two separate spheres per album side. Side one divided between ‘Light’ and ‘Darkness’ with side two split between the ‘Schwingungen’ of ‘Search’ and that of ‘Love,’ the former side was two proto-metal blitz-outs that cleansed the soul while the latter quietly flensed all remaining bad vibes as it maintained an awakening of white light that beamed in on the turned-on listener.

The cover illustration by Berhard Bendig was based on the back cover photography from Pink Floyd’s SOUNDTRACK FROM THE FILM MORE. Depicting Mimsy Farmer and Klaus Grünberg meditating atop a mountain facing the rising sun, it was an appropriate image for an album dedicated to the raising of consciousness beyond space and time and to shed all fear and become illuminated with the source of all life -- Energy. Vibrations. Love. Re-purposing segments of “Celestial Voices” off A SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS and the opening quietude of “Careful With that Axe, Eugene” whilst sewing them into a seamless pattern of becalmed bliss, SCHWINGUNGEN is a schizoid masterpiece: split down the middle between the trauma of existence as it is, and existence as it could be.

SCHWINGUNGEN begins with the slow and broken bluesy emanations from Göttsching’s SG Gibson guitar as the curtains of silence part for “Light: Look At Your Sun.” Göttsching’s delicate fingering continues, playing off the quiet backing of Enke and Müller while John L. vocally tiptoes in. Originating from an unknown point, the dexterous guitar by Göttsching slowly glides forward, ivy-like in its growing, curling tendrils. Those tendrils then rear and grow teeth, processed through fuzztone into soaring klaxons when all the while, the tear-stained conclusion that “we are all one” builds into highly stentorian reiterations from the heart of vocalist John L that “WE ARE ALL ONE...!” Slipping back into its slower introductory paces, John L. continues with his swaying observations on the singularity that “we are all one” until all gently dips into quietude right after a final, whispered: “we are all one...”

“Darkness: Flowers Must Die" nudges forward with an extended introduction of sinewy, echoed Jew’s harp that weaves throughout ultra-phased e-guitars that blow and sweep away the silence as though waves of sonic afterimage. Once it kicks in, it’s a rampaging and torrential flow of psychic upchuck as it wrung the last impurity out of one’s soul in the city, lost in that “glass and neon forest.” John L. continues to shriek, yammer, and then pull back over the group with his flashes on urban existence, now midway into a group improvisation with Matthias Wehler’s saxophoneering careening sideways. The group pitches wildly as the controls of Dieter Dierks continue to jack up parts with extra phasing and volume, whether they need them or not. It’s as though assembled overlays of colour, pictures, and symbols dissolve and reassemble inside and out of the overstuffed mattress of phasing upon everything. Göttsching pulls out a stinging guitar solo that rages long into the coda, cutting through the slipstream of phasing right before track’s end where only the echoed, hollow bongos and John L.’s inciteful (and insightful) repeat rant against that unhappy name, “City,” can be heard in the fade out. This keenly delineated racket. This proto-punk, proto-metal statement of the ages is indelibly singular and unlike anything else in Krautrock. (Or Rock, for that matter.)

The second side is nineteen minutes of glazed eternity, horizontally held and called “Schwingungen: Suche” / “Liebe” (“Vibrations: Search” / “Love.”) Its opening stillness allow for gentle vibraphonic tones to shine and twinkle like late night stars in pitch black darkness. It’s as though they re-synthesized elements from Pink Floyd’s ’69 drift piece, “Quicksilver” combined with the becalmed intro of “Careful with That Axe, Eugene” and then cast them upward into the firmament, where they hang to the present day. Sinking the listener into the deepest areas of consciousness, a highly-reverbed drum solo arrives as a fade-in, exists as a fade out and soon: the celestial voices of John L.’s tear-stained soul, now wordlessly soaring with the melodiousness of the FX-laden guitars and upward pulse of Enke’s bass, stream higher and higher against accenting cymbals. As each stairstep to abandon transcends higher into heaven, similar to the coda of Joy Division’s “Decades,” it truly is, as John L. states in the gatefold (translated from German): “Swimming in vibration -- drinking one of the light, hurried through the cosmic spaces.”

SCHWINGUNGEN is a beautiful album that not only tapped into those cosmic spaces, but translated those ineffable qualities of cosmic consciousness, sensation, and existence into a transcendental sonic result that continues to speak at universal volumes a mere half a century after its release.

-Dedicated to the memory of Manuel Göttsching.