Hans-Joachim Roedelius Talks Cluster, Harmonia, and His Career

Roedelius Reflects About His Life and His Music

Hans-Joachim Roedelius, co-founder of Cluster and Harmonia, has been a central figure in electronic and experimental music since the late 1960s. His work has significantly influenced krautrock and ambient genres. In this interview, Roedelius shared insights into his life, and the creative spark behind his most influential works. He also discussed his collaborations with Brian Eno and other key figures in the German experimental scene. At almost 90, Roedelius continues to create and inspire, with recent works focusing on piano compositions.

Born on October 26, 1934, in Berlin, Germany, Hans-Joachim Roedelius grew up during the tumultuous years of World War II. As a child, he was involuntarily enrolled in the Hitler Youth and appeared in propaganda films. The war’s impact on his formative years was profound, shaping his worldview and later artistic sensibilities.

Reflecting on this period, Roedelius mused: I’m not sure whether and how all what happened in my childhood left its significant marks but it’s almost self-evident that everybody’s awareness is fulfilled step by step via what’s going on in his life and leaves its parameters becoming more and more conscious about life itself.”

The aftermath of the war brought significant challenges for Roedelius. He attempted to flee East Germany, resulting in a two-year imprisonment. This experience, along with his conscription into the East German Volksarmee, proved transformative. He described this period as: It was MY university. It gave me strength and understanding of the complex diversity to get aware of how to behave in the right way in respect of the dignity of all that exists.”

His escape to West Berlin in 1961 marked a turning point, as he left behind his job as a physical therapist and masseur to pursue a career in music. He explained this transition: “It’s the topic ‘Healing’ in general. Music is gold for the soul and after a long career as a physiotherapist my fingers got arthrosis so I had to find a solution which is MY music!

His musical influences were eclectic, spanning various genres and artists, contributing to the complexity of his sound. “Pierre Henry, Captain Beefheart, Jimi Hendrix, Haps Hash and the Coloured Coats, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, John Cage, Debussy, Dvořák, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Grieg, etc.” all impacted his curiosity and sensitivity.

Joachim Roedelius David Bowie
Joachim Roedelius and David Bowie © Hans-Joachim Roedelius

Kluster, Cluster, and Harmonia

In 1968, Roedelius co-founded the music commune “Human Being” and the Zodiak Free Arts Lab, a center of Berlin’s underground culture, with conceptual artist Conrad Schnitzler. This avant-garde venue became a crucible for experimental music and a birthplace of krautrock. Located in Kreuzberg, it operated in the evenings after performances at the Schaubühne am Halleschen Ufer theater. The venue featured two performance areas, one painted white and the other black, and hosted musicians experimenting with free jazz, psychedelic rock, and avant-garde styles. Notable artists such as Ash Ra Tempel, Klaus Schulze, and Tangerine Dream performed there. Roedelius remarked in this interview, “It had a massive influence also because of the variety of different genres and styles of music that were offered there to the public from soloists as well groups.

It was at Zodiak that he met Dieter Moebius, leading to the formation of Kluster in 1969. The group, initially a trio with Schnitzler, produced radical experimental sounds. 

When Schnitzler left in 1971, Roedelius and Moebius continued as Cluster, signing first to Philips and then to Brain. The shift from the harsh experimental sounds of Kluster to the more melodic and ambient style of Cluster was driven by the following reason: ‘After a certain while we got bored by that sort of actionism / experimental way of doing it. We needed—our ears needed—real music, so we went to become real composers.

Harmonia interview
Brian Eno, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Michael Rother, Dieter Moebius

In 1973, Roedelius and Moebius joined forces with Neu! guitarist Michael Rother to form Harmonia. Their debut album, “Musik Von Harmonia,” was released with significant publicity from Brain Records. Harmonia released a second album, “Deluxe,” in 1975. Rother also co-produced Cluster’s 1974 album “Zuckerzeit.” The collaboration with Michael Rother in Harmonia brought a new dimension to Roedelius’ work. He recalled, “Yes, there were many people saying we were a supergroup even though Eno thought and mentioned this publicly.

Collaborations with Brian Eno resulted in groundbreaking ambient works. Describing their first joint album, Roedelius said: The first collab-album Cluster & Eno was/is more or less a Cluster Album with Eno as third member. It’s a very ambient/nice warm-hearted experimental with Conny Plank as sound engineer and somehow co-musician/co-composer. Conny Plank infact, played a significant role in Roedelius’ production process: “Conny was a musician. He played trumpet and when we did my first solo-album ‘Durch die Wüste’ he even played drums on it.

Cluster continued their innovative exploration with albums such as “Sowiesoso,” “Cluster & Eno,” and “After the Heat,” the latter gaining significant attention in the British music press. Their collaboration with former Tangerine Dream member Peter Baumann on “Großes Wasser” further extended their musical range into long-form compositions.

Solo Career

Roedelius began his solo career with “Durch die Wüste” in 1978 and “Jardin Au Fou” in 1979. His “Selbstportrait” series, recorded on simple equipment, showcased his unique “sound painting” style: “My way to get it together is to try to fill an empty canvas like a painter just waiting for the right moment to start with.

Geschenk des Augenblicks – Gift of the Moment
Geschenk des Augenblicks – Gift of the Moment © Hans-Joachim Roedelius

By 1982, he moved to Virgin’s Venture label, releasing “Geschenk des Augenblicks – Gift of the Moment.” After leaving Venture in 1989, he continued releasing music on smaller labels, such as “Sinfonia Contempora No. 2: La Nordica (Salz Des Nordens)” in 1996 and “Selbstportrait VI: The Diary of the Unforgotten.”

The early 2000s saw Roedelius releasing eight albums and continuing the “Selbstportrait” series with new compositions. He also began collaborating with younger musicians. Cluster reformed in the 1990s, releasing “Apropos Cluster” in 1990, and toured internationally. They reunited in 2007 but disbanded in 2010. Roedelius then formed Qluster with Onnen Bock and Armin Metz, releasing a trilogy of albums in 2011. His favorite instrument, the grand piano, has been central to his recent work: “After all those years playing with electronically generated tone-material, I landed finally at the grand piano and its yet not elaborated sound possibilities.“Roedelius’ autobiography,

The Book – The Autobiography of Hans-Joachim Roedelius,” was published in 2018 and has continued to innovate and collaborate, working on projects such as “We are the Machines, by Figs Jackman from ‘springfilms.tv,’ a film-portrait for ARTE by Swedish mastermind Thomas Nordanstad, and the celebration of my 90th birthday at the 21st edition of www.more-ohr-less.com, from October 24th to 27th.

Photos courtesy of Hans-Joachim Roedelius
Hans-Joachim Roedelius’s official website

Last Updated on July 1, 2024 by retrofuturista

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