ALBUM REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona




Roedelius   ‘Selbstporträt Wahre Liebe’
(Bureau B)   LP/10th April 2020


Losing none of that zest for creating and wonderment, the eight-five year old progenitor of ambient, new age and neo-classical music Hans-Joachim Roedelius is still exploring and still producing experimental compositions at a prolific rate. There is, four decades on from his richest period of self-discovery and defining the perimeters of what electronic music could be, no let up in the Roedelius schedule. As famous for his collaborative partnership with the late Dieter Moebius in the Kluster/Cluster/Qluster arc, the Berlin born masseur and physiotherapist turned self-taught composer, has also laid down a breadcrumb trail of impressive and highly influential solo releases, numbering somewhere in the 100s.

Just one part of that extensive catalogue of solo work, the introspective Selbstporträt series is being revisited by the aging doyen for the Bureau B label. Originally made during various sessions for Cluster, between 1973 to 1979, these intimate contemplative and ruminating self-portraits were released in the late 70s and early 80s – later volumes appear sporadically in the 90s and 2000s too. Though always going forward, Roedelius has been nudged into a challenge as Bureau B founder Gunther Buskies proposes the octogenarian return to the processes and methodology of that period to create another ‘Selbstporträt’. Cheekily as the PR spill has it, seeing if he, ‘was capable of “beaming back” to his youthful years, reaching into the sonic past of the Self-Portrait series to deliver similarly persuasive results.’ The short answer to that is: Yes. But before we divine the results of Selbstporträt Wahre Liebe, a little background colour first.





A founding pillar of the Kosmische sound in the late 1960s and early 70s, originally taking shape from experimental performances at the legendary Berlin club they helped found, the Zodiak Free Arts Lab, the first incarnation of this amorphous partnership that made Roedelius’ name, Cluster, featured Joseph Beuys disciple and electronic music progenitor Conrad Schnitzler; the music, almost dark, Lutheran and hymn like, an early modulation of piano, organ and guitar, fed through an array of homemade effects, that made its debut on a label sonorous for its stoic church organ music. This was the first incarnation, Kluster.

Many ‘head music’ fans will be enamored or at least familiar with the second phase, as Kluster interchanged its capital letter to a ‘C’ and Schnitzler left (for the first time). Releasing some of the most sublime peregrinations and odd candy coated pop electronica under the Cluster banner, their most formative period during the early to mid 70s remains their most famous and influential. This brought plenty of admirers and fellow sonic travelers to the Forst located woodland glade studio retreat. Most famously Brian Eno and Michael Rothar of Neu! Both of whom would join Roedelius and Moebius to form the (a)side project supergroup Harmonia.

Apart from a dormant period during the 80s, as Roedelius and Moebius pursued both solo and collaborative careers (many of which would overlap), Cluster survived well into the next century. Finally calling it a day in 2010: For this version of the partnership anyway. Dropping the C for a ‘Q’ this time around, Roedelius found a new collaborative partner in the sound installation artist and like-minded sonic explorer keyboardist Onnen Bock. After a number of albums together the duo expanded to a trio when bass player virtuoso and (another) keyboardist Armin Metz joined the ranks. In the last few years the Qluster trio have been drawn to Roedelius’ neo-classical piano compositional improvisations and sketches; the previous suite Tasten was built around a trio of them, and the more electronic offering Echtzeit, though far less so, also seemed informed by it.

In many ways following on from the last album together, making a return to the warmth and traversing heavenly space sounds we have come to associate with all things Kosmische, the golden epoch of that genre filled our ears once more on Qluster’s seventh (and so far last) album, Elemente; a feat that is repeated on this solo portrait.

 

Leaving Qluster aside for the moment, Onnen Bock, together with Wolf Bock, shadows Roedelius on this vintage warm-up. Intimately (re)acquainted with himself, the fascinations and interests that originally sparked the previous series of visceral sketches may have changed but the soundboard tools remain the same, with Roedelius once more making use of the Farfisa organ, Fender Rhodes, drum machine and tape-delay to fashion a new empirical suite of Kosmische neo-classical moods and dreamgazing.

Though it’s been over four decades since those iconic peaceable recordings, the old apparatus from that period is just as warm and receptive to the ambient progenitor’s touch and imagination. If you’re familiar with those composition then you’ll bound to recognize the recurring Baroque fairground piped merry-go-rounds and serene glide motifs that appear on this wonderful erudite album. Especially the playful but calmed trans-alpine gliding ‘Geruhsam’, which – in my imagination anyway – conjured up an image of either a bossa signature steamboat sailing across a Swiss lake, or, a enervated chuffing steam engine travelling across a tranquil mindscape.

Elsewhere the bright diaphanous notes of the Rhodes lightly hang in the air as they did before; lingering with an echo of glassy Kosmische reverent soul on compositions such as the romantic resonate ‘Wahre Liebe’ – that’s ‘true love’ – and dreamily fanned on the comforting cloud breathing ‘Nahwärme’ – which translates as, depending on your fancy, either ‘local heating’ or ‘convenient heat’; an aloof soundtrack for a German boiler installation company perhaps? Sometimes that organ glistens and at other times almost drifts into the ecclesiastical. The complimentary Farfisa is equally as gorgeous; deftly played and perfectly attuned. A real warmth is created (there’s that word again), but also an overlapping cascade of bulb-like notation and subtle refractions of light play.

 

Reverent, beautiful, encapsulating, with even a touch of giddy uncertainty – I’m referring to the ‘roundabout’ motion of ‘Im Kreisel’ – Roedelius has lost none of his sparkle, or for that matter his romanticism and hope. A fine balance between past triumphs and the new, Selbstporträt Wahre Liebe is unhurried and playfully understated; a timeless album simultaneously made with a sagacious touch and young curiosity. At the stately age of 85, Roedelius proves to still be on form as he looks back once more before easing forward.






Related posts from the Archives:

Hans-Joachim Roedelius Interview

Qluster ‘Elemente’ Review

Hans-Joachim Roedelius ‘Kollektion 2: Roedelius – Electronic Music Compiled By Lloyd Cole’ &   ‘Tape Archive 1973-1978’ Review

Cluster ‘1971 – 1981’ Boxset Review


And Now, A Word From Our Founder

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Album Review/Dominic Valvona




Qluster ‘Elemente’ (bureau b) November 2nd 2018

 

Transforming through the decades, as contributors to the Hans-Joachim Roedelius and (late) Dieter Moebius navigated unit have joined and left, the Kluster/Cluster/Qluster arc has taken on various forms over the last five decades. A founding pillar of the Kosmische sound in the late 1960s and early 70s, originally taking shape from experimental performances at the legendary Berlin club they helped found, the Zodiak Free Arts Lab, the first incarnation of this amorphous partnership featured Joseph Beuys disciple and electronic music progenitor Conrad Schnitzler; the music, almost dark, Lutheran and hymn like, an early modulation of piano, organ and guitar, fed through an array of homemade effects, that made its debut on a label sonorous for its stoic church organ music.

Many ‘head music’ fans will be enamored or at least familiar with the second phase, as Kluster interchanged its capital letter to a C and Schnitzler left (for the first time). Releasing some of the most sublime peregrinations and odd candy coated pop electronica under the Cluster banner, their most formative period during the early to mid 70s remains their most famous and influential. This brought plenty of admirers and fellow sonic travelers to their Forst located woodland glade studio retreat. Most famously Brian Eno and Michael Rothar of Neu! Both of which would join Roedelius and Moebius to form the (a)side project supergroup Harmonia.

Apart from a dormant period during the 80s, as Roedelius and Moebius pursued both solo and collaborative careers (many of which would overlap), Cluster survived well into the next century. Finally calling it a day in 2010: For this version of the partnership anyway. Dropping the C for a Q, Roedelius found a new collaborative partner in the sound installation artist and like-minded sonic explorer keyboardist Onnen Bock. After a number of albums together the duo expanded to a trio when bass player virtuoso and (another) keyboardist Armin Metz joined the ranks. In the last few years the Qluster trio have been drawn to Roedelius’ neo-classical piano compositional improvisations and sketches; the previous suite Tasten was built around a trio of them, and the more electronic offering Echtzeit, though far less so, also seemed informed by it.

In many ways following on from the last album together, making a return to the warmth and traversing heavenly space sounds we have come to associate with all things Kosmische, the golden epoch of that genre fills our ears once more on Elemente. Once again meeting in the unassuming hamlet of Schönberg to perform an unhurried series of improvisations, later distilled to shorter passages with the odd melody, beat and effect added in post-production, the instrumentation has changed to accommodate sequencer triggered loops for the first time. The piano is enervated, removed almost entirely, replaced by the wondrous sound of the ARP2600, a Farfisa organ and Fender Rhodes, all of which are filtered through various lunar and otherworldly effects. The results of which are both expansively mysterious and often diaphanous in their celestial transcendence.

As the title suggests, the opening continuum ascendance of ‘Perpetuum’, and forevermore gliding spacescapes of ‘Infinitum’ both promise an unending voyage into the interiors of the universe and mind. The first of which recalls the Tangerine Dream and the Baroque cosmos of Sky Records, the second, the dreamy visions of Novalis. The possibilities of these arpeggiator style space-dusting, aura-anointed bookend tracks seem endless.

When not echoing through deep space Qluster, using that dream-melody maker, the ARP 26000, float close to the Adriatic cascades and mirages of Vangelis and Xaos on ‘Zeno’ (a reference I assume to the Greek philosopher and his confounding paradoxes); lift the lid up on the inner workings of a piano and pluck out a Japanese like sprung-y melody on ‘Xymelan’; and introduce a flattened beat to the Techno-bordering-on-Acid ‘Tatum’.

Tubular droplets, rapidly calculating algorithms and chemical elements interplay with overlapping, transformed organ and electrified piano melodic wafts throughout this most thoughtful sound map. The reification, the feelings of awe-inspiring expanse and discovery are subtly set in motion and made visceral. On the cusp of his 84th birthday, Roedelius shows no signs of retiring let alone resting as he leads his troupe to infinite possibilities.


LP  REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona

Monolith Cocktail - Moebius Musik fur Metropolis


Moebius   ‘Musik  fur  Metropolis’
Released  on  CD/LP/DD  by  Bureau B,  January  6th  2017

Standing like a shard beacon of expressionist light in 20th century cinema Fritz Lang’s, and let’s not forget his wife and co-auteur on this visionary opus Thea von Harbou, futuristic visual requiem Metropolis is rightly hailed as a classic. Borne out of the most tumultuous of periods in German history, as the artistically creative but decadent disconnect of the Weimar Republic was about to crumble and the menace of the National Socialists was goose-stepping towards an eventual Armageddon, Metropolis may have been about a future world but was making glaringly obvious analogies and metaphors about the present.

Modeled in the Art Deco style of its day the centuries old struggle between the elite and those on the lower strata of society continued unabated in the movie’s 21st century dystopian setting. A privileged minority of wealthy industrialists, living in the lofty heights of a N.Y. on steroids skyline, lorded it over those who toil in perpetual labour below, firing up and feeding the machinery that keeps the balance of power in check. The cast includes the love spurned mad scientist Rotwang, whose resurrection totem robot creation became the poster child for the film and continues to be one of the most iconic symbols of malevolent technology; the dandy of the ‘upper world’ turn inspired ‘mediator’, reformed hero Freder and his father the city’s “master” Joh Fredersen; and the idealist heroine of the piece, Maria. All parties are forced to reconcile after a series of events, sparked by Freder’s epiphany after witnessing a deadly explosion in the boiler rooms; enchanted and led to the workers via his love for Maria.

 

Ambitious in any era, Metropolis despite pushing cinematography towards dizzying heights of inventiveness and scope was considered too lengthy and it’s central tenet naïve on its inaugural release. A substantial cut was made, losing many scenes and even characters, before a final edited version was released to the greater public. Believed discarded and lost, the original became something of an enigma until a full-length version turned up in 2005 in a museum in Argentina. Restored to near 95% completion it was unveiled five-years later and has ever since been lavished with special screenings and accompanied by a myriad of different scores, including the catalyst for this special release. Invited in 2012 to perform a semi-improvised soundtrack leading avant-garde composer and founding member of the Kluster/Cluster/Harmonia triumvirate of cosmic progressives Dieter Moebius composed a suitably atmospheric, often unsettling and evocative industrial suite. Not the first and certainly not the last artist to soundscape this Silent Age behemoth, attempts to furnish the action with a suitable musical score stretch right back to Gottfried Huppertz’s original in 1928, to Moroder and “friends” gratuitous pop soundtrack remake in the 80s, and the more successful interpretations of Techno music giant Jeff Mills in 2000 and the lavish 96-piece orchestra and 60-strong choir opus in 2004 by Abel Korzeniowski.

 

Using pre-arranged tracks and samples, treated by an array of effects, Moebius’ one-off performance was always destined for release at a later date. Unfortunately as it turned out a reimagined album version would elude the Kosmische pioneer who passed away in the summer of 2015. With the help and support of his widow Irene and longtime musical partners Tim Story and Jon Leidecker, the Berlin musician Jonas Förster finished the remaining work that needed to be done and completed the production: quite satisfactorily as it transpires. A performance in four concomitant acts, Moebius loyally matches up the drama onscreen with a serial suffused and nuanced avant-garde narrative. Swaying in their unison of drudgery the somnolent work gangs of the opening Schicht (“layer”) section are accorded a lamentable industrial march. At the core of this soundscape is a monotony of hissing valves, descending and bending generator drones and the sound of steam-pumped hydraulics. Layer upon layer is carefully administered whilst the clocking-in gong vibrates a foreboding signal for the day’s subjugated graft.





In a film packed with vivid iconography, analogies and scenes, Freder’s hallucinogenic like vision of the city’s underbelly, the boiler room if you will, reimagines the machineries of Metropolis transformed into the atavistic figurehead for a sacrificial ritual: workers climb the altar steps to be fed into the furnace mouth of the Canaanite god Moloch in one of the movie’s most memorable sequences, and the second chapter on this album. The atmosphere more esoteric, features an ominous – as you’d quite rightly expect – tribal rhythm with stifled synthesizer screams and strange obscured hoots. Yet Moebius, who could go all out on this bestial scene, is quite reserved, holding back from full Biblical bombast and horror. Tiefenbahen is equally as disturbing with its static field of electrons buzzing away to the loading of an unidentified mechanism and the discarded discord of bounding bass drums and a venerable organ: a lingering signature from Kluster. An attempt is made to set into motion a shuffling groove of some kind; again heavy and in keeping with the monotonous miasma of the storyline but offering a glimmer, a lift from the veils of the macabre.

Finally the “mediator” or Mittler, the dystopian end run that brings together all parties and forces mediation – though Lang’s not so subtle communist solutions proved naïve –, beginning with a death grapple between Freder and the miscreant scientist Rotwang, is accompanied by a finger-cymbal and sleigh bells percussion, sharp metallic pulses and what sounds like iron filings being moved around on a sheet of metal.

In safe hands, Moebius’ posthumous Metropolis soundtrack proves a distinctly descriptive enough and evocative narrative experience in isolation, separated from the visual motivation of the film. Fans of the Kosmische progenitor’s work will find it familiar territory but notice enough examples of subtle explorations and interplay unique to an improvised performance to find it worthwhile purchasing.




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