"Hans-Joachim Roedelius is one of the true originals of modern music. His delicate and wistful compositions seem to come from some long and secret musical tradition- like the meditations of Sufi poets, or the haikus of Zen monks. One senses that under their calm and unruffled surfaces there are complex and deep currents."
In 2006, the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts commissioned Hans-Joachim Roedelius to create an original work inspired by Happy Valley - a place of great beauty and a rich history. The arrangement included his visiting the Center to install the work and the presentation of a live performance. It was also agreed that the work and his visit would be documented and released as a DVD, featuring footage of Happy Valley's natural beauty, historical images featured in the book "The Story of Happy Valley" by Radha Sloss, photography drawn from Beatrice Wood's archives, footage of Opening Receptions and works on display at the Center and footage of students at the Besant Hill School in Happy Valley.
"Wonderful," Roedelius said, when presented with the idea. "It will be our first collaboration."
I was to act as liaison on the Roedelius project at the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, working out the details with him and making myself available to assist him during his visit. As I'd been a fan of his work for over three decades, I was, of course, looking forward to the experience.
In the weeks leading up to Roedelius' June arrival, Happy Valley sprung to life - stunning desert flowers bloomed and a dove made its nest in the large cactus near the entry to the Art Center. I shot footage, from Happy Valley's stunningly beautiful vistas to the interiors of cactus flowers and gathered images to include in the DVD including Beatrice Wood's work and historical photos of those who were part of Happy Valley over the decades.
View the initial sequence of the
Roedelius: Happy Valley video
Spending time with Hans-Joachim Roedelius in the days leading up to his performance in Happy Valley offered a rare and important experience. He arrived with his son Julian, who proved invaluable in dealing with technical matters and problem solving, and we worked on the installation together. Over the next few days, working together and enjoying walks around Happy Valley, gourmet meals and wine together, we experienced the marriage of life and art. Janat Dundas, Manager of the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, fell easily into the spirit of things, becoming involved in dialogues that went on until the early hours of the morning. I found that walking in and out of the exhibition space where the sound installation was presented was like walking in and out of an abstraction of Happy Valley and the place itself. The parallels were quite obvious and the transition between the two offered a third experience.
View the interview with Hans-Joachim Roedelius
at the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts - PART ONE
View the interview with Hans-Joachim Roedelius
at the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts - PART TWO
Roedelius' long-time friend Tommy Grenas and his collaborator Michael Weinberg proved important contributors to the performance. Aside from installing the sound system, carefully running speaker wire imperceptibly through the wall of bamboo at the Art Center, they presented a video work on a large screen during the first set. This was an important part of the performance and is an integral part of the resulting DVD.
The experience of a Roedelius concert is quite different than any other. Unlike a rock concert, there is no drummer pounding out a beat or guitar solos. While this might seem an odd comparison, it should be considered that Roedelius first came to prominence as part of the Kraut Rock scene of the early 1970s with his bands Kluster and Harmonia. Yet, what Roedelius does hasn't changed so much since that time - he still spends time turning knobs, producing and marrying sound. For most of the performance, Roedelius sat straight and quiet in his chair, like a Zen monk in mediation. Time moved slowly as he listened to and manipulated the intersection of sounds.
Over the years, Roedelius has increasingly performed in natural environments and collaborated with the sounds found there. For the Happy Valley performance he worked with the sounds of the swallows, lined up in their mud nests along the eaves of the Art Center. The swallows also offered an important part of the visual experience as well, circling over the audience and at one point in the evening swarming in some sort of feeding frenzy. This was just one of the wonders of the evening, although I noted the wife of a Roedelius fan in the front row cowering in her chair and nervously staring at the sky, as though fearing a Hitchcockian experience.
It was a strange, mesmerizing, mystical evening and I sought to capture it and share it with others in the resulting DVD, which will be released soon. The Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts invited Roedelius to come to Happy Valley in 2007 for another performance and he will perform at the Zalk Theatre on Saturday, October 27th. Perhaps you might catch that show. For those who can't attend, we'll try to capture the spirit of that one too.
Hans-Joachim Roedelius' 2006 performance at the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts is archived here, as thirteen 5-minute videos.
On Saturday, October 27, 2007, Hans-Joachim Roedelius headlined the first annual BeatoFest. Molly Zenobia and Robert S. Hilton opened the show and once again, Tommy Grenas and Michael Weinberg projected a film during the Roedelius performance. The concert culminated with Molly Zenobia and Robert S. Hilton joining Roedelius on stage, followed by students of the Besant Hill School who had been participated in a special workshop with the composer. A DVD of the concert, presented at the Zalk Theatre in Happy Valley, is currently in post-production.
The fact that I was always destined for the profession I now pursue can be attributed to my family, as many of my maternal and paternal ancestors worked as choirmasters and musicians. Others, though, worked in the healing and nursing professions, as preachers, or as teachers. Despite (or because of) this, I have spent time as a traveller through life, having to live many lives until it finally became possible for me to follow my ancestors' good example.
The first of these lives began with my birth in Berlin in 1934. A childhood spent in a city under the influence of National Socialism meant being a witness to the Stormtroopers' (SA) marches, the Reichskristallnacht as a prelude to the looming Holocaust and Hitler's annexation of Poland. There was a short but intense career as a child actor in various Universe Film AG (UFA) films, then flight with my mother from the city which suffered under continual bombing although it was already largely destroyed, throughout the length and breadth of Germany until the end of the war, with long stays in what was then East Prussia and Sudetenland.
Then there was another life under communism. First came the intermezzo as a coal miner working 1,000 metres underground, followed by compulsory service in the National People's Army, desertion, and over two years' imprisonment in East Germany. After my release and during my forced stay in East Berlin, under threat my family would be punished for my crimes against the "First Worker and Peasant State on German Soil", I married a girl I had known since my youth, became a nurse, trained as a physiotherapist, was divorced, and made the acquaintance of actors at the Berliner Ensemble (operated at the time by Helene Weigel and others active in the cultural scene there). But then, before the Wall was built, I moved to West Berlin, where I began a third life.Transformations and metamorphoses on the way to new horizons.
Moving through dozens of jobs for many years, I worked, for example, as an agent for the Bertelsmann publishing house, chauffeur, detective, butler, painter and decorator, hospice caretaker, courier, mountain guide, roofer, waiter, masseur and chef in a nudist holiday camp in Corsica. There, I later set up a bar with friends on the beach in the open air and played the host, prepared and served oysters for breakfast, fish dishes and grilled mutton kebabs. But then I returned to Berlin and worked once again as a masseur, this time in a fitness studio with a sauna. After that followed a short course at the Academy for Graphics, Printing and Advertising (Akademie für Grafik, Druck und Werbung).
Then I became a freelance therapist with private patients in Berlin and Paris. In Berlin I treated mainly industrialists, film/theatre directors and actors. In Paris my patients included the wife of the then President of the French Republic. I used to go in and out of the Elysée Palace barefoot - it was part of my "hippie healer" outfit, along with the long hair and sheepskin jacket. Another patient there was a lonely old countess, whose dachshund lay next to her on the bed, wrapped in a blanket, growling and barking until I had finished the treatment. There was also a big Corsican female landowner and a writer who always invited friends to our sessions and with whom she would have heated discussions during the massage treatments.
In my spare time I used to drink many a coup de rouge (glass of red wine) with the clochards (beggars) in bistros and taverns on the banks of the Seine. I attended the Alliance Francaise to acquire the necessary basics of the language, enjoyed the beauty and charm of French women, then gave the therapist job up because I grew tired of massaging people and had no strength left to play the psychoanalyst or digest my patients' simplistic ideas on life or put up with their depressions. So I tried to beg because, naturally, I had no money left (but also because I was dying to know whether I could do it). However, I could not bring myself to do it, so I returned to Berlin with the help of a Brazilian family I knew well.
Back in Berlin I co-founded the music commune known as "Human Being" and soon afterwards the Berlin Centre for Underground Culture, known as "Zodiak", in the building of the then pre-eminent theatre in Berlin, the "Schaubühne am Halleschen Ufer". I was a guest in the K2 "Polit-commune" where at theat time Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and other members of Red Army Faction (RAF) sometimes met. While I was there, I used to take care of their small children, left behind by parents who were in eternal discussions. After the closure of Zodiak and an interrupted appearance in the Berlin Art Academy, I tried my luck in Morocco with Human Being, but returned fairly soon afterwards, after the group had disbanded in Casablanca.
On the journey back, I spent a few months in Corsica, and gave my first solo concert there (1969) in front of students in a communist holiday camp, but was nearly lynched because I worked with recordings of car noises from the adjacent busy through road. Later, I gave my first "in tune with nature" concerts in the blooming Macchia of Corsica in front of mosquitoes, frogs, birds, fish, mountains, sunrise and sunset, on the shore near a coursing river.
But then I left Corsica, travelled to London via Paris, rented a room in the home of an African family and made contact with the artslab there, but then returned to Berlin, where I became the pupil of Josef Beuys and one of the three founding members of the Kluster Group, which considered itself to be a musical counterpart to Beuys' "Independent College for the Plastic Arts" - Freie Hochschule für Bildende Kunst. With Kluster I embarked on a journey, travelling far and wide in Europe until 1973, when we (the remaining two members of the group now called Cluster) settled in Forst in the hilly country around the Weser to (once again) found a kind of commune. Later came the Harmonia Group, which signalled the beginning of yet another life.
I often used to roam barefoot for hours through fields, meadows and woods, rejoicing over every blade of grass. I would collect wood, mushrooms and berries, pluck fruit in autumn from wild-growing fruit trees, make jam, bake bread, cultivate a piece of land to create a vegetable garden, and renovate the rooms of the several-centuries-old house that was provided to us as accommodation from the State of Lower Saxony. It was here that I married the woman who is still by my side. Here we had our first child, our daughter Rosa, who would later be joined by brothers Julian and Camillo when we took up residence in Blumau, Austria.
Nights were spent playing an old upright piano. I captured on a tape recorder the sound of nature - the quacking of the ducks swimming on the river flowing past, the snorting and whinnying of the horses grazing in front of the windows, the sound of the old trees surrounding the house as the wind rustled through them. I had wanted to insert excerpts of it into the music I first created there that was later issued as self-portraits in sound.
I am an autodidact, that is, self-taught. I acquired my knowledge of music and composition exclusively through intense practice with practically any kind of noise. However, my teachers naturally also included different composers, such as Beethoven, Satie, Rachmaninov, Chatchaturian, Debussy, Henry, and Xenakis. Then there were the plastic artists such as Josef Beuys, and writers and poets such as Rabelais, Rimbaud, Michaux, Thoreau, Mulford, Ducasse, Dante, and Rilke. Those from this list who most inspired me were "one" with their work, those who created authentic art, opened closed doors, produced a higher level of perfection in their work or were in some way ground-breaking with regard to the deeper meaning of the term "art", plumbing the depths and expanding their respective disciplines, working out certain styles and expressive forms.
I think of my music this way: In a radical expansion of the traditional concept of composition, I generate part of the sound material with which I create my own sound patterns, or I modify material which has already been electrically generated, in tune with my ideas, and set it in relation to conventional sounds. In this respect, I believe my invention and arrangement, as well as the use and "union" of the different sources of sound material, are successful in a very personal way.
I describe my music as the sound of literature, as philosophy in sound, sound cinema, or sound theatre, in order to stress that it should be "read" in peace or at leisure, or "contemplated like a picture" so that its content becomes accessible. It is certainly no coincidence that the Alban Berg Foundation in Vienna sponsored me vehemently for years. Berg says about himself that he is a romantic constructivist. I am a romantic who "constructs through improvisation," who in the wake of the 60s rebel movement began working his way out from within his own experience of life. Direct involvement in the transformations and metamorphoses of a series of "lives" lived openly brought about the departure to new horizons.