New Age Of Earth: Ashra (1975)

New Age Of Earth: Ashra (1975)

by Phil H

New Age Of Earth: Ashra (1975)

Most of us mellow a little with age but Manuel Gottsching's transformation from teenage guitar hero with freak-out legends Ash Ra Tempel to ambient spaceman at the grand old age of 23 still makes for a strange old journey.

New Age Of Earth is the sound of a man bathed in deep contentment - rarely has music sounded more peaceful, more blissful than this. Yet just 6 years earlier, he'd formed Ash Ra Tempel in 1970 alongside Klaus Schulze and Hartmut Enke and embarked on creating a series of fearless krautrock epics, including their fabulously over the top self-titled 1971 debut LP and 1973's acid-fuelled collaboration with Timothy Leary (Seven Up).

Gottsching launched Ashra as a solo project after Ash Ra Tempel fizzled out, though he'd already released 1974's Inventions For Electric Guitar released under his own name. He decided to follow up the epic guitar trance-outs of Inventions... by switching his focus to keyboards, completely abandoning the kosmiche wildness of his ART days for a more measured melodic approach.

New Age For Earth may be a terrible album title (naming LPs was never his strong point) but this is an underrated ambient masterpiece that deserves to sit in the mellow end of the krautrock pool alongside Cluster's Zuckerzeit, Popol Vuh's In Den Garten Pharaos and Eno, Roedelius & Moebius's After The Heat. The Peter Baumann-era Tangerine Dream had become a major influence at this point, but with a warmer sound to replace the grandiosity that permeates some of Edgar Froese's work.

Opener Sunrain is Gottsching's first foray into the proto-electronic trance sound that he would later fully explore on 1984's E2-E4. By far the liveliest track on the album, undulating synth lines weave mesmerically to create a lush sonic landscape reminiscent of early Orbital. Listening to second track Ocean Of Tenderness feels like slipping into a hot bath at the end of a long day, massaging your temporal lobes to perfection. After a long intro of bubbling and drifting synths, a gentle but insistent guitar rhythm slips quietly into the scene to propel you along. When a Hawaiin guitar drifts in around the eight-minute mark you may find your toes starting to tingle with pleasure.

Deep Distance is more playful, again built around the gentle but insistent pull of a simple guitar motif, with dreamy melodies drifting in and out over the top. Gottsching's interest in Tangerine Dream is most blatant on the track that fills side two, Nightdust, a beautiful 21-minute drift through space that meanders like TD at their most light-hearted, featuring no recognisable guitar at all until the final three minutes.

Originally released as an Ash Ra Tempel LP on short-lived French label Isadora in late 1976, New Age Of Earth was soon picked up by Virgin Records and re-released under the Ashra moniker the following year. With punk now flavour of the month, the LP failed to receive the attention it deserved. Gottsching's time with Virgin was also to prove an unhappy experience. Three further Ashra albums followed of diminishing quality, with the German announcing his decision to retire from the record business following 1980's Belle Alliance, preferring to focus on providing music for fashion industry events and producing other bands.

He'd had trouble with record companies before after he'd attended Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser and Gille Lettman's infamous 1973 acid party recording sessions, where musicians were offered drugs in exchange for recording tracks. The sessions were then edited down and released in a series of five Cosmic Jokers album during 1974, with the musicians photos appearing on the album covers despite none of them being approached for permission. Gottsching only found out about this when he heard one of the LPs playing in a record shop and asked the bemused staff behind the counter what they were listening to.

Thankfully he relented and returned from his self-imposed exile in 1984 to release E2-E4 (three years after he recorded it) but his distaste for the industry meant he failed to fully capitalise on the massive influence this remarkable LP had on the more ambient end of the techno scene. Steve Hillage seemed to gratefully step in to take the spot of scene elder stateman with his System Seven project but the position should rightfully have been Gottsching's.

Not that the man himself seems to be complaining. His album releases have been few and far between since his 1970s heyday but Gottsching continues to play live sporadically when an offer intrigues him. Listening to New Age Of Earth, he sounds like a man too busy enjoying life to waste it on regrets.
Phil H