Long ago, I couldn't find a decent page on the web about Robert Schroder, so here's my own homage to his wonderful music...
[UPDATE: OK, so I didn't look hard enough :-]
Born on 20th May 1955 in Aachen, Germany, Robert got his first guitar aged 13. Interests in electronics and engineering aided his musical development as he built his own equipment to experiment with synthesis and create new sounds. In 1970 he ceased playing music for a few years to concentrate on studying and engineering, later to go on to work for Atari and Seiko in 1984. In 1978 he became friends with Klaus Schulze who signed him up to his Innovative Communications label, and the rest is history...
Robert also released an album with Charly Buechel in 1986 under the name DOUBLE FANTASY called Universal Ave. LP [IC KS80.054] & CD [?]*. A follow-up album came in 2006 under the name FOOD FOR FANTASY, called The Secret Of Dreamin' [NEWS/Spheric Music SMCD-2012].
*These I have never seen nor heard, so I cannot comment. [I only just bought a CD player in late 2002!]
The first five albums (all produced by Klaus Schulze except Paradise) are classics of electronic music, and feature the stylish cover art that characterised the Innovative Communications label.
Robert's debut is a perfect blend of acoustic instruments with self-built electronics, and is one of my favourite albums of all time. The cello-playing of Wolfgang Tiepold is truly inspired, likewise Udo Mattusch's guitar. The three long tracks depict powerful emotional landscapes with tender melodies and rich harmonic structure. The intimate piano and minimal percussion add wonderfully to the analogue synth textures to form a unique organic mix of timbres. Klaus Schulze produced the album and released it on his IC label; here are his sleeve notes:
"If there is contemporary romantic music in this world, it is played by Robert Schroeder. Robert was one of all these people sending me letters and tapes of their music. He wrote me about his technical interest, about new synthesizer modules he was constructing. At the same time, his music was not artificial at all, but naive and beautiful. So I really wanted to get to know him. I visited him at home in Aix-la-Chapelle, and we became friends. The idea of this record arose, and between late 1978 and fall 1979 we realized it. The very charm of "Harmonic Ascendant" is the synthesis of Robert's custom-built electronic instruments with acoustic ones like guitar, cello and piano. The fullness of the sound, given by this blend, makes you feel - as a good friend of mine described it - like taking a bath in it. I enjoy this feeling as well as this friend did and, I hope, you will."
- Klaus Schulze
The second album uses a more varied sound palette, more electronic, also using percussion and with some great restrained yet expressive drumming on the track "OUT OF CONTROL". The two sides of this high-fidelity 45rpm LP each consist of 18-minute suites of shorter pieces which flow seamlessly together. Musik Express magazine described it in April 1981 as being:
"Music like a look into the deep black night, into the glowing blue eyes of a pretty woman, into a glass full of fiery red wine, for a jaunt through the countryside, for resting out in the open..."
Robert's third release takes a new direction again, both delicate and intense, using electric guitar, bass and drums alongside PPG Wave 2 computer and electronics. Layers of interlocking riffs gradually build up a dense web with metallic PPG interjections and lush pads, before Charly Buechel's incredible wah-wah guitar solos scream like some wild animal. Rob Van Schaik underpins this with solid funk bass, helped by Fred Severloh's precise drumming. Nobody else ever ventured into such abstract territory in the context of a rock band.
The next project features recordings of interstellar noise from the distant galaxy Cygnus-A obtained using a radio telescope. It was performed as a multimedia event at ARS-Electronica 1982 in Linz and broadcast on Austrian and German television. The sound world is cosmic, deep, mysterious. Robert is in his element now with advanced synthesis techniques creating amazing textures; subtle atmospheres are shattered by huge cavernous clangs like asteroid impacts, a haunting poem (auf deutsch) is whispered over a shimmering stellar backdrop. Music Of The Spheres. Passionate melodic lines develop over rippling patterns.
The fifth LP from 1983 is a journey in search of spiritual fulfilment. Guenther Beckers' wonderfully expressive guitar synthesizer weaves sublimely around Robert's warm keyboards and sequences. One of the first records I ever bought (conveniently next to Klaus Schulze in the record shop), the entire first side is a masterpiece of melodic invention, five tracks flowing as a single suite. The tender beauty of "MOMENTS" is for me a pinnacle of inspiration before plunging into "DEEP DREAM". I would say this is the last of the classic cosmic Robert Schroeder; from here on he moved into a more melodic and rhythmic mode. The track "SKYWALKER" is a bit too synth pop for my liking and the Simmons Drums (while cool in a Miami Vice way ;-) do show their age now, especially in the 8'16" version on the 'Funktronic Dance Mix' 12" single. "SPACE DETECTIVE" (7'26") is a sort of electro-pop version of the former, not unlike Kraftwerk around that time, and better than the A-side.
The next album is a kind of summing up of Robert's past achievements, and includes new digital versions of Galaxy Cygnus-A Parts 2 and 5, "ROTARY MOTION" from Floating Music, and "COMPUTERVOICE" from Mosaique, which are good, although I prefer the energy and spirit (and human drummer) of the originals. Other new tracks are more spacious, particularly the atmospheric "IN SPACE" and "LIBERTY ISLAND", and feature new sounds from new digital technology, as well as Micki Meuser on electric bass.
This film soundtrack was recorded using a 'Dummy Head' microphone to achieve the binaural effect of 'head-oriented stereophony', which works best with headphones; particularly convincing is Monica Rath's voice on "GLUCKSGEDANKEN", which really sounds like she's in the room with you. Hence this CD is used as a benchmark recording by audiophiles. Joined by acoustic guitar, Robert's electronics portray icy metallic crystalline structures, often cold and melancholic. An outstanding track is the hypnotizing "THE INSIDE OF FEELINGS", a mesmeric ostinato of echoing bell tones.
Robert's eighth recording was also released on CD with a long bonus track "FLOWMOTION". The first side of the LP is a bit too commercial for my taste, using rather dated samples and drum sounds. Flipping the record, however, there is a return to form on the Neuronium-esque seventeen-minute track "THE MESSAGE" which moves between cosmic, melodic and rhythmic phases recalling Paradise and Brain Voyager. The final track "IMAGINE" sees sequenced basslines and (vastly improved) drum programming supporting Schulzian synth solos.
This album was released in 1986 under the pseudonym DOUBLE FANTASY for contractual reasons, thinly disguised as a duet by guitarist Charly McLion and Dreamstar :-) The easy, relaxed style is never revolutionary, but excels at what it does, evoking a cool and melancholic state of grace. "HEARTBREAKER" begins with trademark moody PPG Wave 2 polysynths and portamento Moog octaves reminiscent of Galaxie Cygnus-A over a chugging filter-swept rhythm punctuated by Charly's passionate fuzz guitar. Next, a reversed voice speaks:
Listen to my voice.
Look into my eyes:
You see your future -
This title track's spacious synths and guitar introduce classic (Roland?) drum machine sounds. The swirling synths of "ENDLESS RUNNING" make way for a gorgeous groove and laid-back liquid guitar with pulsating parametric sweeps; this track really hits the spot. "FOOD FOR FANTASY" continues on a mellow theme that recalls "TIME MACHINE" from Paradise. "LOST CONTROL" features a vocoded 'computer voice' refrain over a repeating sequence bassline, before the final "CHILDREN OF THE UNIVERSE" follows on directly born out of an ocean of echoed guitar and synths.
The 1991 album Hamaja is one of my favourite recent issues, and sees Robert returning after a break of some years, on strong compositional form. A chant of the title echoes around the stereo and a deep bed of synths stirs into life. Spacious pads drift around this rhythmic track with tightly programmed drum sounds underpinning a majestic main theme. Track 2 is "ANIMATION", an anthem of celestial voices which then morphs into "MUSIC FOR YOUR SENSES", a flowing journey with abstract edges. "ANY TIME YOU LISTEN" is a long cosmic track recalling the angelic voices from earlier in an epic theme of positivity and vision. "JOIN YOUR FORCES (AND YOU WILL FIND...)" has rhythmic syncopations suspended above a shape-shifting phased bass drone, and leads to "A PLACE OF REFUGE" which brings together the rhythm into a finale reminiscent of COMPUTERVOICE.
HAMAJA is the place you create for yourself, where you are alone with your thoughts, feelings and senses. Create this place whereever you need it [...], join your forces with your phantasy and you will find your very personal place - a place of refuge.
Robert's eleventh album Mindwalk from 1993 is a studio version of material composed for live performance in 1990, with 11 tracks which flow into one another as two long pieces 29' and 34', plus a live 10' encore. Once again the guitar of Charly Buechel features, and there is a new ten-minute version (number 9!) of "SKYWALKER" from Paradise. The quality of sound design and production is high, as one would expect from a master with twenty years of music making behind him.
Everdreams was released in 1994. "BIG OCEAN" begins with waves and bird sounds before electronic pulsations introduce the main theme. "SYNBEATS" recalls the Computer Voice album with an emphasis on electronic percussives. "LOST IN TIME" is a sombre piece with reverberant drum sounds in the vein of "TIMELESS" from Paradise. The title track lifts the pace with phasing bass and sharp staccato rhythm programming. The waves return at the close and then "THE ART OF MOOVIN'" begins with quick techno basslines and drum machines. "VISIONABLE" meanders along with plenty of rhythmic syncopations but seems to lack substance. "SMOOTHING SHADOWS" bursts in with strident percussion and the electric guitar of Christian Guth. "ROTARY E-MOTION" is the third version of an old favourite from Floating Music and Computer Voice, before the album ends with "WoW", a metronomic beat with smiling synths.
Not released until 1998, Robert describes this collection of early pieces from 1978-82 as "my most important record". I'd agree with this statement: this album is a gem.
It begins by going right back to "THE ROOTS OF SPIRIT" and we are greeted with tentative pulsing analogue sounds from which emerges a beautifully noble analogue sequence which forms the basis of this twelve minute track. I should say that I consider analogue sequences to be the the most important aspect of electronic music: if an artist has good taste, it will show in his/her choice of even just eight notes and sounds (filter cutoff and resonance both right down for sublime bass pulsations); if they have bad taste, they will either stick to boring arpeggios and monotonous intervals, or overuse cheesy sounds. Many people fail here. I'm prepared to forgive many things, but you have to start with good foundations. Herr Trebor of course does The Right Thing, and also provides tasteful electro percussion which is effortlessly minimal in the extreme yet still adds depth: just a hihat-like sound on crotchets and a blip on minims, but it works. Schroeder's trademark long sustained chords add pathos and then - oh...! - comes the Moog lead melody, which is divinely inspired, not unlike the awesome Part 2 of Galaxie Cygnus-A. I presume by the rich sound it's a Minimoog, but cover photos (of which there are many showing Robert at many key points in his early career) show him playing a Multimoog in 1980. This CD would be worth the price of admission for this track alone, a lesson in what it's all about.
Next, "IMMATERIAL WORLD" begins with 9/8 polyrhythmic syncopated sequences, spitting syncussion and another liquid lead line soaring and diving over this changing landscape.
Chattering white noise launches "JUMPIN'N ENERGIE" and more melodic layers soon add to the mix, with surprising modulations. Robert pours more emotion into another joyous lead line, revelling in the lovely thick sound as patterns swirl around. He has clearly mastered the soloist's art and conveys a deep sense of longing.
"FROGS" croaks into existence in a murky swamp at dawn as light creeps over an alien world.
"LULLABY" features mesmerising sequences with brassy polysynth lead and string synth chords, evoking a characteristic yearning reminiscent of Klaus Schulze's classic "Timewind". The track ends with a nice breakdown to just the main sequence which is then transformed under a swelling vibrato chord.
"PLANETARY DANCE" continues the mood with thumping analogue drum sounds and cosmic organic tones. Warbling Synthi's twitter around gentle chords which develop into a melody. What's important here is what's not said - space is left to focus on each sound in its place, the music free to evolve with tenderness.
"The ten minute-long ORGANUSER" is an understated series of slowly unfolding sequences, each highly syncopated. Melodies evoke associations with other Schroeder music only to then veer off in other directions.
"DREAMCREAM" begins with dark drones over which a solitary Moog hangs in the sky, its cries echoing through distant canyons. Suddenly after three and a half minutes, a powerful rhythm section suddenly launches us on a journey which is tragically short, sounding like just one part of a vast Schulze epic. The drum sounds are surprisingly fresh and not dated like most from the era; I guess the analogue noises (that weren't trying too hard to copy real drums like the lame early digital samples) had a charm of their own that is now being appreciated.
"SOUNDSCAPE" is a reversed and processed version of "IN SPACE" from Computer Voice, minus the lead melody.
"OBERHAUSEN 1981 part 1" is from a live performance, no mean feat as a solo synthesist in 1981, but Robert pulls out all the stops here with a many-layered piece of great depth. It begins with fizzing electro percussion and sublime string chords, joined by analogue sequences and PPG. After four minutes comes a powerful bass synth solo and more rippling analogues; sadly this all fades soon afterwards and we are back "IN SPACE" in reverse gear again. A manic echoed drum pattern repeatedly builds up as the opening string chords return. Hopefully there is more of this performance in the Trebor archives...?
As you can tell, I love this record. I fear this reviewer may have been listening with his ears shut: sure, the tracks are often rudimentary, but they are done right and make a very personal document. The sound quality is fairly good considering it was recorded back in the day on mostly self-built equipment. Apart from a few tape glitches and a bit more hiss than usual in parts, the lo-tech feel doesn't detract, but rather lends an air of fine vintage wine, much like a classic recording of Caruso. To quote one of Robert's earlier albums: Timeless.
The first time I heard this, I didn't know what to make of it. It opens with swirling synths and what sound like downbeat hip hop vocals, but once you get your head round this mix of urban and cosmic styles, the vocals are actually very tender and lyrical. Moroccan inger Rahal Brimil mixes traditional elements of what sound to me like Qawwali and Dhrupad with modern rap, sounding fresh and new with deep spiritual power. I've not heard the instrumental version of this album, but presume it is pretty similar just without the vocals (Robert adds electric guitar on one song).
The song "HEAVEN" is a soulful ballad with an infectious melody. My favourite track is "LOGIN" which features a great electro groove with oozing slow-attack synthesised voices reminiscent of the 1980's Tomorrow's World theme, together with passionate Indian-style vocals and guitar, all punctuated by strange industrial clatterings. And the tune of "SHALLALA" has a cool simplicity that brings a fine end to the album, to which Robert's celestial synth sounds lend an air of grace.
[UPDATE: I now also have a special collector's edition electronic gadget that Robert made to accompany this release: a 2" sculpture of the cover logo with a PCB embedded inside, all mounted on a rotating base. When turned one way, the central brain glows in red and green LEDs. A useful artefact to puzzle historians from the future... ;-]
Sumptuous is the word that springs to mind here. It would be very hard to get road rage while driving with this music on. A cool exuberance floods over you immersing you in calm pleasure. It's mostly pretty rhythmic and melodic, but never sickly sweet like much modern electronica.
Instead of Charly Buechel, this album features guitarist Phil Molto, whose liquid tone would make Dave Gilmour and Steve Hillage smile. The interplay between musicians is fine: you can tell they were having much enjoyment in the studio. The sleeve notes describe this:
The music is played live in the studio, in nightly sessions with a smooth and relaxed studio atmosphere, simply to have good vibrations.
The eleven tracks (and one remix) all groove along nicely, and like most of Robert's music, grow on you with repeated listening. This is no longer the cosmic music of his first few albums, but appeals in a different way. Particular favourites are the glowing, swirling "THE SPIRIT OF FREEDOM", and the chatering rhythms of "NIGHTLIGHTS" with very cool guitar playing that evokes Manuel Gottsching at his most eloquent.
Music as you like it.
Sphereware was released in August 2007. Here's a translated review until I can write my own.
Coming very soon...
© copyright Malcolm Smith 2002-04-17 - last updated 2008-02-01 - links verified 2004-10-09