Roedelius (Interview): "We were in the midst of a paradigm shift"
Updated: Mar 4, 2021
Do not expect an atonal noise album from electronic music pioneer Hans-Joachim Roedelius anytime soon. "The whole genre simply annoys me. Not because of its interesting, versatile, multicolored forms – but because of a kind of allergy to the indeterminate, inexplicable, incomprehensible electric tones and sounds, which has arisen with and through the permanent occupation", says Roedelius – 86 years old and with a huge ongoing musical output as ever.
Even if Mr. Roedelius did his (highly influential) share of working and experimenting with noise decades ago, the direction he has long since taken is, of course, a different one. His most recent record "Drauf Und Dran" once again sets its focus on the piano and the quest for euphony. It is yet another beautiful, timeless and peaceful record in a long series of his remarkable piano works (starting 1986 with the record "Wie das Wispern des Windes").
There's no doubt about the importance of Roedelius' work – solo as well as with the formative groups Cluster and Harmonia. He is seen as one of the key figures and inventors of Krautrock – a term he is not too fond of, but which at least helped to sell more records, he told me in another interview I did with him six years ago. His list of admirers is long and includes Brian Eno (with whom he collaborated and who, more recently, wrote the introduction for the english version of Roedelius' autobiography) and the late David Bowie. His biography is astonishingly full of surprises, twists, turns and accomplishments.
Be that as it may, Roedelius seems much more interested in future directions than past glory. One of his ongoing future endeavours is to discover new territories on the piano. "You will hear that in a product one day", Roedelius promises.
Read the full interview below.
Joachim, recently your new album "Drauf Und Dran" was released via Groenland Records - not only as audio, but also as a limited book of sheet music. Please tell us something about the genesis of this project.
It's a collection of pieces that were written on different pianos in different places around the globe over a long period of time. It was then transcribed into sheet music by order of Groenland's Mareike Hettler – so that for the first time in my career, my music can be played by others and thus re-interpreted in the player's own, personal way. That is particularly exciting for me, as it allows me to experience how this music can sound interesting and beautiful in a different way. It's a great gift from Groenland to my fan community and a great pleasure for me. Also, as I explain in my accompanying text, it is also a kind of door opener into the territory I set out to explore: playing with the piano's universal sound possibilities while experimenting with interferences.
Your first solo piano work appeared in 1986 with "Wie das Wispern des Windes", many more (e.g. "Piano Piano" in 1994 ) followed. Especially in the last few years your focus has been on solo piano. What appeals to you about this format?
The possibility to get more out of this so venerable instrument than was previously conceivable or seemed possible. You will hear that in a product one day. On the way to its publication is already a joint work of Tim Story and me, which points in the direction, which I just officially begin to take, or have long since taken in silence.
Are there any pianists or composers who have influenced you in particular?
I like all the Russians who worked with the piano. I like Chopin, Debussy, Satie, and among my contemporaries, Harold Budd, who was unfortunately taken away by Covid recently, and who turned to the piano in a very similar way as I did.
Before your career as a musician, you worked as a physiotherapist and masseur, among many other jobs - many of your works also have a meditative, calming, relaxing quality. Is there this healing claim in music as well?
It is not a claim but a vocation. It goes back to a long family tradition. I am, in the figurative sense, the active pastor, preacher, teacher, cantor at the end of the long line of my ancestors.
Your work has not always consisted purely of the search for euphony, but also of working with noise.
Because I have no musical training, this was so to speak the rehearsal room to search for and find my own tonal language in practical dealings with all kinds of noises. After many years of pioneering with all kinds of noise and/or sound, my willingness to expose myself to this electrically generated sound material in permanence, so to speak organically, has become very tired. There is no scientific assessment of its psychoacoustic effectiveness on the mind and body of the listener so far. In the meantime the whole genre simply annoys me – but not because of its interesting, versatile, multicolored forms, but because of a kind of allergy to the indeterminate, inexplicable, incomprehensible electric tones and sounds, which have arisen through the permanent occupation. Since I already brought piano tones into play again and again in Cluster and Harmonia, it was obvious to finally occupy myself completely with the sound possibilities of the piano, especially with those of the grand piano.
You did pioneering work with Harmonia and Cluster. Were you already aware back then that you were creating something important, something new - or do you always see that only in retrospect?
That wasn't an issue. Only the doing was important, the occupation with the matter and the fun of it. It was only later, when the reviews started coming in, saying that we had created something extraordinary, that we became aware of how the public judged our work. At that time, however, that did not affect us very much, because we were only the creators of what we had made. For our part, there was no claim of sovereignty on its interpretation.
If you had to define a common thread in your career, what would it be? The urge to research? The improvisation? The courage to try something new?
The joy of it. The satisfaction with the results of a kind of research that we did without the intention of doing something new – and for which we received great recognition from the beginning.
Do you listen to new music? On the one hand, I imagine that as an artist you have to somehow isolate yourself, but on the other hand, as the festival director of More Ohr Less, you have to stay in touch with what's new.
Not consciously, but what seems to be important for my inner further education on my way, happens somehow anyway, I can/may take along so to speak en passant what is helpful for my continuous further work.
Over the course of time, you have worked with a wide variety of people - I can well imagine that, especially in your band days, strong characters also clashed from time to time. How important is friction in a creative collaboration - and how important is harmony?
First of all, the chemistry between the people involved had to be right. If something didn't fit, sooner or later the people concerned segregated themselves, left the boat that was sailing on before they became a burdensome burden. Actually, there were only a few of them, in my case producers, who thought they had to make my music more "marketable". But in reality there were only two of them, whose names I will not mention here. Both would have certainly managed to give my music THEIR taste, in order to be able to serve it on the tables of the mainstream. 'Listen here, how perfectly we are able to fade out authenticity to justify the profession of the producer.' Thank fate that I was allowed to work only with those producers who consciously wanted to leave it at what my music gives out of itself. We were lucky, because the direction was also predetermined by the course of time. We were in the midst of a paradigm shift on the road, in the right moment at the right place – and have received from kindred advisors such as Conni Schnitzler, Conni Plank, Brian Eno without expecting anything other than sympathy, encouragement and support.
Can you already reveal some plans or upcoming projects?
I always work on various ideas at once. The "fourhands" with Tim Story is on its way to a release in the UK. Another collaboration with the universal genius Sebastian Böcking will be finished and ready for release in early 2021. The work "Mind Cinema" with the Dallas Acids is offered, but there is no decision yet on the part of the label concerned. "Two gather ( together ? ) in the waiting room" with Michael Begg has been available since September through the "Wiener Klanggalerie". I am constantly publishing statements about the daily happenings, about my own state of mind in these difficult times via Facebook, or rather keep the Roedelius thing going for the thousands of friends there and all who open the public page.
"Drauf und Dran" is now available via Groenland Records.
You can find Hans-Joachim Roedelius also on Patreon, where he is creating exclusive content and offers a lot of special items.
Photocopyright FB-Thumbnail: Camillo Roedelius