Am I listening right?

For me, a great deal of great music sums up a time and place, whether that place is real or imaginary. And I’m not not talking about the nostalgic or sentimental trappings we impose on records ourselves, as important as those might be. No, records themselves are, no matter how original or forward-thinking they seem, as far as I can tell, always in and of their time (and all the better for it); even those that seemingly come out of nowhere. No record is actually “ahead of its time”, except perhaps, for Manuel Göttsching’s magnificent E2-E4 which is a clear 7 or 8 years younger than it should be. Its sound is so much in keeping with so much of the early house and Detroit techno* that emerged at the end of the eighties. I’m actually embarrassed that it took me so long to investigate this album.

So, now I’m thinking further about that aspect of extra-musical knowledge that comes with any record: the time when it was made. I’d be lying if I said that my impressions of E2-E4 aren’t at least mildly coloured by my astonishment at its date of creation (1981). This doesn’t take away from the magnificence of the actual sonic at all (which I won’t go into on this occasion) and it’s not the sole peg to hang any argument on, but time is most definitely in there, casting an unavoidable shadow.

accident

I could so easily trip onto very slippery Möbius strip of an argument here but I can’t help feeling that the aforementioned knowledge – and this probably goes for any record – adds to the thrill of discovery, whether you hear something when it’s new and completely original or are appreciating it after the fact. I know I’ve had a hard time evangelising to some about, say Ultramagnetic MCs’ Critical Beatdown or Slint’s Spiderland (I came to the latter two or three years after its release, but before the advent of Mogwai et al) to newcomers who are used to everything that has come in their respective wakes. On the other hand, I can remember having the exact same kind of flooring epiphany I experienced with these albums when I first heard the Velvet Underground, an act that were well and truly over by the time I was born. I could picture the New York streets, conjour images of the political climate, the art scene and all the band’s connections, understand (at least vaguely) VU’s ever-so-important outsider status vis-a-vis the mainstream of the counter culture (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms). This is why in one sense it’s a tremendous advantage of our age that we can access so much of recorded history so easily and also why the persistence of anachronistic styles and affectations can be so infuriating.

Yet all this said, it’s pleasantly bewildering that, in the case of E2-E4 you can’t quite picture all the extra-sonic baggage that would seem to fit the sounds spinning around your mind. There were no big raves and underground dance clubs when the album was actually made; there are no visions of sweat or bright lights to be had here. And somehow, via its absurd birthing and subsequent history (remade by Carl Craig etc), this record which genuinely does sounds a lot like a lot of others**, is utterly unique.

Some perfect “chill out room” material from Göttsching in his Ash Ra Tempel days:

*Of course, in the case of Sueño Latino’s self-titled rip-off Euro rave monster, it sounds, give-or-take an 808, exactly the same.

** Unlike, say Kraftwerk, whose relationship to the dance music continuum is also partly accidental and arbitrary and who sound a bit like a lot of records that they either did or didn’t inspire.