INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Kosmische APRIL 5, 2003 - by John Wilby, Keith Abbott, Heath Finnie, Jim Tetlow and Stevo Wolfson
The following interview was conducted by members of the Kosmische Musik Group with Hans-Joachim Roedelius via email.
John Wilby: 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?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: From an experimental approach. I'm a self-taught composer-musician.
John Wilby: 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?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: 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 Dream's or other contemporaries' music. We used the first ever drum-machine, Drummer One, but treated those noises with equalisation, reverb and delay from modified Echolette machines by Dynacord.
Keith Abbott: 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 rhythms?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: See above.
Keith Abbott: Of the music you make today, what's your current favourite piece of music equipment you use?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: The mixing desk, because I'm working - in this period of my "career"/development of my personal abilities - mostly with bits and fragments of my own music, but also with fragments from other sources, to create "new" music. It's somehow often a sort of recycling of what I've already done.
Keith Abbott: What do you think of the virtual instruments now available for computers? Do you use them? If so, which?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: No, not yet, but the computer is a great tool for creative people.
Keith Abbott: 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?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: None of them, their concepts were/are too different.
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Conrad was the grey eminence and great adviser behind the so called Berlin School of Contemporary Music, respectively a sort of a personal nucleus of the artistic activities that happened in the art and music scene at the time in Düsseldorf and Berlin.
The two albums you mention came to be realised by the efforts 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 realised its concept with Kluster as a musical picture of his vision of modern church-music.
Keith Abbott: After Kluster did you become involved in Schnitzler's Eruption project? What can you tell us about it?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: The album 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!
Keith Abbott: If someone was looking to buy a Roedelius album which would you recommend?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: That's pretty difficult to answer, because to get the complete picture of my music and art, people should listen and look to everything I did.
Heath Finnie: What do you think of the term Krautrock and all the bands that represent it?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Krautrock has a bad meaning to me. Kluster/Cluster never had anything to do with it.
Heath Finnie: How influential do you feel Cluster has been on today's electronic music?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Kluster/Cluster's 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 an influence on their own work. That's great, because what we did will still be relevant in any future.
Heath Finnie: Any new Roedelius albums upcoming? Cluster?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Recent releases include Lunz, Digital Love, Lieder Vom Steinfeld; upcoming releases are Prachstücke, American Steamboat and the soundtrack for a film about John Lennon from director Frederick Baker where I am participating as composer along with The Fratellis.
In production are Morgan Fisher (formerly of Mott The Hoople) & Roedelius; Mike Croswell & Roedelius; Werner, Moebius & Roedelius; Alquimia & Roedelius; and Charles Cohen, Conrad Schnitzler & Roedelius and others.
A biography about me and my work, written by British writer-designer Stephen Iliffe, is planned to be released in summer 2003.
Jim Tetlow: 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?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: 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, although Schnitzler might have some material.
Jim Tetlow: Were you involved in other projects at this time that have not been documented?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Yes, in the foundation and the programming of the Zodiak Arts Lab and I was a member of its most famous group, Human Being. I keep a sound-document in my archive which, if it's released, will add some important information to the history of contemporary electronic/experimental music.
Jim Tetlow: 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 there, 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?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: It wasn't the equivalent of the U.F.O. but of London's first "arts-lab" that later became 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 artistic activities.
It was "the place" for Agitation Free, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and many others - for free-jazz, rock and theatre groups and our group/commune Human Being as the centre for the experimental scene in Berlin.
Jim Tetlow: What was the average audience response to Kluster performances? I would imagine many would have attended expecting rock music of some sort, and instead been shocked and perplexed by what you served up to them.
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Kluster mostly played in museums, art galleries, universities and so on and the response was great! We were very well respected as representatives of a totally new music style, of a method of creating/composing music after the teachings of visionary Josef Beuys (Schnitzler was his first pupil).
Jim Tetlow: 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.
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Taj Mahal, was, I remember it well, one of our favourite 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.
Jim Tetlow: 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?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Cluster's method of creating and composing music wasn't different at all from Kluster's! That's the reason we just changed one letter in the name.
Jim Tetlow: What was it that first brought the two of you together with Michael Rother to become Harmonia?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: 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-like, more rock-like.)
Jim Tetlow: 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?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: We were always open to changing our musical behaviours. Zuckerzeit, produced during the Harmonia period, 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.
Jim Tetlow: 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?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: We met in 1974 in Hamburg's Fabrik where Harmonia performed a concert. He came on stage and we jammed together. He knew about Kluster/Cluster/Harmonia before and liked what we had done so 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 collecting and cutting wood, taking care of our baby daughter who was born some month's before Brian arrived, talking a lot and so on. So what we did then was just like doing a musical sketch-book together in the studio - it came out years later as Harmonia 76 - Tracks And Traces.
We met over the years but we didn't collaborate directly anymore. He supported some of my recordings that I did later on - Fortress Of Love and Theatreworks, and at the moment he's preparing to write the foreword of a biography about me that was written by British author-designer Stephen Iliffe. So we still collaborate sometimes as you see.
Jim Tetlow: 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 twenty, and get totally lost in them!
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Yes, you are right, "condensed extracts" - but this is true only for Watussi, which was originally written as one of my Selfportrait tracks, but was shortened when we made use of it for Musik Von Harmonia, the group's first album (which was still very much a Cluster album).
I often work that way. I like to create long tracks.
Do you own my Selfportrait VI album? It came out in the States on Curious Music and is still available. The Watussi material is here part of the ninth track that is twenty-four minutes long!
Jim Tetlow: 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?
Jim Tetlow: Tell us about the 1980 collaborative concert with Joschi Farnbauer, and how you came to work with him.
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Joschi 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 sound sculptures with different metals and percussion instruments that he created especially for this event.
Jim Tetlow: 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.
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Curiosum is that kind of magic spontaneous music. It was "born" in the north of Austria in a friend's house, a place that used to be a monastery.
The prime influence was the beauty of the countryside and rural living - outside toilet, cold water only, heating with wood fire, cooking fresh food every day, stars very close in the sky at nights, surrounded by forests, 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 - and the atmosphere. We spent a week of holidays together. I think Curiosum is the funniest record we ever made.
Jim Tetlow: 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 there, and do you feel you've developed this language much further still since then?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Yes I do. There is Vol. II of the Sinfonies, there is Persistence Of Memory, there is Veni Creator Spiritus, there is Evermore, there is Die Verlassene Stadt, there is the collaborative work, Reflex, with Charles Cohen and Conrad Schnitzler, and Acon with Schnitzler, and there are lots of works that show Roedelius at work, getting to the point.
Stevo Wolfson: What did you listen to when you were growing up?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: To the various noises of people in their daily situations, at soccer games, in the streets and stores, the atmosphere and noise during film-shootings at the UFA (I was involved in many films as a child-actor), the different noises of World War II - bombings on Berlin, battles at the Eastern front, to all the noises before the war ended when the Russian army arrived, for example when people got shot in front of me, the sudden fire from Russian jets when we were on our way back from Czechoslovakia to Germany - but not much music until I was able to settle down.
My music-art is a sort of contemplation and reflection of those noises of the world, of the people in all their daily situations, the machinery of our industries, nature and all the causes and reasons that helped me to become aware of myself and of my gifts and abilities.
Stevo Wolfson: What inspires you and what are your major influences?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Life itself.
Stevo Wolfson: How important was Conny Plank to the projects he was involved in?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: 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 Conny, his wife Christa and (later) his son Stephan. Conny was in fact the third - silent - member of Cluster. The funny thing is that Conny Schnitzler's wife's name is also Christa, and these two guys were my best friends at the time!
Stevo Wolfson: Tell us about the Harmonia commune.
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: It wasn't a commune in its real meaning. We just shared a bath and kitchen, but everybody had his own situation. It continued for about three years and then broke up because of many different reasons.
Stevo Wolfson: How did Harmonia come to be and what, if any, affect did this have on Cluster?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: 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.
Stevo Wolfson: Why did Cluster break up?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Don't ride the horse until it breaks its legs!
Stevo Wolfson: Discuss your feeling about working with others and working solo. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Both ways have advantages and disadvantages. I like to experiment. I am - besides many other occupations - currently the keyboardist in Nikos Arvanitis' group. He is doing the Digital Love project. Nikos is twenty-two and Alexander Lovrek, the singer, is twenty-seven. This project covers the field of contemporary dance-music. But if we didn't love each other and agree to each other's point-of-view it wouldn't work out well at all.
Stevo Wolfson: 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?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: 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.
Stevo Wolfson: What is your approach to creating music? Do you created by composing, improvisation or a combination of both?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: A sort of combination of both, but more the way of improvisation.
Stevo Wolfson: How much has the changing technology shaped the way you work and your creative output?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: I'm glad about the development of music-technology, it helps a lot to make the production-process easier and cheaper.
Stevo Wolfson: State your views on the age old question - analogue vs. digital.
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: 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.
Stevo Wolfson: What are some of your favourite recordings and why?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Classical or contemporary music - for example Sibelius, Satie, Debussy, Kancheli, Beethoven - I am living around the corner here in Baden near Vienna where he wrote his Ninth Symphony and across the street where Mozart composed his Ave Verum - but I also like pop and folk - any music with "true" quality.
Stevo Wolfson: What contemporary artists or groups do you enjoy?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: I seldom listen to contemporary music but I remember that I liked the group (or CD?) Whale very much once, Brian Eno's Drawn From Life, I enjoy The Fratellis' The Music Of Sound a lot. I enjoy Digital Love from Nikos Arvanitis, as well and Lunz even though I played on these two myself. I also like American Steamboat very much.
Stevo Wolfson: What are you listening to these days?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: As I have mentioned above... The Fratellis' The Music Of Sound, Digital Love, American Steamboat.
Stevo Wolfson: Your recorded output spans thirty-plus years. What are your plans for the future?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: 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 promoted, however.
The dance-theatre-play Persistence Of Memory - which was a co-production of Italian choreographer Roberto Castello and myself in collaboration with our group Tempus Transit and which was first performed in 2000 and 2001 in Austria - has to be revitalised and brought on stage again as soon as possible. There's also Utopia Of A Tired Man, - a dance-theatre-play based on a Borges text that British choreographer Esther Linley produced and choreographed in 1994 - where I'm acting and dancing in the context of my own music.
Stevo Wolfson: Is there anything you have yet to accomplish that you are working towards or hope to achieve?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: I'm trying to be, as much as possible, concentrated on what happens in the present moment. I hope to accomplish my life in love and dignity and achieve easily whatever I need to do.
Stevo Wolfson: Finally, what would you most like to communicate to your fans?
Hans-Joachim Roedelius: Pray for peace and do your best to avoid evil.