Grand old man of German electronic music: Hans-Joachim Roedelius performs on stage in 2010
Grand old man of German electronic music: Hans-Joachim Roedelius performs on stage in 2010 © Gary Wolstenholme / Redferns

Hans-Joachim Roedelius is the grand old man of German electronic music. The grandness derives from longevity rather than manner. Born in 1934, he doesn’t have the forbidding aura of other experimentalists, especially the German founding father of electronic music, Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Self-taught rather than with an academic background like Stockhausen, Roedelius emerged from the dissonance of late-1960s Berlin counterculture. He subsequently aligned himself in the calmer parts of what became known as Krautrock, a pioneer of ambient music. Against the backdrop of a tumultuous personal history — a child during Nazism, he was imprisoned in Communist East Germany in his 20s for trying to defect — his work represents a kind of “raging peace”, in the words of a keen historian of the period, British underground rocker Julian Cope.

Selbstportrait Wahre Liebe resumes his “self-portrait” series of albums, which began in 1979. This is the ninth one. It reunites Roedelius with the equipment of his earlier self-portraits: a Farfisa electronic organ, a drum machine, a tape delay device and a Rhodes organ. The aim isn’t a study of encroaching mortality or fading powers. Instead, as the musician cheerfully puts it, it’s to see whether “the elderly Roedelius, armed with vintage tools, was capable of ‘beaming back’ to his youthful years”.

The answer comes back in the affirmative. The album’s instrumentals thrum with life and feeling, uncluttered but never monotonous. A probing minimalist signal grows in volume at the start of opening track “Spiel im Wind” as though picking up the threads of an unfinished conversation. It looks back to the last Selbstportrait LP, which was released in 2002, but also beyond, to one of the best-known tracks by Roedelius’s 1970s band Harmonia, “Watussi”.

Album cover of 'Selbstportrait Wahre Liebe' by Roedelius

Harmonia were one of “the world’s most important rock group[s],” as their follower and collaborator Brian Eno put it. The title of “Spiel im Wind” is a pun on the German word for “wind chime”, playfully alluding to their tranquil electronic instrumentals’ role in inspiring New Age music. But there are no hippy platitudes about nature-worship or spiritualism in Selbstportrait Wahre Liebe.

The title track, which translates into English as “true love”, is based around a shimmer of unresolved keyboard melodies: true love knows no end. “Geruhsam” (“Leisurely”) swirls around like a fairground carousel, a contented kind of agitation. A discordant note enters “Im Kreisel” (“At the Roundabout”): the fairground takes a sinister turn. But order is restored with the comforting electronic repetitions of “Ebenfalls” (“Likewise”). “Gleichklang” is a placid piece of tone music with church-organ effects. Evidently inspired by Roedelius’s Catholic faith, it translates as “harmony”.

He began his Selbstportrait series of albums at a time of personal happiness, living in rural north Germany with his wife and first daughter. To his revolutionary artistic comrades from the late 1960s, this withdrawal from the world would have constituted quietism and bourgeois navel-gazing. But that ignores the value of contemplation. The long passage of abstraction that the album shifts into during its final track, “Aus weiter Ferne” (“From Far Away”), resembles the gathering of forces for the next step, a necessary act of introspection. Fixing oneself in time and space is the act from which other actions stem.


Selbstportrait Wahre Liebe’ is released by Bureau B Records

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