Perfect Sound Forever

Hans-Joachim Roedelius

Interview by Jason Gross (May 1997)

When enlightened writers talk about 'krautrock,' many times they leave out or give little respect to a group with an amazing legacy that has had an enormous influence on electronic music, industrial, new age and even trip hop. This is probably because Cluster has never been as flamboyant as Amon Duul, Can or Faust. This is definitely no fault of their own- as a matter of fact, this is one reason that they're so admirable. One half of this creative team is Hans Joachim Roedelius, who has made a fascinating solo career for himself as well. His work has appeared as a part of plays, soundtracks, dance companies and other mediums. A reunion with his partner in Cluster, Dieter Moebius, has led to new recordings and new tours, including their first American one.

PSF: Before Kluster/Cluster, what music/performers moved you the most?

Stravinski, Tchaikovski, Mussorgsky, Rimski-Korsakov, Khachaturian, Ravel, Sibelius, Beethoven, Satie, Pierre Henry, Xenakis, Manuel de Falla, Poulenc, Debussy, Bizet, Handel, Third Ear, Captain Beefheart, Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, Hendrix, real Folkmusik, real music of any kind.

PSF: How did you meet up with Moebius?

When Konrad Schnitzler and I founded the Zodiac and had started to organize events like 'Free jazz meets electronics,' 'Improvised Music meets improvised theatre' or 'Pop meets Jazz,' Moebius used to become a regular at those shows, thus showing sort of a passive companionship (unless he was hanging in a club called Abysmalsayet). We really got to know him when Konrad Schnitzler dragged him out of a steakhouse, where Moebius was working as a cook, to turn him into the musician/composer he eventually would become. The three of us founded Kluster und we left Berlin end of the 1969 to start a somewhat endless European tour of improvised shows. Schnitzler as a man of the fine arts and epigone of Joseph Beuys organized these concerts in museums, galleries and the like.

PSF: What made Kluster different from Cluster?

This basically wasn't a lot different with Kluster (a triple connection), although it was wilder, more chaotic and had more musical aspects to it. But the method and the results weren't really different, what the three of us did. It just turned to the more consequent and radical Schnitzler concept, although - if you listen to the 3 Kluster albums carefully - you will find a lot of common ground in there.

PSF: What do you attribute the long and fruitful partnership you've maintained with Moebius to?

There was an unspoken correspondence regarding aesthetic matters, their assessment and use for our own musical purposes. This was a condition for an extremely fruitful collaboration, that reached a last summit with the audio document Cluster-Live-In-Japan, this being Cluster's legacy, because our music couldn't possibly get more convincing by means of improvising in public.

PSF: What kind of dimension did Conny Plank add to Cluster?

Conny Plank brought a huge amount of friendship, knowledge about studio technique and his own creativity into the the group, he actually became a third silent member of Cluster, without this ever having been mentioned. I dedicated one of my compositions to him as a remembrance of what he did for Cluster and also for us on a personal level, for his deep friendhsip and his unshakeable will to realize his vision of meaningful music in the projects, he was participiating in and to which he contributed in a fundamental way, such as with Kraftwerk, Neu and Cluster, but also Ultravox, Devo, Eno and the Eurythmics.

PSF: What kind of distinct writing styles do you think you and Dieter have? Maybe they are simliar?

I believe that the reason for us being able to basically make meaningful music (albeit not always) for such a long time, is, that we managed to coordinate the diversity of our temperaments or musical languages, which we used to articulate ourselves and that we managed to unify two languages into one without losing any substance. On the other hand, the common work strengthened the individual work and vice versa. I mentioned this unspoken correspondence regarding aesthetic matters before, this enabled us to collaborate (sharing the vision of a common goal) without major fights and what I mean by this is that it is something completely non-verbal, beyond origin and education. This certainly is a piece of luck.

PSF: Could you talk about the change in Cluster's music after work with Michael Rother and the Harmonia projects?

Meeting with other people or musicians gives and takes, enriches and restricts, depending on the strength of the other's charisma and your own ways of achieving your goals. Michael, as well as Eno, gave a lot and had a certain focus regarding our common work (Musik von Harmonia, Harmonia de Luxe and the soon to be released Harmonia 1976 featuring Brian Eno) . It seems like you couldn't get more out of Harmonia, because Cluster's own hermetics demanded to be extended and deepened and Michael is not the kind of person that would easily agree to the risk of improviation running the risk of losing the individuality of his own ambitions.

Obviously working with Michael changed my and Moebius' focus, I don't know if Michael got the same benefit from working with us as we did working with him. Nevertheless, each meeting, including meeting with him, was a step on the way to myself.

PSF: Could you talk about working with Brian Eno? His own work was heavily influenced by Cluster and Harmonia I think.

Brian Eno approached us. He know of us via Can, Neu! and Kraftwerk. We invited him, after he had joined us on stage during a Harmonia show in Hamburg in 1974. He visited us in Germany in 1976, stayed with us in our commune, and tried to impart his rich experience with pop music to us with some ideas and ended up having one track on a 4 track tape. Wie continued the dialogue we had begun in Hamburg 2 years earlier, the musical results will be available soon.

It was a lot of fun to work and be with him. Nevertheless, Cluster hung on to its shtick of improvisation as a method. I don't know how this influenced Brian's future work, but people tell me all the time, that working with us was very beneficial for him with a lot of productions he was involved with over the years. The collaboration with Eno (especially with Cluster & Eno and After The Heat) strengthened my focus on organization, reduction to the essential and tightening of the composition process and it helped me to get a better focus in general, because just as Eno, I am exclusively on my own trail (at least I hope to be...). So the distance between us was the closest thing to achieve.

PSF: Around 1978, you and Dieter concentrated more on solo work for a while. Why did this happen?

I mentioned already, that the diversity of the musical languages with the inner understanding led to the essentialty of our music. Both of us recieved new impulses from the feedback of our solo works and that somehow explains why both of us devoted more time to our solo projects. But the fact that I had left the Harmonia commune to build my own nest. It was also an important fact that I was the only one who got married and my first daughter had been born.

PSF: How do you think your solo work differs from Cluster?

My solo work is an expression of my experience of life, a self-portrait, a confession. It is not an attempt to consciously find my own musical language. It is more an attempt to sophisticate the already found language in order to make it intelligible to all. I come from a family of teachers, preachers, musicians and doctors. I am trying to revitalize all these historically set predestinations to make one voice out of many voices. I am quite sure that Moebius is more a Zeitgeist person, indulging in music, feeling pleasure in constructing music, living the moment, not digging the past or beseeching the future.

PSF: With your latest work with Cluster, how do you think your music/ideas have changed?

Our latest work, Cluster Live In Japan and Cluster Live in America is just putting it to the test, improvising in public. It also was a last test, because it is redudant to produce more of that stuff. So nothing has changed, but what Cluster had to say, was accomplished as flawless as probably never before.

PSF: Are any plans to release any of the material released under the name Eruption, or if any of that material has even survived?

Kluster & Eruption (which is the original name of this last Kluster work, some cuts from the last Kluster concert in Goettingen 1970) was just released by Marginal Talent (see for details)

PSF: What are your feelings toward those artists in Germany these days (like Oval, Mouse on Mars, Microstoria, To Rococco Rot) who evince a strong mid-'70s Cluster influence. Do you follows any of that?

I don't know any of the artists mentioned.

PSF: What are your thoughts about the recent interest in German music in the USA and UK? You toured in America recently?

It's great to learn that there is this big interest, as a matter of fact I was just DJ'ing twice in 2 London clubs. The tour last year (1996) was unbelievably touching, because of the number of people that came, the attention we received, the organization and the welcome we experienced everywhere. The same thing, actually even more, happened in Japan.

PSF: Do you know about trip hop music? It also seems to be very heavily influenced by Cluster.

I don't know about trip hop music.

PSF: Which of your own recordings are personal favorites?

My own Piano Piano, Wenn der Suedwind weht, Selfportraits, Fortress Of Love and Cluster - Live in Japan 1996.

Also see our 2015 interview with Roedelius about Harmonia and Moebius