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Roedelius - Selbstportrait Wahre Liebe Music Album Reviews

Returning to the series of instrumental self-portraits he began in 1979, the German experimental rock pioneer, now 86, sounds reflective and at times melancholy, braiding peacefulness and pain.

Hans-Joachim Roedelius has led a remarkable life. He was born in Berlin in 1934 and appeared in films as a child. During World War II, his family moved to rural Germany to escape the fighting, and they were impoverished after the war. Roedelius was conscripted into the East German army as a teen, and later attempted to defect to the West; he successfully made it across in 1961, after two years in an East German prison. When he began making music in the late ’60s, it came out chaotic and primal, but over the following 50 years, both solo and as a member of Cluster and Harmonia, Roedelius has been one of the most influential and prolific members of the original wave of German experimental rock. His music is charming and pastoral in one moment, amorphous and mysterious the next. It is defiantly delicate, quietly radical.
Some of Roedelius’ most lasting work on his own has been his Selbstportrait (Self-Portrait) series, from 1979-80. Realized with minimal equipment—mostly Farfisa, drum machine, and tape delay—the original trio of releases is intimate and beguiling, bringing to the fore the complexities of his musical personality. Self-portraits can be a connective thread between what we know of an artist’s life and their creative work, offering a glimpse into how they make meaning out of their experiences, their body, and their imagination. The music on Roedelius’ self-portraits, grounded and gentle, shows an artist moving forward from a tumultuous past into a peaceful, stable present, with whispers of melancholy barely audible but consistently implied. It’s hard to extricate his life story, with its escapes to the countryside punctuating moments of social upheaval, from the music he makes.
Forty years after those definitive recordings, an octogenarian Roedelius returns to the Selbstportrait series. Selbstportrait Wahre Liebe (True Love) is remarkably similar in style, tone, and timbre to the original trilogy. As sentimental as his compositions can be, Roedelius continued to push himself into new sonic territory during his fifth decade of making music, primarily through collaborations with innovators like drummer Jon Mueller, C.M. Von Hausswolff, and Stefan Schneider of To Rococo Rot. The nostalgic bent of Wahre Liebe, his first solo release in nearly a decade, reveals a willingness to come full circle.

On Wahre Liebe Roedelius is able to conjure many different moods without deviating from the round, bell-like tones of the Farfisa, an instrument he returns to after years of primarily working with acoustic piano and digital processing. “Geruhsam” is airy and buoyant, with a slow, playful melody that intuitively unfolds over bouncing organ pulses. “Winterlicht,” a plaintive piece performed without conspicuous overdubs, fills a similar niche as “Inselmoos,” from the original Selbstportrait LP, with its rubato tempo and overtly romantic flourishes. There’s a nebulous feel to “Nahwärme,” in which tones shimmer and bubble in waves of blissful ambience. Such disparate moods are what makes these self-portraits so insightful and fascinating; each piece reveals new aspects of Roedelius’ musical personality, adding new layers of emotional complexity.

The album’s final track, “Aus weiter Ferne,” makes for a strangely irresolute ending, removed from Selbstportrait’s sonic origins but very much in its spirit. The 15-minute piece, by far the series’ longest, drifts in and out of wispy dissonance, slowly pushed forward by a hesitant, improvised melody and droning organ. The music is undefined and hard to grasp, moving through strange, disjointed chordal patterns. These are echoes of darkness, an acknowledgement of the irresolvable complexities of growing older, of reflecting on a life lived in its entirety. It may not be a satisfying ending, but it feels true, like an acknowledgement of pain that seamlessly flows from peacefulness and back again, obscured by time and memory. From that seed of ambiguity blooms the wisdom of Roedelius’ accumulated years.
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