As a sophisticated chap and possessor of a towering intellect I always thought I should be brilliant at chess. My dad had a very nice plastic set where the pieces were based on the Bayeux tapestry and I remember him telling me he would teach me to play when I was old enough to learn. He did. I learned that the bishop moved diagonally, the ‘prawns’ were very boring and weak, rooks bulldozed everything on the horizontal and that the horsey jumped over and around. Unfortunately, despite reading a book about it, I never really got any better than horsey takes prawn and anyway AD&D happened.
Luckily for posterity Manuel Göttsching* was a bit better at applying himself to that sort of thing, otherwise we would never have had E2-E4. The album is named after the popular opening move**. The iconic cover of the LP is based on a chess board that his father made:
You can hear the same methodical virtues informing and permeating the whole of E2-E4, which I would go to bat for as easily one of the most influential albums released in the 80’s. To paraphrase that famous quote about the Velvet Underground, it may not have sold many copies but everyone who heard it went on to become an incredibly influential DJ in the 90’s; this is an album that invented a whole slew of genres and gave the Balearic scene its’ sound.
All in all, not bad for the guitarist from Ash Ra Tempel, who after a tour with Klaus Schulze used some downtime on 12 December 1981 to put on a concert for himself in the studio, using just his guitar, mixer, sequencers, keyboards and a primitive drum machine. When he listened back he was astonished at how good it sounded, how all the levels were correct, how well everything flowed together. After not knowing whether to bin it or release it, he took it to his label boss Richard Branson who told him he could make a fortune from it. So, he let it sit for another 3 years and released E2-E4 in 1984.
E2-E4 was designed as a single 58-minute track, built with pure repetition on that fault line abutting tedium and genius-um. It is so perfect to trance out to, following that beat, obsessively listening for the incremental progressions and arpeggiations in the sound that end up being completely mind-blowing because of the time they take to unfurl. And then after 28 minutes, or Side 1 as we righteous few call it, Mr Göttsching gets his guitar out and the world shifts very gently on its axis. Here is a snippet:
His playing is as difficult to describe, as it seems effortless, fluid and free. There is just something warm, calm and blue about his tone on E2-E4, I defy anyone with a soul not to listen to it and think of beautiful, inviting water. No wonder those dance producers picked up on it so quickly, it just sings of sunsets and mellow times, brightly coloured drinks in slim glasses, the sun on your skin and beautiful people to share them with. This really isn’t just my usual self-indulgent nonsensical, the boy-who-cried-Wolf-People, exaggeration either.
Effectively the whole of Side 2 is a 30-minute guitar solo and every single time I play this LP, which is a lot, I am just sorry it isn’t longer. In fact I often just put the needle back to the beginning, I did it twice today^. I have heard that over the years there have been a number of cases where the authorities have found the bodies of emaciated, yet strangely blissed out corpses next to record players with E2-E4 still spinning. True story, it can be lethal to the very susceptible.
Göttsching did in fact list 9 tracks on E2-E4, all chess-themed (‘H.R.H Retreats (With a Swing)’, anyone?) and listed their times but I have never found them useful, trying to follow them would just stop me bliss riding.
I plumped for a shiny new 2016 reissued copy of E2-E4 replace the rubbish condition one I had before that and it’s a joy to own. The sound is perfect and true, the vinyl a robust 180g, the sleevenotes^^ great, but best of all is the chess board cover which is embossed, so you can feel the outline of each and every square^*.
E2-E4 is a rare thing, an incredibly influential LP that not too many people have heard, which isn’t just a rarefied smartarsed this-is-the-source type of pleasure, but a genuine work of joy that really should have a wider audience.
Owning E2-E4 is a pleasure, this is a LP that never, ever fails to make me happier than when I was when it started, which is a thing to be cherished and appreciated in life.
It hasn’t made me any better at chess though.
PS: Here’s the full hit, because you’re worth it:
PPS: Here is Sueño Latino with the next stage of E2-E4’s evolution 5 years on:
*a man who clearly loved Lemmy and co so much that he copied Motörhead by having the diaeresis on his ‘o’.
**and is a pun on the fact that the guitar is tuned from E2 (low) to E4 (top).
^which is why I am writing this. The world will have to wait for my erudite thoughts on Circus of Power Still Alive.
^^Sleevenotes!!!! Sleevenotes!!!! How I love you, sleevenotes.
^*on your face, when you rub it gently against yourself in tranquil ecstasy.