Hans-Joachim Roedelius is a German experimental, ambient and electronic musician. He is best known as a co-founder of the krautrock groups Cluster and Harmonia and for his work in the ambient jazz trio Aquarello.
Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia
In 1968 Roedelius co-founded the music commune known as “Human Being” and co-formed Zodiak Free Arts Lab, the center of Berlin’s Underground Culture at the time, with conceptual artist Conrad Schnitzler. He met Dieter Moebius at the Zodiak. In 1970 Roedelius, Schnitzler and Moebius formed Kluster. In 1971 Schnitzler left the group to start a long-running solo career and Moebius and Roedelius anglicised the band’s name to Cluster. At first Cluster worked along the same lines as their parent group, signed first to Philips then to Brain.
In 1973 Roedelius and Moebius worked with Neu! guitarist Michael Rother for the first time. Rother helped to co-produce their third album, Zuckerzeit, that moved the band’s style further from avant-garde ‘noise’ to a more melodic music, similar to modern-daytrance. Roedelius, Moebius and Rother toured Germany and the Low Countries as a trio from early 1973 and decided to record an album together under the name of Harmonia. Musik von Harmonia was released on the back of a huge publicity campaign by Brain. Harmonia released one further album initially, 1975’s Deluxe. British musician Brian Eno, a fan of both Cluster and Harmonia, joined them for several jams, the result of which was released in 1997 as Tracks & Traces. Rother left Harmonia to pursue his solo career and Cluster returned to the studio to record Sowiesoso which was released on Sky Records. Brian Eno, who had returned to Germany to work with David Bowie, worked on two albums with Cluster: 1977’s Cluster & Eno and 1978’s After the Heat, the latter of which gained the band much attention in the British music press. A further Cluster album produced by former Tangerine Dream member Peter Baumann Großes Wasser extended Cluster’s music into long form.
Roedelius’ solo career began with Durch die Wüste in 1978 and then Jardin au Fou in 1979. This album laid down Roedelius’ future style: melodic piano and (often faked) acoustic instruments played with a sharp tinge of electronics. The first of the lengthy Selbstportrait series was released in 1979, being material done beside his work with Cluster and Harmonia, without the input of his collaborators. Recorded on only two tracks, the Selbstportraits make up the backbone of Roedelius’ early solo recordings. Leaving Sky in 1982, his work took a more new-age style as he signed to Virgin’s Venture sub-label. During this period, his best selling solo album Geschenk des Augenblicks – Gift of the Moment was released.
He was dropped by Venture in 1989 and began releasing on a variety of small labels, notably Multimood and Prudence. He began to venture into the newly emerging genre oftechno, starting with 1991’s Der Ohrenspiegel, whose 25-minute opener, Reflectorum displays some of the characteristics of the later Sinfonia Contempora series. By 1994 Roedelius’ style was a heady mix of amateur electronics and sometimes clichéd ambient jazz. An album from this year; Theatreworks, was rewarded with the title “album of the month” by experimental music magazine The Wire. Arguably the biggest turning point in Roedelius’ career came in 1994 as well. The release of Sinfonia Contempora No. 1: Von Zeit zu Zeit marked, in Roedelius’ own words, “Since the beginning of my career nothing was more important to me than to find my own musical language. I have, so I believe, eventually found it.” The album consists of mismatched tape fragments (from numerous jams ranging from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties) multitracked over the top of each other to create a disjointed but oddly musical sound.
Sinfonia Contempora No. 2: La Nordica (Salz Des Nordens) was released in 1996, making for a much more sinister and muddy sound than its predecessor. Also released in this period was Selbstportrait VI: The Diary of the Unforgotten, the first of the modern Selbstportraits. Now, rather than merely remastering the seventies tapes, Roedelius also played over them, the sound montage Homage á Forst samples many Harmonia and Cluster tracks into the mix.
Reformation of Cluster
In the meantime, Cluster had reformed. 1990’s Apropos Cluster was an update for the band, being a work of avant-techno not dissimilar in style to Großes Wasser. In 1996 Cluster embarked on two international tours, one of Japan and one of America. Both tours would be summarised on the following years live albums. The new sound of Cluster learns from the Sinfonia Contempora sound whilst adding Moebius’ distinctive sound.
21st century: solo work and collaborations
The turn of the century was Roedelius’ most productive year, with no less than eight albums being released between 2000 and 2001. Reprising the Selbstportrait series for the seventh time in 2000, Roedelius composed entirely new tracks for the first time on Selfportrait VII: dem Wind voran – ahead of the wind. The new millennium also saw Roedelius begin to work with other, usually younger, musicians than he had done since the late eighties.
Another series is Lieder vom Steinfeld. Begun in 1995, Roedelius recites poems over these pieces, primarily in his native German language. In 2001 Roedelius worked with Conrad Schnitzler again for the first time since 1971. The record “Acon I”has been released in Japan by “Capt.Trip-Records .
Roedelius had been growing substantially in fame since Cluster began touring again in 1996. He is often cited by electronic musicians and releases several albums a year, many of which are collaborations with modern musicians who are fans. He works extensively with Tim Story and released Fibre recorded with Jez Coad, Martin Barker and Georg Taylor an album which has reached 13th place in “the Third Uncut Playlist of 2009” for Uncut Magazine, ahead of Bruce Springsteen’s Working on a Dream.
In November 2010 it was announced that Cluster had split up for the third time. In the official announcement, the split up was described as Moebius leaving the group. In the wake of this news, Roedelius announced that he was beginning a new project called Qluster, to follow on from Cluster and Kluster. The band is made up of Roedelius and accomplished electronic musician Onnen Bock with third member Armin Metz and released a trilogy consisting of “Rufen”, “Fragen” and “Antworten” (Calling, Asking andAnswering) in 2011. The then released a recording of a live concert made at CTM-Festival in Berlin, titled “Lauschen” ( Listening ).
Curated in collaboration with Nuits Sonores.