Hans-Joachim Roedelius is a pioneer of that German counter-cultural movement of the late ’60s and ’70s we rather unaffectionately term Krautrock. He was a co-founder of the legendary Zodiak Free Arts Lab and member of Cluster and Harmonia, celebrated bands that influenced Brian Eno and David Bowie in their Berlin phase. While the coeval British psychedelic scene explored progressive rock in the ’70s, the Krautrock bands turned to ambient and electronic music. This is the starting point for Stunden, a collaboration with Stefan Schneider of To Rococo Rot, a Berlin band who have been experimenting with the intersection of rock and electronics for the last fifteen years.
For much of the album Schneider operates a synthesizer, building electronic landscapes for Roedelius to explore with piano. The songs feel mostly improvised, even though they must have been recorded in a few sittings to layer all the synth parts. The partners seem at pains to capture an unrefined quality, experimenting in real time and evidently not over-tweaking the results in the control room. Ideas and themes shift in and out of focus against a backdrop of loops and ambient noises in a dreamy, inconclusive haze.
The title track appears three times in different guises. On Stunden III, Roedelius takes the lead, teasing out tremulous chords and shimmering melodies. Schneider’s robotic synths hum, whirr and throb in response. It like the soundtrack to an alien intelligence flying a spacecraft. There’s a loose sense of rhythm, no metronome guiding the motion. Other tracks are more anchored. Zug is based around arpeggiating synth lines that recall Tangerine Dream. Underneath a dark bass gurgles and an oscillating synth beams out from the gloom. Roedelius’ contribution is minimal; sensing a lack of space to maneuver, he barely disturbs the keyboard.
That the two musicians generally take it in turns to develop the songs points to a certain disjointedness. Synth and piano are not, after all, obviously complementing flavours. Single, Boogie is a glimpse of a more cohesiveness approach. As Roedelius’ piano musings float pleasantly across a warmly pulsating bass, the gentle rustle of a shaker keeps the beat. The acoustic piano and synthetic bass are consonant. But half way in, morse-code bleeps appear without warning. The invading tones are out of time and throw the song off-kilter without quite derailing it. The move betrays a desire to embrace the experience of imperfection.
A similar methodology appears in Geschichte, where a thin electric guitar peals out against slow strums of strings. Some notes are partially muted and cut short and the phrasing is loose, like a novice playing with lots of mistakes. The song fades out at the the minute and a half mark before it’s allowed to establish itself. Though the guitar feels foregrounded, really it’s more of a texture than a lead voice. The imperfection here conveys sensations that are opposing but also compound and difficult to separate, like the tendrils of sadness that accompany a happy memory of something resolutely past.
Roedelius and Schneider are masters of conjuring complex moods and painting aural pictures. They don’t achieve this with instrumental virtuosity or recourse to convention. Still, Roedelius’ piano is elegant and accomplished and Schneider’s technophonics frame and refract it with great beauty. In the end, it is the casual nature of Stunden’s construction, removed from the stylistic and structural prison of rock or dance music, that make it so rich and varied. It’s understood that mistakes and disjuncts are more expressive – more human – than a perfect performance.