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Musician Manuel Göttsching died Dec. 4 at age 70

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The musician Manuel Gottsching has died at the age of 70. He's a man who changed the course of electronic dance music in under an hour.

(SOUNDBITE OF MANUEL GOTTSCHING'S "E2-E4")

SHAPIRO: That improvised recording was called "E2-E4." Electronic music journalist and NPR music contributor Ruth Saxelby is here to tell us about it. Hi there.

RUTH SAXELBY, BYLINE: Hi, Ari. Thanks so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: All right. Let's get to his career more broadly in a moment. First, I want to start with his most famous album. How did he make this improvised record?

SAXELBY: Well, I mean, everybody's heard about one-take scenes in movies, but this was very much a one-take album that consists of a single one-hour track that is fully improvised. So this was essentially Manuel Gottsching watching, sitting down at home in his home studio that he'd built up over several years and getting to his synthesizers and sequences and occasionally picking up his electric guitar and just getting lost in the moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF MANUEL GOTTSCHING'S "E2-E4 RUHIGE NERVOSITAT 2 (MIXED)")

SAXELBY: Improvisation was something that he had basically made his North star throughout his music life, but it really culminated in this wonderful moment that he didn't even expect to happen. It was almost like practice.

SHAPIRO: So this was the early '80s, when EDM was a relatively new genre. And it didn't immediately have a huge impact. What changed? How was it discovered?

SAXELBY: Well, originally, so he recorded at '81. It kind of sat in a drawer for some time because he wasn't really sure. You know, it was a very minimal record. Who was going to listen to it? And eventually his friend Klaus Schulze, who he'd been in a band with, said in '84, let them put it out. Go on. I'll just put it out on my little label. And initially, reception was pretty lukewarm. But somehow, a very creative young deejay called Larry Levan, who's the resident at a famous nightclub called Paradise Garage in New York, picked up a copy and fell in love with it and made it a staple in his sets.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: Before that album, he had a long career in music leading up to it. Tell us about what he did before "E2-E4."

SAXELBY: Well, he grew up in West Berlin in a kind of a postwar environment. And it was like radio stations that were playing the blues and rock from America and Britain that really caught his ear. And also at that time, free jazz was starting to kind of like capture the minds of young musicians in Germany. And he became really enamored with this concept. In 1970, he founded a group called Ash Ra Tempel, which was an experimental psychedelic rock group that were using electronic gear and like taking this kind of freeform approach that he'd like kind of been exposed to through free jazz. And they became internationally known as one of the formative Krautrock bands, along with acts like Tangerine Dream and Khan.

SHAPIRO: He continued to make music long after that seminal 1981 recording. How did he look back on the role that that album played in his long career?

SAXELBY: You know, it's - it was a moment. It's very hard to redo something like that. But he continued to enjoy the fact that new generations of electronic music producers and listeners were finding these new contexts with his old recordings. So he would often work with younger musicians and reinterpret his works and to also just to take it even further.

SHAPIRO: Electronic music writer Ruth Saxelby will be remembering the late musician Manuel Gottsching. Thanks a lot.

SAXELBY: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Megan Lim
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.