|1||1||Plays Albert Ayler 1||10:01|
|2||Plays Albert Ayler 2||9:45|
|3||Plays John Cassavetes 1||9:58|
|4||Plays John Cassavetes 2||9:57|
|2||1||Plays Hubert Fichte 1||10:02|
|2||Plays Hubert Fichte 2||9:00|
|3||Plays Cornelius Cardew 1||4:01|
|4||Plays Cornelius Cardew 2||4:04|
|5||Plays Robert Johnson 1||4:05|
|6||Plays Robert Johnson 2||4:00|
Ekkehard Ehlers' seminal plays series was originally released on three 12inches (Staubgold) and two 7inches (Bottrop-Boy) in very limited runs. The entire series was previously only available as a CD compilation or digitally. Keplar finally presents it on double vinyl for the first time, featuring a new cover artwork.
Domestic ethnology: Ekkehard Ehlers plays.
‘Play’ is a word in English with many meanings attached. Each one sends you down a different cognitive pathway. When I think of ‘playing’, in the sense of a game, I think of an activity involving more than one person. When Ekkehard Ehlers plays, he is very much on his own. Or, at least, alone but at the same time keeping intimate company with the artistic innovators named in his titles. Robert Johnson. John Cassavetes. Albert Ayler. Cornelius Cardew. Hubert Fichte. Is he playing with them, against them, about them, for them, to them? This can never be known.
It is certainly a mistake to try to hear the ‘work’ of these originals in the sounds played by Ekkehard. They’re not cover versions. They’re hardly tributes in the conventional sense. Cassavetes and Fichte are not even musicians, although music played an important part in both their careers. Sure, there are little nods and flashes of recognition – tiny guitar licks among the minimal beats of ‘Robert Johnson 2’; rich bowed instruments in ‘Albert Ayler’, recalling the violin, cello and double bass arrangements on Ayler’s 1967 Live in Greenwich Village LP; the elongated organ lines of ‘Cornelius Cardew 1’ gesturing towards passages in Paragraph 1 of the British composer’s 1971 Marxist monolith, The Great Learning. Ekkehard is not so much playing these figures as allowing himself to be played by them.
Playing as an activity also suggests freedom. Maybe the only thing all five named persons have in common is that they were all quiet radicals. In music, literature and cinema, they all stepped, without self-promotion or fanfare, into unmapped territories. Once there they found it necessary to invent new languages in order to survive. Necessity was the mother of their inventiveness. They were also uncomfortable avant gardists. Lonely types, fighting their corners out on the margins, with little reward, often misunderstood, ridiculed or ignored.
All died unfairly young. Fichte a victim of HIV/AIDS, Cassavetes of cirrhosis of the liver. (‘Cassavetes 2’ sounds like a tender farewell played across the 59 year old alcoholic director’s death bed.) The deaths of Johnson, Ayler and Cardew have never been satisfactorily explained, and remain shrouded in myths and conspiracy theories. The pioneering expeditions of all five began in that spirit of playful freedom, but inexorably drew them towards the heart of darkness.
So these ‘plays’ are micro-dramas, sonic soliloquies, monolog-ins to the private accounts of various geniuses in Ekkehard’s ‘follow’ list. Hacked sensibilities. Artistic manifestos boiled down and distilled, skinned and dried in the digital smokehouse. (Ekkehard Ehlers Flays.) Each of these plays was originally floated out into the world alone on its own disc. The collected works play well as a team – a tranquil, introspective experience where each artist has his own identifiably unique sound character. As an album, Plays is a ‘Plattenragout’ – a ‘record stew’ – which was the title of Hubert Fichte’s LP review column in the leftist culture magazine konkret in the 1960s. The novelist’s work investigating the cultures of South America and the Caribbean islands has been called ‘domestic ethnology’. The writer himself referred to his ‘ethnopoesie’. Ekkehard Ehlers’s intuitive electronic portraits are a form of domestic ethnology in themselves. Invoking another of Ekkehard’s musical aliases, they are portraits of cultural ‘autopoiesies’ – creators whose works were strong enough to have their own self-regenerating life force. (by Rob Young)
All tracks written and produced by Ekkehard Ehlers.
Featuring Stephan Mathieu, Joseph Suchy, Anka Hirsch.
Tracks A1 to C2 originally released on three 12inches via Staubgold.
Tracks D1 to D4 originally released on two 7inches via Bottrop-Boy.
Plays originally released as CD compilation in 2002 by Staubgold.
Mastered by Rashad Becker.
Cut to vinyl by Lupo, Berlin, 2022.
Redesigned by Sandra Kastl, 2022.
Photos by Ludger Blanke