While his fellow classically-trained Krautrock contemporaries attracted more attention and commercial success by getting steadily louder and groovier over the course of the 1970s, Hans-Joachim Roedelius laid down a modest musical template whose broader influence wasn’t felt for much, much longer.
His minimalist electronic work with Cluster and Harmonia was neatly, if unfairly, labelled as ‘ambient’ until the final years of the last century. But thankfully, his clear influence on pioneering electronic artists like Aphex Twin has helped to expose the eerie, evocative power of his work and rescue it from the indignity of comparisons to The Orb, chill-out compilations or tapes of whalesong from the Indian Ocean.
Inlandish teams the 73-year-old Roedelius up with Tim Story, an American neoclassical electronic composer and enthusiastic fan twenty years his junior. In his 1970s outings Roedelius played Eno to the Roxy of his collaborators, pulling their conventional rhythms off-centre by adding drones and found noises to the mix (ungenerous listeners might even have compared Cluster’s more experimental albums to the sound of a malfunctioning hoover or coffee percolator).
This time round though Roedelius plays the straight man, and returns to his classical roots by anchoring each of the twelve tracks here with simple, delicate and repetitive piano motifs. It’s up to the younger man to subvert things by applying subtle layers of electronic weirdness: clicks, beeps, rattles, and warm, fuzzy drones.
In spite of its inevitably minimalist feel, Inlandish carries a wide range of sonic textures and effects. The tone of each composition relies on the degree of balance between Roedelius’ piano and Story’s treatments. The opening piano-led tracks are elegant, sparse and spooky, reminiscent of Erik Satie or John Cale‘s recent European film soundtracks.
In contrast the electronically-led Ripple and Fade and House of Glances incorporate detuned toy pianos and analogue synthesisers resulting in a sinister-yet-beautiful sound akin to that of Boards of Canada. Throughout, Roedelius and Story seamlessly integrate the digital and the analogue and so manage to pull off the clever trick of sounding both chilly and warm, robotic and human – in a way that recalls Kraftwerk in their statelier moments.
The standout track (Serpentining, an evenly-matched contribution from the two composers) combines a pretty piano melody with a mutating, mildly atonal drone, and cranks the volume up to – oh – about 4. The power of so-called ambient music to stimulate the other senses has become something of a clich� (“I love the way Eno can paint a picture with music” – Steve Coogan as music bore Tommy Saxondale).
Yet on those tracks where Roedelius’ and Story’s styles complement each other most effectively, the music does have a slo-mo visual quality. This isn’t surprising, given that Story is best-known for his TV and film work, and makes it easy for the listener to dream up a visual accompaniment to the music. For me it’s monochrome images of clear skies, calm seas and glaciers…and I’ll leave it there for fear of sounding like a fanciful old hack.
The only surprise is the brevity of the compositions. Their repetitive, gently evolving minimalism means that it takes five minutes or so for each track to fully arrive in the listener’s head – by which time it’s almost always over or very nearly so. Otherwise this is an elegant, beautifully constructed and occasionally unsettling piece of electronica which compares favourably to the previous work of Roedelius or any of his collaborators or acolytes.