(Feature E- Artist Showcase Tour de force)
The following interview was conducted by members of the Kosmische
Musik Group with Hans-Joachim Roedelius via email on 5 April 2003.
John Wilby (UK) asks:
Q: What got you into making music in the first place? Did you have proper musical tuition, or did you come into it from a more experimental approach?
HJR: From experimental approach, I'm a self-taught composer/musician.
Q: The thing about your music as well as a lot of other German 'kosmische' music, is the hypnotic rhythm. Some of this I presume comes from the rhythm machines used, but I wonder how central this hypnotic pulse is to the way the music is conceived?
HJR: The concept was (and still is) working from "point zero", out of the moment and let's see/hear what's coming out of it. Pulse was not as much the goal as in Schulze's, Tangerine's or other contemporaries' music. We used the first ever Drum-Machine, "Drummer One", but "treated" those noises with equalization, reverb and delay (from modified Echolette-machines from Dynacord)
Keith Abbott (UK) asks:
Q: The Cluster album "Zuckerzeit" sounds as though it could have released yesterday, as it's sound is very contemporary. What did you use to create this sound, in particular the rhythm machine?
HJR: See above.
Q: Of the music you make today, what's your current favourite piece of music equipment you use?
HJR: The mixing desk, because I work in this period of my "career"/(period of the development of my personal abilities) mostly with bits/fragments of my own music, but also with fragments from different other sources to create "new" music. (It's somehow often a sort of recycling what I already did.)
Q: What do you think of the virtual instruments now available for computers? Do you use them? If so, which?
HJR: No not yet, but the computer is a great tool for creative people.
Q: It's 1975 and Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream ask you to collaborate with them. You can only choose one. Who would it be and why?
HJR: None of them, their concepts were/are too different
Q: What was it like working with Konrad Schnitzler on the albums "Klopfzeichen" and "Zwei Osterei"? How did the albums come to be released by a progressive church?
HJR: Conrad was the grey eminence/the great adviser behind the so called "Berlin School of Contemporary Music", respectively a sort of a personal nucleus of the artisque activities that happened in the art-and-music-scene at the time in Düsseldorf and Berlin.
The two albums you mention came to be realized by the efforts (affords?) of Oskar Gottlieb Blarr, a cantor at the St. Andreas-church in Düsseldorf, who once had listened to a Kluster-live-concert and liked the music very much. He himself was/is a progressive composer so he got into it easily and realized with Kluster (its concept) a musical picture of his vision of modern-churchmusic.
Q: After Kluster did you become involved in Schnitzler's Eruption project? What can you tell us about it?
HJR: The album "Kluster & Eruption" wasn't a product of Schnitzler's Eruption project. One member of Eruption recorded Kluster's last live-concert in Göttingen/Germany in 1971. That's it!
Q: If someone was looking to buy a Roedelius album which would you recommend?
HJR: That's pretty difficult to answer, because to get the complete picture of my music/art, people should listen and look to everything I did.
Heath Finnie (US) asks:
Q: What do you think of the term Krautrock and all the bands that represent it?
HJR: Krautrock has a bad meaning to me. Kluster/Cluster never had anything to do with it.
Q: How influential do you feel Cluster has been on today's electronic music?
HJR: Kluster/Clusters music was and still is "a well hidden secret" in contemporary music. Just some people know about us and just a few refer to us as influence for their own work. That's great, because what we did will still be relevant in any future.
Q: Any new Roedelius albums upcoming? Cluster?
HJR: Recent releases are:
"Digital Love" (Plagdichnicht/Vienna)
"Lieder vom Steinfeld Vol.III" (Privat Edition)
"American Steamboat" (Spacecraft/Nashville/Tennessee)
The soundtrack for a film about John Lennon from director Frederick Baker where I am participating as composer along with the "Fratelli-Brothers". (as CD)
Morgan Fisher/Tokyo (former "Mott the Hoople") & Roedelius
Mike Croswell (Metaphor/Minneapolis) & Roedelius
Werner Moebius & Roedelius
Alquimia & Roedelius
Charles Cohen/Philadelphia, Conrad Schnitzler & Roedelius
Conrad Schnitzler & Roedelius and others.
A biography/monography about me and my work, written by British writer/designer Stephen Iliffe, is planned to be released in summer 2003.
Jim Tetlow (UK) asks:
Q: I'm curious to hear about your early activities upon entering the underground Berlin scene in the late 60s. I've read that you were involved in the avant-garde groups Plus/Minus and Noises prior to forming Kluster with Conrad and Dieter - could you shed some light on these early groups? Also, as far as I've read, these ensembles were purely performance-based and no recordings exist. Is this correct?
HJR: The mentioned groups (that were more or less just Schnitzler's performing activities) were solo-projects of Conrad. I was sometimes/somehow involved in those activities. There are no recordings (at least as far as I know, because Schnitzler might keep some material).
Q: Were you involved in other projects at this time that have not been documented?
HJR: Yes in the foundation and the programming of the Zodiak artslab and I was a member of its most famous group "Human being". I keep a sound-document in my archive, which, if it'll be released, will add some important news to the history of contemporary electronic/experimental music.
Q: Tell us about your forming the Zodiak Free Arts Lab with Conrad Schnitzler - legend has it that it was the German equivalent of London's U.F.O. Club that existed at the same time. Numerous accounts exist of the kinds of activities that took place here, notably those of Agitation Free members, but what are your personal memories of the club, and the late 60s scene? What weird and wonderful "happenings"... happened?
HJR: It wasn't the equivalent of the U.F.O., but of London's first "arts-lab" (that later changed to be the ICA). Zodiak was co-founded by Schnitzler, Boris (Schaak), Elke Lixfeld (and some others whose names I forgot).
It was the first free arts-lab in Berlin and therefore the most interesting place for contemporary artistique activities.
It was "the place" for Agitation Free, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and many others, for free-jazz, rock- and theater-groups and our group/commune "Human being" as the center for the experimental scene in Berlin.
Q: What was the average audience response to Kluster performances? I would imagine many would have attended expecting rock music of some sort, and been shocked and perplexed by what you served up to them.
HJR: Kluster mostly played in museums, arthalls, university-clubs a.s.o. (and so on) and the response was great! We were very well respected as representatives of a totally new music style, respectively of a methode of creating/composing music after the teachings of visionary Josef Beuys, (because Schnitzler was the first pupil of him).
Q: Were you aware of any groups at this time with a similar approach to improvisation? I ask because the other day I listened to a CD of the Taj Mahal Travellers playing live in Stockholm in 1971, and there was a passage of music that sounded uncannily like Kluster to my ears: free-form echoed distortion-guitar bangings, and wild pitch-modulations with an echo device. Some of these bands must have found similar approaches without necessarily having heard each other.
HJR: "Taj Mahal", was, I remember it well, one of our favorite groups at the time along with "Hapshash and the Coloured Coat" and many others, but I think our approach to "soundscaping" was very authentic/original. We didn't care about the way any other group did their work, we just did ours.
Q: When Conny departed from Kluster and you became Cluster, was it simply a case of you sounding different because of his absence, or was there a conscious attempt to break away from Kluster territory and do something completely new?
HJR: Clusters methode to create/compose music wasn't different at all from Kluster's! That's the reason we just changed one letter in the name/title.
Q: What was it that first brought the two of you together with Michael Rother to become Harmonia?
HJR: Michael appeared one day in our community in Forst/Germany and asked whether we would possibly like to play together with him? We tried and liked what he did to our Cluster-music and after a while we agreed to the Harmonia-concept (which was to try to approach a different sonic field, more accessible for people, more song-/more rock-like.)
Q: In the wake of "Musik Von Harmonia", "Zuckerzeit" was a wild departure from the first two Cluster albums, and only a couple of tracks on the second album even hinted at what was to come. Was this change of direction largely influenced by Michael Rother, or had you been heading in this direction even before he came along?
HJR: We were always open to change "our musical behaviours". Zuckerzeit, produced during the Harmonia-period, it was a break in between all the other activities at the time, but moreover, it was an experiment, to show up, how Moebius and I worked as soloists. The record is in fact a solo-album with six solo-tracks from each of us, released on one album.
Q: Tell us about Brian Eno's involvement with Harmonia and Cluster... how he discovered you, and came to work with you following a live performance with him. He's spoken of sharing a house as a group in the mid 70s, living and playing together. What are your memories of these times? Also, how often have you worked with him since then?
HJR: We met in 1974 in Hamburg's "Fabrik" where Harmonia performed/gave a concert. He went on stage and we "jammed" together. He knew about Kluster/Cluster/Harmonia before and liked what we did already though it was obviously "easy for him" to join us.
We invited him to come to our place in Forst and he appeared two years later. He became a member of our community for about ten days and he enjoyed it very much. Even so it was hard for him to agree to the fact that we had a lot of daily work to do which didn´t allow us to be in the studio as often as he wanted it. We were shopping, cooking together, walking through fields and forests (there collecting and cutting wood), taking care of our daughter-baby who was born some month's before Brian arrived, talking a lot a.s.o. So what we did then was just like doing/fill a musical scetch-book together in the studio (that came out years later as "Harmonia 76 - tracks & traces".
Cluster worked with him afterwards with Conni Plank in Conni's studio on "Cluster & Eno", "After the heat" and the track "By this River" that was released on his solo-album "Before and after Science".
We met more over the years, but we didn't collaborate anymore directly. He supported some of my recordings that I did later on("Fortress of Love" & "Theatre-works"), and in the moment he's preparing to write the foreword of a book/biography about me that was written by British author/designer Stephen Iliffe. So we still collaborate somehow as you see.
Q: There are certain tracks by Cluster (with and without Eno) and Harmonia that sound as if they are condensed extracts from much longer cyclical improvisations. Having worked in similar ways with other musicians, I know it can take some time to "get into the groove" before magic happens... how long were some of these original recordings, and what (if anything) did you discuss beforehand? There are two cyclical pieces, "Ho Renomo" and "Watussi", that I totally adore, but for me they're too short even at six minutes! I would happily have them at 20, and get totally lost in them!
HJR: Yes you are right, ..."condensed extracts, but this is true only for Watussi, which was originally written as one of my selfportrait-tracks first and we shortened it when we made use of it for "Musik von Harmonia" the first album of the group (which was still very much a Cluster-album).
I'm often working that way. I like to create long tracks.
Do you own my "Selfportrait VI"-album? (It came out in the States by "Curious Music" and is still available.) The Watussi material is here part of the 9th track (that is 24 minutes long)!
Q: How much did Peter Baumann's influence rub off on "Grosses Wasser"? The opening track "Avanti" sounds like it could belong on his "Trans-Harmonic Nights" album, and even elsewhere a few Baumann-isms can be found. How much input did he have in making this album?
HJR: He had a lot of input in all those productions that we did together. ("Grosses Wasser", "Jardin au Fou", "Lustwandel")
Q: Tell us about the 1980 collaborative concert with Joschi Farnbauer, and how you came to work with him.
HJR: Joshi was the husband of a girlfriend of mine who was a painter at the time, so we got to know him and that, beside his profession as a sculptor and designer, he was a musician who played in the German group "Limbus". It was just a single collaboration. At the concert (which happened at the "Wiener Festwochen alternativ 1980") he played his sounding sculptures from different metalls that he created especially for this event, and percussion instruments.
Q: "Curiosum" is interesting and sounds like nothing else I've heard before. I can't keep a straight face listening to the opening track! What do you consider to be the prime influence behind the creation of this album? What were you trying to achieve? Or is intention not a major part in Cluster's vocabulary? Much of Cluster's music sounds to me like the kind of magic that only spontaneity can bring.
HJR: "Curiosum" is that kind of magic spontaneous music. It "was born" in the north of Austria in a friend's place/house, that before he went to live there was a monastery.
The prime influence was the beauty of the country-side and rural living (toilette outside, cold water only, heating with woodfire, cooking fresh food every day, stars very close at the sky at nights, forests around, no other people at all, no cars). It was also because Moebius and I had met again after several years of no contact, because of the "rural" gear (just a Revox and some old synthesizers), of the atmosphere. We spent a week of holidays together. I think "Curiosum" is the most funny record we ever made.
Q: I haven't heard much of your vast solo output, besides "Sinfonia Contempora No. 1" where you state in the sleeve notes that you felt you'd finally achieved the kind of musical language you'd been seeking to establish all those years. Would you still agree with what you said here, and do you feel you've developed this language much further still since then?.
HJR: Yes I did. There is Vol. II ("La Nordica" by Multimood) of the sinfonies, there is "Persistence of Memory" (Private Edition), there is "Veni Creator Spiritus" (Spacecraft/Nashville), there is "Evermore" (Klanggalerie/Vienna), there is "Die verlassene Stadt" (Klanggalerie), there is the collaborative work with Charles Cohen and Conrad Schnitzler "Reflex" and "Acon" with Schnitzler, there are "lots" of works that "show" Roedelius at work, getting "to the point".
Stevo Wolfson (US) asks:
Q: What did you listen to when you were growing up?
HJR: To the various noises of the people in their daily situations, at soccergames, in the streets and stores, the atmospheres/noise during filmshootings at the UFA (I was involved in many films as child-actor), the different noises of World War II (bombings on Berlin, battles at the eastern frontline, to all the noises before the war ended. when the Russian army arrived, par example when people got shot in front of me, the sudden fire from Russian jets when we were on our way back from Tchechoskvakia to Germany), but not much music until I was able to settle down.
My music-art is a sort of contemplating/reflecting "those noises of the world", of the people in all their daily situations, the machinery of our industries, the nature and all the causesreasons that helped me to become aware of myself/of my gifts and abilities.
Q: What inspires you and what are your major influences?
HJR: Life itself.
Q: How important was Conny Plank to the projects he was involved in?
HJR: He was the greatest help we/I ever had (beside the support and friendship of Conrad Schnitzler at the time). I am still very grateful that I got the chance to meet Conni (his wife Christa and (later) his son Stephan). Conni was in fact the third (silent) member of Cluster. (The funny thing is that Conni Schnitzler's wife's name is also Christa, and these two guys were my best friends at the time!)
Q: Tell us about the Harmonia commune.
HJR: It wasn't a commune in its real meaning. We just shared bath-and kitchen-room, but everybody had his own situation. It continued for about three years and then broke because of many different reasons.
Q: How did Harmonia come to be and what, if any, affect did this have on Cluster?
HJR: It was a short intermezzo in Cluster's career, nothing more, but it taught us/me to break the limits, and to walk beyond certain borders.
Q: Why did Cluster break up?
HJR: Don't ride the horse until it breaks its legs!
Q: Discuss your feeling about working with others and working solo. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
HJR: Both ways show up with ad-and disadvantages. I like to experiment. I am (besides many occupations) keyboarder at the moment in the group of Nikos Arvanitis who is doing the "Digital Love" project. (Nikos is 22 and Alexander Lovrek, the singer, 27.) This project works in the field of contemporary dance-music. But if we didn´t love each other and agree to each's point of view to life it wouldn´t work out well at all.
Q: Do you have a particular ritual you follow when you record? If you are using your own studio I imagine you record whenever you feel inspired, however when you are booking studio time how do you get the creative juices flowing?
HJR: I'm creating every bit of my music first in my studio "between door and angel" whilst cooking, cleaning, taking care of my grandson, serving the meals etc. (but mostly at night when my family is asleep).
Q: What is your approach to creating music? Do you created by composing, improvisation or a combination of both?
HJR: A sort of combination of both, but more the way of improvisation.
Q: How much has the changing technology shaped the way you work and your creative output?
HJR: I'm glad about the development of music-technology, it helps a lot to make the production-process easier (and cheaper).
Q: State your views on the age old question: analog vs. digital.
HJR: It's all up to the artist's charisma whether it's relevant art or not, what he releases, it has nothing to do with the quality of analogue or digital.
Q: What are some of your favorite recordings and why?
HJR: Classical or contemporary music: par example Sibelius, Satie, Debussy, Kancheli, Beethoven, (I am living around the corner here in Baden near Vienna where he wrote his ninth sinfonie and across the street where Mozart composed his "Ave verum"), but I like also pop-folk-respectively any music from "true" quality.
Q: What contemporary artists or groups do you enjoy?
HJR: I listen to contemporary music seldom enough, but I remember that I liked the group (or CD?) "Whale" very much once, Brian Eno's "Drawn from Life", I enjoy a lot "The Music of Sound" from the "Fratelli Brothers", I enjoy "Digital Love" from Nikos Arvanitis, as well and "Lunz" (even though I'm playing in the last two myself), also the "American Steamboat" I like very much.
Q: What are you listening to these days?
HJR: As I have mentioned above... "The Music of Sound" (Fratellis), "Digital Love" (Arvanitis), "American Steamboat" (Alec Way, Eric Bonerz, David Bickley, Eric Marlyn, Fabio Capanni).
Q: Your recorded output spans 30+ years. What are your plans for the future?
HJR: There are lots of Collaborations with artists around the globe as I´ve already mentioned above.
There is this book from Stephen Iliffe about my life and work coming out soon, that has to be featured/promoted, however.
The Dance-Theatre-play "Persistence of memory" (first performed in 2000 and 2001 in Austria) has to be re-vitalized/brought on stage again as soon as possible (which was a co-production of Italian choreografer Roberto Castello and myself in collaboration with our group "Tempus Transit"), also "Utopia of a tired man" this dance-theatre-play based on Borges-text, that British choreografer Esther Linley produced/choreographed in 1994, (where I'm acting/dancing in the context of my own music).
Q: Is there anything you have yet to accomplish that you are working towards or hope to achieve?
HJR: I'm trying to be, as much as possible, concentrated to what happens in the very moment. I hope to accomplish my life in love and dignity and achieve "easily" whatever I need to do.
Q: Finally, what would you most like to communicate to your fans?
HJR: Pray for peace and do your best to avoid the evil.
HJR / 5 April 2003
Very special thanks to:
Stephen Iliffe - photographs
Their gracious assistance made this presentation possible!
For additional information regarding activites, or to purchase
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