INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Uncut APRIL 2020 - by Jim Wirth
From East Berlin to Cluster & Eno, the electronic adventures of Hans-Joachim Roedelius
The day after Kluster performed at the Fehmarn Love + Peace Festival - Germany's answer to Woodstock - in September 1970, Hans-Joachim Roedelius stayed on to watch one of his heroes in action. Jimi Hendrix won over a restless crowd, but his all-action show was a letdown for the ambient pioneer. "It made me very sad to see him doing the same thing again, smashing his guitar," Roedelius tells Uncut. "He was so tired and seemed to be much bored by the situation. Always doing the same - that's deadly boring of course. And about a week later he died."
Now eighty-five, Roedelius's long life at the outer limits of pop may owe something to avoiding repetition. His new memoir-cum-philosophical- tract, The Book, details his unscripted musical journey. He describes the book as "a process of reconciliation - to become totally aware of myself, about all that happened and how and why."
Roedelius's meditative music stands in stark contrast to a war-torn upbringing. "I was a burned kid," he says. "I had to bear the bombings on Berlin in World War II, and the chaos afterwards." Coming of age in East Germany, Roedelius was imprisoned and tortured after trying to defect to the West in the mid-1950s, finally sneaking through the Iron Curtain in 1960 after fearing the East German secret police were onhis case again. Initially he worked as a physiotherapist, but found his true calling in his mid-thirties at Berlin's Zodiak Free Arts Lab. Along with art students Conrad Schnitzler and Dieter Moebius he formed Kluster, taking to improvised electronic music as a rejection of the uptight "leftovers from Hitlerism" with a mission to mould a different future. "Everybody was curious about the idea to create something new," Roedelius explains. "And it worked out very well because our curiosity was very serious."
Schnitzler left in 1971, at which point Moebius and Roedelius renamed themselves Cluster and moved to the rural location of Forst in Lower Saxony to explore a more dreamlike vein of electronic experimentalism. A visit from Neu!'s Michael Rother led to the formation of krautrock supergroup Harmonia, while Brian Eno also popped by during he period he was working on David Bowie's Berlin trilogy, ultimately recording Cluster & Eno (1977) and After The Heat (1978) with his hosts. Life at Forst was a shock to the system, though; in his foreword to The Book, Eno remembers Roedelius's austere daily breakfast ("black bread with thin slivers of onion and garlic on top") and the "near-nuclear potency" of Moebius's cigarettes. Roedelius says that Eno wasn't much use with the daily chores in Cluster's farmhouse - gardening, gathering firewood - though he did help with babysitting.
Roedelius left Forst for Austria in the late 1970s, but continued to amass a huge body of recorded work - alone, with Cluster, and with younger adventurers like Japan's Richard Barbieri (1998's T'ai) and Lloyd Cole (2013's Selected Studies Vol. 1). He continues to perform, experiment and collaborate, his output helping him to rise above his physical ailments: proof perhaps that his twin callings - music and physiotherapy - have something in common. "Oh yes, very much," he says. "It's about inner health; the spirit."