KRAUTROCK GODFATHER MEETS MOOGFEST Hans-Joachim Roedelius

Appearing both solo
and with Lunz Project at this weekend’s Moog bash, the Cluster/Harmonia member,
Eno collaborator and solo maestro is a genuine musical giant.

 

BY STEVEN ROSEN

 

CINCINNATI
– It’s another night on the American road for 77-year-old Hans-Joachim
Roedelius, one of the world’s most melodically ambient and influential – but
also underappreciated – electronic-music musicians/pianists. (He will be
performing at this week’s MoogFest in Asheville;
check the links at the end of this article.)

 

For this fall, 2011 jaunt through this country, the
German-born Roedelius is traveling with the younger electronics musician
Chandra Shukla, who spearheads a collective known as XAMBUCA.  His recordings, like Roedelius’, are being
supported by Erototix Decodings, the Asheville
“microlabel” devoted (for now) to experimental instrumental music. On
Roedelius’ latest album distributed by that label, Stunden, he uses piano, guitar and electronics (with German
musician Stefan Schneider on bass) to achieve transcendent illumination on a
series of peaceful yet coiled instrumental works. It was inspired by their
joint concert in a 17th Century church in Dusseldorf.

 

In Cincinnati,
the show has been booked into an old semi-ruin of an inner-city warehouse,
called the Mockbee, that looks as ghostly and haunted as Roedelius’
introspectively minimalist, classically influenced piano work can sound. The
concert room is at one end of the second floor – one must walk past rooms and
up stairs of eerie emptiness to get there.

 

The date has not been widely promoted locally. So even
though Philip Glass recently received an extended standing ovation at a
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra appearance, this show has but niche appeal.
Consequently, only about 25 people are in the darkened room. The scent from the
burning candles/incense is strong, but serves to provide some warmth on a cold
weekday night. The semi-abstracted video projections that bounce off the
pillars and walls only add to the space’s otherworldly feel.

 

At 11 p.m. sharp, he steps up on stage and begins playing
without a word of explanation. On one table is a small keyboard that looks
ensconced in a red, wooden frame. It emanates a clear, mournfully pure acoustic-piano
sound, and he plays graceful, slowly building figures on it that have the
simple but transfixing charm of Satie’s Etudes.

 

But he alternates this by stepping over to his other table,
where he can manipulate electronic sounds from a console. They do not come off
as “artificial,” but rather like a collage of what one might hear in nature –
or on the street below. Rain, barking dogs, a train, the wind, birds…after a
while it becomes hard to pick out what one is actually hearing and what one thinks he is hearing in the darkness, a
tribute to the associative power of great electronic music. Yet they aren’t
random sound effects, either…Roedelius has a way of combining, overlaying and
developing these sounds to make them musical.

 

This extended suite goes on for about 40 or so minutes, and
then it’s finished with a slow conclusion on piano. The applause is long and
hearty, even some standing cheers, and he performs a short, lovely piano
lullaby as an encore. Then he walks off, asks a bartender at the rear of the
room for a whiskey, and talks to his fans. 
The crowd may have been small, but the reception is enthusiastic.

 

**

 

At this weekend’s MoogFest, Roedelius first appears Friday
night with pianist Tim Story, for a show in which they are billed as Lunz
Project. On Saturday afternoon, he’ll perform solo. It’s good to see Roedelius
booked into this showcase festival for progressive, “modernica” music of all
types, which has plenty of artists (and bigger names) of a similar bent —
Terry Riley, Tangerine Dream, Moby and – giving an “illustrated talk” – Brian
Eno, whom Roedelius has worked with and influenced.

 

Roedelius has a long, fruitful and prolifically complicated
recording career as a soloist, collaborator and band member interested in
electronics, piano and synthesized keyboards. It’s certainly much too involved
for this writer to know off the top of his head, so thank you to his publicist,
Erototix Decodings and the Internet – especially Wikipedia – for attempting to
keep it straight. He was born in Berlin
and came of age in that city’s countercultural arts world of the late 1960s, a
place of radical experimentation. He became involved in a music commune that
begat Zodiak Free Arts Lab, an arts space that was a late-night haven for
musical groundbreakers of all types. Tangerine Dream played there early on, as
did other bands that set the agenda for what in the 1970s would become Germany’s
influential, drone-cum-industrial-music “Krautrock.”

 

One of the Zodiak’s other founders, the artist Conrad Schnitzler,
even joined Tangerine Dream for their first album, but left to form Kluster
with Roedelius and Dieter Moebius. That group lasted for a couple years and
three albums, mixing classical New Music with found sounds and industrial
noise. After Schnitzler left in 1971, Kluster became Cluster – the band for
which Roedelius is still best known. Cluster also featured the late Conny Plank
as a musician at first, but he moved over to become a composer/producer for
them.

 

Through 1981, Cluster released albums – mostly in Germany but
occasionally elsewhere – that featured a confident feel for all that was
possible with electronic experimentation, from ambience to thundering noise to
early trance/dance. But the highlight of their work came in 1977-1978 when Eno,
in his Berlin
days, recorded two albums with them. The all-instrumental Cluster & Eno is on the gentle instrumental side with its
hypnotic loops, while After the Heat has a little more of a “pop” presence, 
if you can call it that – the song “Tzima N’Arki” features a reverses
Eno vocal that features a manipulated fragment of his own “King’s Lead Hat.”

 

Since 1989, Cluster has occasionally reformed, recorded and
toured internationally (including Cincinnati
in the mid-1990s). Encounter Tour 1996, a chronicle of a U.S.
visit, was produced by Tim Story, appearing with Roedelius at MoogFest. It
appears Cluster is now officially over; this year Roedelius announced plans to
issue three albums under the name Qluster with Onnen Block.

 

Roedelius and Moebius also have performed with Michael
Rother of Krautrockers Neu! under the moniker Harmonia, releasing two mid-1970s
albums, Musik von Harmonia and Deluxe, moving between ambient and more
forceful rock. They also recorded with Eno over 11 days in 1976, when he came
to their studio and found their music and work process invigorating. The
resultant album, Tracks and Traces, was not released until 1997 and has subsequently been reissued. Harmonia, too,
has occasionally reformed and toured, playing the My Bloody Valentine-curated
All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in New
York in 2008.

 

Roedelius has numerous other collaborations, but on his own
has released forty-five studio, live and compilation albums, according to the
Internet. You’ll probably find an ample selection on display at his MoogFest
performances. He deserves his own library or museum (or at least record store)
to keep track of his work, and he reportedly has more releases on the way. And
certainly deserves a large, enthusiastic turnout at MoogFest, and here’s hoping
he gets it. He’s one of the giants of this year’s line-up.

 

 

Roedelius performs a
solo set at MoogFest on Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Diana Wortham Theatre from
5-6pm. It will be preceded on Friday evening, also at the DWT, with a
Lunzproject performance at 11:30pm.

 

 

[Photo credit: Camillo Roedelius]

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