Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Accept my GermanStrut, s'il vous plaît

The Rattles, "You Can't Have Sunshine Every Day," 7" single (1971)
The Rattles were among the first German groups to attempt The Big Cash-In at the height of the Beatles' first wave of popularity (roughly circa A Hard Day's Night): they rolled in natty mod suits, referred to themselves only by their (pseudonymous) first names, and starred in an attempted Germanicization of the Beatles-flick concept called, in that odd vein of lingering authoritarianism that German tends to lend to any Latin language, Hurra, die Rattles Kommen! (Hurrah, the Rattles Are Coming!; for other transliterary difficulties, see the German versions of the early Beatles singles, my personal favorite of which is the translation of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" that renders "Komme, gib mir deine Hand," or "Come, Give Me Your Hand"). To be fair, the Rattles had played with the putative Fab Four in the latter group's amphetamine-fueled Hamburg days, so it wasn't one of yr more egregious Curt Boettcher-style money moves, and after the British Invasion died down, Edna Béjarano (a serious contender for that lofty accolade, Rock's Gnarliest Teeth) had taken over the lead vocals and successively replaced every other member of the band, mutating it from a UK-style beat combo to a sort of riff-heavy boooogie rock with the odd orchestral pretension, something like Uriah Heep might have sounded had they not been literally (not literally) the dumbest band of all time (a fact which doesn't necessarily preclude Demons & Wizards' being a righteous slab of electric retardation).

Achim Reichel's A.R. & Machines, "As If I Had Seen All This Before," Die Grüne Reise (1971)
Reichel was one of the original Rattles and struck out in '71 with this remarkable solo LP, largely an experiment in layered guitar-tape processes that predated Robert Fripp & Brian Eno's similarly-engaged No Pussyfooting by a full year and combined the psych-minimalism with Popol Vuh-style ethnic percussives and the odd dab of come-on-people-now hippie sermonizing.

Popol Vuh, "Vuh," In den Gärten Pharaos (1971)
As long as I'm mentioning Florian Fricke's vehicle, here's a slice of what quote-unquote 'atmosphere music' was conceptually capable of before die Kulturindustrie asphyxiated it into dentist's office/Department of Motor Vehicles fare: Fricke was dedicated, perhaps beyond any nominally 'rock' musician before or since (including Eno), to exploring the psychogeographical space of monolithic sound, and In den Gärten Pharaos is a truly incomparable--in the literal sense--piece of work that situates West African, Middle Eastern, South American, Chinese, and Euro-classical tonalities and timbral gestures in a shared space without cheapening any of them, without reducing them to a pan-ethnic color wheel of First World platitudes; Fricke knew that the sounds he utilized needed to present in their rawness, specificity, and above all their alterity (in the age of watered-down 'cultural diffusion,' we forget what a truly terrifying sound a Chinese gong hit hard and recorded close really produces).

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