Stunning neo-classical grand piano three-hander led by octogenarian krautrock master Roedelius
Two decades after co-founding the seminal krautrock outfit Kluster – then Cluster, now Qluster – although not before recording as Harmonia with Neu!’s Michael Rother and collaborating with the likes of Brian Eno and Tangerine Dreamer Peter Baumann, Hans-Joachim Roedelius realised he’d grown tired of his once-beloved synths and organs. He reckoned they’d even started to take a toll on his health.
“You know, after nearly 20 years of exploring with electronic sound, I realised I’d got bored of it,” he told Electronic Sound in January 2015. “I’ll tell you something else too. It kind of made me ill. I’d done so much experimentation on my Korg MS-20 that I’d found out how bad music can sometimes sound. There was something about the vibrations in the depths of my sonic experiments that got inside me – and not in a good way.” The cure came in the form of a piano recital he attended in Vienna around 1980. “I felt like I’d had my first true encounter with the beautiful sound of the piano,” he said. “It was the medicine I needed to cure the Korg disease!”
So Roedelius sold his synths and took up the piano, starting again with the instrument he’d last played as a schoolboy in East Germany just after the war. Five years later, he gave his first full concert on a Steinway at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre. Many people have spoken to him about the recordings he made after that time, telling him they’d felt somehow healed by those wonderfully organic and meditative compositions. And so it will surely be with Qluster’s ‘Tasten’, a collection of glorious, immersive, introspectively elliptic and delicately poised pieces.
There are nine tracks on ‘Tasten’, but differentiating them in a sense seems somehow academic, working as they do in very close unison, nocturne-like, in the true classical sense. But while nocturne may well be the most applicable word, there’s a quality of stillness here that also evokes the mellifluous light of an early summer morning, particularly on ‘Il Campanile’ (‘The Bell Tower’). It brilliantly apes the sound of distant ringing bells in a manner that recalls both Claude Debussy and Erik Satie, the latter the acknowledged progenitor of the neo-classical style, such is the beguilingly unconventional manner in which the keyboards are played; part percussive, part caressed in a way that never grates or startles.
Roedelius’ last piano release as Qluster was 2012’s ‘Antworten’, which featured the unique and subtle tones of singing bowls during several well-chosen sequences. This time round, the elements are restricted to three Steinways, the other two pianos being played by Onnen Bock, with whom Roedelius formed this third incarnation of the group in 2010, and Armin Metz. The trio explore the depth and potential of these grandest of instruments with an astonishing verve balanced by a lightness of touch so typical of Herr Roedelius’ approach ever since that first keyboard epiphany 35 years back.
‘Tasten’ is a stunning, hypnotic album. It will hopefully introduce many of those who may be aware of the enormous Roedelius legacy, but unfamiliar with his more recent work, to this minimally modern, refreshingly unfussy branch of classicism.