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Tape Essence Archive 1973-1978 Richard Foster , June 4th, 2020 09:04

You can hear the murmur of the Weser Uplands forests on this compilation of Roedelius tape noodles, finds Richard Foster

Hans Joachim Roedelius, a name often mentioned and certainly revered, but really listened to in the way he should be? I, for one, hope Tape Essence Archive 1973-1978 (a succinct summary of 2014’s gargantuan box set of odds and ends) shakes some listening action out of all of you and serves as a pathway for further discovery.

Roedelius’s music is timeless, wherever it is employed. And Tape Essence Archive 1973-1978, regardless of its provenance as a “best of” compilation of audio sketches, is a piece of a wider, more collective memory that maybe just needed reactivation.

During Cluster and Harmonia’s golden years in the early-to-mid 1970s Rodelius would use his non-studio time holed up in (I’d like to think, anyway) a shed of some sorts in Forst, in Saxony’s Weser Uplands, with a Farfisa organ, a Revox-A77 tape machine, an echo device and a synthesizer for company. Letting the tape run on his noodlings, Roedelius captured thought processes that appeared, and ended, however fleetingly. The sometimes abrupt endings – born doubtless of an abrupt cutting of the tape, or Roedelius’s interest, or just the wear of time, only make tracks like ‘Lied Am Morgen’ and ‘Langmarschieren (Skizze mit Echo)’ all the more precious.

It’s no real surprise that the listener can recognise a number of snippets that ended up in finished works. The evocative melodies heard in Lunz for example or snippets and threads that eventually wound up in Harmonia’s Deluxe or Harmonia and Eno’s aborted work (‘Am Röckchen (nicht verwendetes Stück)’ or ‘Unterwegs (nicht verwendetes Stück)’ come to mind here). Or Cluster and Eno, or even slightly later things like 1984’s Geschenk des Augenblicks. But it is a fairly redundant exercise to match up these ideas with their finished counterparts. As the real beauty of this particular release – as the music slowly entices you deeper and deeper into a lost world, like watching ancient holiday photos on slides – is the way it holds together as an album in its own right. The pacing is terrific for one thing. Put this on repeat and you will wonder where time goes.

Apparently, the Weser Uplands didn’t just inspire krautrock luminaries: the Brothers Grimm tales are set in this area too. I’m not sure whether one can make a link, outside of the fact that the landscape must spark something wyrd in the creative imagination. Certainly the sense of place is brought to bear very strongly in all the pieces. The preternatural quiet of opener, ‘Nächtens in Forst’ maybe mirrors the unearthly quiet of the Lower Saxon countryside at night. Certainly with the Farfisa stuck seemingly forever on a single note.

Like his creative colleague Michael Rother – who also often deliberately evoked the landscape of Saxony in his work – Roedelius is happy to endow the music with broad enough shoulders to carry the listener to wherever they want to travel. Many of these pieces do seem to flow like water, particularly memorable is the way the melody line seems to meander on the familiar-sounding piece, ‘Skizze 4 von‚ By This River’’, or how the well-named ‘Springende Inspiration’ continually switches key. And ‘Rokkokko (nicht verwendetes Stück)’ could be an impression of the wide blue sky shimmering above the Saxon countryside. The music on the record also reminds me of the beautifully droll pieces that accompanied the first of Edgar Reitz’s Heimat series. More post-classical music set in, and redolent of, German countryside.

And the last track ‘Skizze 4 von‚ By This River’’, is a fourteen-minute paean to time, the gentle playoff between a repeated key stab that underpins the mellifluous lines used to draw out what (unsurprisingly) feels like the slow undulations of water. The chord changes are familiar elsewhere to krautrock heads but as said, that doesn’t matter. As chord changes in Roedelius’s world seem only to serve as universal transactions; ones that only increase their power through reuse.

There is a memorable closing summary of Nick Drake’s music in Rob Young’s book, Electric Eden, one that can’t be read without a considerable swell of emotion. Young sees Drake’s work as something that engenders a beatific state: “if we all abandoned the calendar of industry, fashion and routine, slowed down to the magical time, stepped far beyond the chine of a city clock, took more time to hear what the trees whisper, what the sea sings and the moon brings, dusted by oak, ash and thorn, we might yet be granted a glimpse of Paradise.” Frankly you could say the same about Roedelius’s music on Tape Archive Essence.