October 1, 2008 / 4:33 AM / in 12 years

German music pioneer takes aim at modern electronica

BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - Most modern electronic music relies so heavily on technology and presentation that the content is becoming increasingly irrelevant, according to one of the elder statesmen of experimental pop music in Europe.

Hans-Joachim Roedelius, co-founder of Cluster and Harmonia, pioneering electronic bands from the German experimental scene often termed “Krautrock”, told Reuters too many modern acts were taken in by the idea that “instant art” is possible.

“Krautrock”, whose roots go back to the late 1960s, has long enjoyed great influence abroad yet was often overlooked at home. This is now changing.

Roedelius, 73, continues to perform and make new music.

Q: How has music changed for you since 1968?

A: In the bulk of contemporary electronic music especially you can see what’s changed, or has even taken root as an expression of a certain lack of direction and vacuity. On the one hand, this takes the form of overwrought sounding-off, debilitating volumes and attendant lurid sensationalism. On the other, you have this unbearable regurgitation and extreme refinement of existing cliches and technical perfectionism which only rarely produces significant artistic results.

Q: To what extent did Germany’s role in the World War Two affect the attitude of post war musicians?

A: It’s barely possible to put right what Germans did under Hitler, and this psychological burden made it a lot harder for those people who were shaping culture, who lived through the madness and who had to deal with it, to make a genuine new beginning. Being from East Berlin originally, I wanted to be a doctor at first and probably would have been if the Stasi (East German secret police) had not got in the way. I was able to start from scratch as an artist because I knew nothing about music or art, and hence had to teach myself my trade.

Q: If German musicians today think less about their past than before, is something being lost?

A: I think many young musicians in Germany and elsewhere are in thrall to the present, and ready to let technology guide them as it seems to hold out the prospect of creating instant art. But without awareness of history and a sense of responsibility, without the internalized quintessence of a life consciously experienced, no music of lasting relevance can be created.

Q: “Krautrock” is generally seen as a positive term today, used by fans of the music. However, many of the musicians from that era seem to oppose it. How do you view it?

A: I’ve never felt it was a suitable term to describe what Cluster did, and what I still do as a solo artist. Unfortunately, my work is still marketed under this label with the result that it’s being shown in a fundamentally false light for those who have never heard my music but still might.

Q: Even if they were less commercially successful than some U.S. or British acts, German bands from the era like Cluster are seen now as major innovators. Are there German musicians active today you think will enjoy the same renown in 40 years?

A: Art is not about commercial success, it’s about truthfulness, authenticity and originality. If you get that right, you may end up being “commercially successful.” History will have to judge whether in 40 years’ time any of the musicians active today get the same respect and attention as we do today.

Q: Are you surprised by your reputation today?

A: I always expected that the diligence and persistence with which Cluster, and I as a solo artist, set out to uphold the tenets and objectives of art would be recognized. For me, art is the sister of religion, it must educate, sculpt and above all promote the mental health of society, otherwise it’s not art.

Q: Was there any kind of collective awareness among German bands back then that they needed to achieve something special?

A: It’s probably true to say we were all caught up in the same zeitgeist — certainly much more than is generally the case today — and worked creatively in the spiritual sense.

Reporting by Dave Graham

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