ASHRA: WALKIN' THE DESERT (1989)
1) 1st Movement: Two Keyboards; 2) 2nd Movement: Six Voices; 3) 3rd Movement: Four Guitars; 4) 4th Movement: Twelve Samples; 5) Dessert: Eight Tracks.
After a decade spent doing nothing or nearly nothing, interrupted only by the recording of the acclaimed solo album E2-E4, in 1988, Göttsching eventually reteemed with Lutz Ulbrich, and the results of their rather lengthy collaboration (date of recording is given as «May 1988 – Spring 1989») were deemed successful enough to be released as the next Ashra album. Much of it stems from the reworking of a large 65-minute suite performed live on June 4th, 1988 at the Berlin Planetarium, but a large chunk had to be cut out to fit on one LP — perhaps for the better.
Walkin' The Desert is certainly not bad, but it does sound a bit like the title suggests: listening to it is about as much fun as walking through a desert. Basically, if you have a long way to go through the desert and not go crazy from the process, you have to train your mind to recognize the desert as a colorful, inspirational place to be. Listening to ambient music is different in that you do not usually have to listen to ambient music (unless Brian Eno has promised you unlimited access to his porn collection in exchange for a set of glowing reviews). Thus, it is all to easy to just put on Walkin' The Desert and say: «Oh no, not another Göttsching album without any kick ass guitar solos!» and back out, pleased to feel indignantly offended, much as I did upon my first listen to New Age Of Earth.
But, although this record is hardly a masterpiece, to my ears, it sounds far more intriguing and unusual than New Age. First, it is thematically coherent. The «movements» are not just an attempt at adding pseudo-academic «respectability» to the overall experience — they really represent several different, yet interconnected mood states that one could... well, not necessarily literally associate with «deserts», but with vast, seemingly empty spaces; the more you stare at them, the more kaleidoscopic they become before your eyes. Lots of ambient loops are simply used as tasty (or tasteless) background decorations; the point of the loops on Desert is to transform your background and make it float before, or behind, your eyes. That goal may not be reached on all the tracks, but at least all the tracks strive to reach it.
Second, there are some nifty individual ideas. The 'Two Keyboards' part is almost funny: it's like some sort of Chopin prelude that caught stuck in its first few bars and lost the capacity to evolve into anything beyond those bars, but is frantically struggling — for eight minutes — to get out of its cage anyway. 'Four Guitars' uses the experience that Göttsching and Ulbrich developed in their «disco days» to ground a minimalistic space-rock set of melodies and effects on a funky foundation, but without any signs of a rhythm section, so you cannot as much dance to it as you can... uh... quaver and wobble, I guess. And 'Twelve Samples', each and every one of them, incorporate some Middle Eastern motive, with a lengthy prayer topping it off and getting a nice processed treatment — sounds like an underwater minaret experience. (It does get a bit annoying after the first couple of minutes, though, and becomes well worth a haraam after the second one — why it had to be the longest track on the album, we'll never know).
Finally, for «dessert», you actually get a magnificent echoey Göttsching solo, grand, eloquent, and aggressive, the way we like it (although the MIDI tones on 'Eight Tracks' could have been less blatantly Eighties-style). As much as it looks like a consolatory gift for those who felt themselves let down, the rest of the album is by far the most interesting non-guitar-centered opus of Manuel's career — a well-placated thumbs up here.
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