“What a cerebral evening,” a show companion observed as we exited Cafe Du Nord last night, pushing the doors open to a whoosh of cool fall air. Indeed. For the man who's seen it all, first as a child actor in 1930s Germany, then as a reluctant member of the Hitler Youth, and finally a pioneer of early experimental krautrock in the 1970s and ambient jazz, Hans-Joachim Roedelius (Cluster/Harmonia) was not the confrontational artist one might expect. Tall and bald with wire-rimmed glasses, he was erudite, pleasant, subdued.
He looked concentrated while constructing music, focused mainly on lilting keyboard and buzzing MOOG and an Allen & Heath ZED 14 mixer (note: I read the back of machines well), but between the pieces Roedelius smiled wide, nearly goofy. It was his 77th birthday, a rather special occasion. He kicked off the set with a startling sample of America's national anthem, followed by a half-hour-long piece of ambient drone. He then told us he'd play Europe's national anthem and out came a crackling Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 ("Ode to Joy").
The crowd, mostly casual in black hoodies and sportscoats, wished the living legend well, and sang him "Happy Birthday" (English version). Roedelius looked pleased, thanking us back repeatedly, tipping his handled glass of amber liquor. I guessed it spiced rum, just to keep it casual, another show companion thought perhaps brandy. Astute observations all around, companions.
An aside. These are the sounds I heard (or perhaps conjured) during the set of experimental openers, XAMBUCA:
1. Fat drops of metal tears.
2. Supposedly what it sounds like to have cochlear implants (according to a This American Life episode)
3. Fuzzy ham radio waves
4. A swarm of electronic birds
5. The knock-knock-knocking of a looming horror movie villain
*Note: excuse the red-soaked tone of the images. But really gives you a sense of the humming womb ambience, no?