INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Wall Street Journal SEPTEMBER 8, 2015 - by Jim Fusilli
Christoph Mueller and Hans-Joachim Roedelius have teamed up and produced an antidote to the abrasive, unimaginative electronic-dance music that is soiling contemporary pop.
In February 2012, Christoph Mueller, best known for his work with the neo-tango Gotan Project, was invited to perform with experimentalist Hans-Joachim Roedelius at the Centre des Arts in Enghien-les-Bains, France. The two musicians, who hadn't worked together previously, didn't prepare a program, and the impromptu concert, available on streaming services and Amazon, reveals two musicians groping toward commonality, with Mr. Roedelius's wistful, melodic piano providing themes for Mr. Mueller to enhance and punctuate with subtle synthesised sounds and beats. To listen to their music is to witness the beginning of a friendship.
Now, the duo returns as Mueller_Roedelius with Imagori (Grönland), a collection of ten tracks that finds them on sturdy ground. Their mature, quietly sophisticated blend of ambient and electronic music is as delightful as it is deliberate - and is an antidote to the abrasive, unimaginative electronic-dance music that is soiling contemporary pop.
Mr. Roedelius, who is eighty, has long been essential to the development of avant-garde music. A club he co-founded, Zodiak Free Arts Lab in West Berlin, served as a centre for late-'60s experimental musicians, and in 1971 he and Dieter Moebius (who died this summer) began working together as Cluster, one of the early forces in what became krautrock, which blends ambient music, minimalism, free jazz and prog rock, often coupled with sturdy electronic rhythms. Mr. Roedelius began releasing solo albums in 1978, and as krautrock's influence informed arrangements by second- and third-generation bands as varied as Radiohead and Wilco, his reputation flourished. His lengthy discography continues to grow, even as he enters his ninth decade.
As for Mr. Mueller, he first came to prominence in the late '80s with Touch El Arab, an electronic-pop group based in Basel, Switzerland. In Paris, he joined Eduardo Makaroff, whose métier was the Argentine tango, and Philippe Cohen Solal to form Gotan Project, which released its debut album in 2001. Its vibrant blend of tango and electronica found a global audience with its stylish, sensual recordings. (When asked about Gotan Project, Mr. Mueller told me it "is in a very deep sleep. I don't know if it will ever awaken again.")
Messrs. Mueller and Roedelius are unlikely partners, both musicians conceded during separate phone conversations last week. Mr. Mueller said he approaches music as a bassist; that is, with structure as fundamental to what will emerge. Mr. Roedelius is an improviser who claimed he doesn't think of what he will play until he's seated at the piano. "I begin by thinking of which key I should press first," he said with a laugh. While his rationale may be freewheeling, Mr. Roedelius's airy, meditative playing is disciplined at its core, and it allows Mr. Mueller to create beats and soundscapes that anticipate its direction. The axis of their individual methods is beauty and musicality.
On Imagori, which was released on Friday, the duo explores open space without crowding or overwhelming it. In A Song Or Not, there's a wide gulf between the piano and synthesised beats until tabla-like percussion and bass pulses fill some of the void, while in Time Has Come varied electronic beats and sound swatches seem to dissuade Mr. Rodelius from soloing on piano, though he offers a little flourish at its end to illustrate what might have been. QM builds on hasty beats and layered bottom-heavy percussion until Mr. Roedelius enters with delicately applied tones that suggest it is better to proceed with patience. Himmel Über Lima is agreeable ambient piano music until the percussion comes along and nudges it elsewhere; when the percussion recedes, Mr. Roedelius returns with his most forceful performance.
Mueller_Roedelius also presents a unified sound. Valse Mecanique gathers slowly as rumbling bass, clicking percussion and piano chords create an amorphous platform until the music coalesces as funk. In Origami II, the repeating piano chords and thumping percussion lock in as what sound like layers of toy xylophones join in. Neither Mr. Roedelius nor Mr. Mueller seems particularly interested in resolution, so almost always the music is defined in part by tickling tension and a sense of suspense.
Imagori has no hidden agenda - Mr. Roedelius called it an exercise in "the pure joy of music" - but it serves as a reminder of what happens when capable, experienced musicians allow their instincts and intuition to guide synthesised sounds and rhythms to illuminate their vision. If mainstream electronic music in the form of EDM is about conformity and surrendering to prepackaged sounds, then Imagori is its opposite: There is rarely a moment on the album that feels calculated or artificial. For all its use of electronics, the album is altogether a product of well-considered human interaction emanating from music, not technology. Thus, it settles beautifully on the body and mind, and then lingers in the imagination.