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Roedelius - Selfportrait VIII: Introspection

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Artist: Roedelius

Album: Selfportrait VIII: Introspection

Label: Horizon

Review date: Dec. 2, 2002

A Peaceful Electronic Message

Hans-Joachim Roedelius is a legendary pioneer of electronic music, with more than 50 albums released since the 60s. He's perhaps best known for his work with Kluster (later Cluster after co-founder Conrad Schnitzler departed) and Harmonia. He has also worked with numerous other musicians, including Dieter Moebius, Michael Rother, and Conny Plank.

Roedelius' latest album, Selfportrait VIII: Introspection, is intended to be a peaceful listening experience. It's dedicated to victims of terrorism and wars around the world. Perhaps the birds pictured on the cover are doves of peace. Given the theme and the title, it's not surprising to find the music here extremely minimal and peaceful. The album is both introspective and meditational, which admittedly runs the risk of erring on the side of an overly placid "New Age" approach. Overall, Roedelius maintains enough energy to avoid that pitfall, but there's no doubt that his intention is to create a mood that is gentle rather than confrontational.

The album is bookended by two long suites, each nearly fifteen minutes long, with shorter pieces between them. The first track, "Side by Side," evolves through several movements. It changes from initially gentle wavelike sounds to gradually more complex fields of music in which slow bell-like percussion and piano undertones join the calmer underpinnings. Its abstract evocation of nature matches the last piece, "El Castillo De La Tranquilidad," which as the name indicates is indeed very tranquil. It's fifteen minutes of oceanic surf sounds from another planet, washes of synthesizer over a low rumbling tone at the bottom.

Other songs range in length from under two minutes to ten minutes in length. All utilize purely electronic sounds, but these occasionally imitate other instruments, from oriental strings to percussion. "Dojo" reflects a Japanese influence, as its name might indicate. The main elements are bells and a synthesized voice somewhere between a piano and perhaps a koto. It's a very minimal piece, thickened only occasionally by a low drone, with periodic appearances of odd buzzing sounds. "Ponte" is an eerie collection of synth tones, while "Trailing Along" is driven by a persistent rhythmic synth pulse. Clattering percussion and a hummable melody line combine to make me think of a faster-moving Kraftwerk.

"Lovely Morning" is a short little two-minute piece, pastoral and delicate, while "Si Es Esto" layers delicate bell-like chiming over a clattering percussion rhythm while a thin, woodwind-like melody line wanders atop it all. "Oh Sole Mio," despite its title, sounds Chinese or Japanese to me, with delicate string sounds. Perhaps it's similar to a very slow flamenco, but it makes me think of Chinese dinner music, a soundtrack for a Ming dynasty court scene.

While I have to admit that the overall feel of this album is more placid than I had hoped for, Roedelius keeps it from sounding weak or sapped of energy. It's all too easy for purely electronic music like this to become what I think of as "planetarium music," simple washes of synthesizers with no emotion behind them, and no focus. The songs here, while utilizing the same palette of sounds, convey an intent that carries the music successfully more often than not. If you're a fan of electronic music, Selfportrait VIII: Introspection deserves a listen.

By Mason Jones

Other Reviews of Roedelius

Jardin Au Fou

Selbstportrait, Vols. I & II

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