Blurt OCTOBER 27, 2011 - by Steven Rosen


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.

It's another night on the American road for seventy-seven-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.)

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 seventeenth century church in Düsseldorf.

In Cincinnati, the show has been booked into an old semi-ruin of an innercity 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 twenty-five 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 forty 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). First 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 eleven 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.