Robert Schroder

Robert Schroder is one of Krautrock's forgotten heroes, perhaps because he started releasing music towards the end of German electronica's first wave (the late 70's) rather than near its beginning (the late 60's). Schroder deserves better...his classic albums from the late 70's and early 80's compare more than favourably to the music of his better-known peers.

artist:
Robert Schroder

country of origin:
Germany

decades active:
70's - 10's

style(s):
Krautrock, Berlin-school, ambient trance, psy rock, electropop

essential releases:

  • Harmonic Ascendant (1979, Innovative Comm/Orchard)
  • Floating Music (1980, Innovative Comm/Orchard)
  • Mosaique (1981, Innovative Comm)
  • Galaxie Cygnus-A (1982, Innovative Comm)
  • Paradise (1983, Innovative Comm/Orchard)
  • Brain Voyager (1985, Innovative Comm/Orchard)
  • Pegasus (1990/1982, Innovative Comm)

Reviewed by Mike G

Robert Schroder is one of Krautrock's forgotten heroes, perhaps because he started releasing music towards the end of German electronica's first wave (the late 70's) rather than near its beginning (the late 60's). Stylistically he is close to Krautrock's Berlin school of ambient trance and psychedelic rock, which includes Tangerine Dream, Ashra and Klaus Schulze among others, yet today he rarely rates a mention in such exalted company.

Schroder deserves better. His classic albums from the late 70's and early 80's compare more than favourably to the music of his better-known peers. They are also blessed with the childlike curiosity of a musician who loves to custom-build his electronic instruments. Upon hearing his early demos and signing him to his own label, Klaus Schulze called him a "contemporary romantic" and his music "naive and beautiful", taking the youngster under his wing and producing his early albums.

The classics

Schulze's "naive" reference was no doubt meant only in spirit because Schroder's lovely debut Harmonic Ascendant (1979) is the sound of an artist arriving already fully formed. His style is less epic and more intimate than Schulze, a trait preserved on most of his subsequent releases. The 22-minute title track sounds like Mike Oldfield on a trip to Germany; an ensemble playing bright piano, acoustic guitar and cello is meshed with celestial synths and the chugging sequencer sounds of vintage Berlin ambient. "Future Passing By" builds its repeated motif very slowly with odd vocoder mumblings skimming the surface, eventually swimming in an incredibly lush male choral sound. Although rich, the textures of Harmonic Ascendant are never overly dense, with Schroeder perhaps learning something from the less successful outings of his famous mentor.

Floating Music (1980) drops the classical leanings in favour of more electronics, but it also loosens the grooves with the addition of live drumming on several tracks. Strongly melodic, colourful in texture and varied in tempos, the album's synthetic sounds are subtlety different from any other music of the era. Different again is Mosaique (1981) which positively rocks in places. A core group of bass/drums/electric guitar backs Schroder's inventive keyboard bleeps, washes and cosmic chords. This is proper electro-rock fusion: its brilliant innovations are devoid of bombast and focus is very much on tight arrangements and the art of composing, with no empty displays of virtuosity. The closing track "Computervoice" sits apart from the others, a deeply beautiful and melancholic piece of layered ambient trance.

Galaxie Cygnus-A (1982) brings the words "lost classic" to mind. Having left the live rock ensemble behind, this is Schroder's enduring contribution to synthesised spacemusic and an essential listen for anyone with an ear for the genre's awe-inspring magic. The continuous 6-part suite ranges from non-musical metallic clangs, groans and radio transmitter noise to bleepy melodic waltzes and lovely celestial glides. It morphs from one movement to the next with remarkable grace and its classical avant-garde tendencies towards atonal noise are integrated in a surprisingly musical way. (Warning: beware of the 2010 re-recorded version of Galaxie Cygnus-A on the Spheric Music label).

Later albums

Schroder's first four albums, then, are all classics; original, adventurous and distinctive from booth his peers and from each other. However, after the early 80's he embraced shiny new synth sounds in a big way and instrumental synthpop became his dominant style. Thanks to Kraftwerk it became just about everyone else's style, too.

His latterday albums - including his prolific post-2000 period - are sometimes cheesy, sometimes pleasant, and occasionally outstanding even if lacking the originality of his early work.  Three of them from the 1980's are well worth hearing.

The first half of Paradise (1983) is five seamlessly connected tracks of busy, bright and euphoric synthpop constructed with the sure hand of an expert craftsman. The second half initially stumbles with a horrible piece of dated 80's disco pop but quickly regains its footing with the stark downtempo groove of "Time Machine" and an exceptionally pretty closing track with arcing keyboard sighs and glittering guitar.

The Brain Voyager (1985) album is a film score for keyboards and synths with occasional acoustic guitar lines. It's a excellent collection of ambient-leaning, pop-friendly tunes. It has full-blooded arrangements and clean sounds but its understated and reflective too, just like Tangerine Dream's best 80's film soundtracks.

Finally, Pegasus (1990) is atypical of Schroder's latter-day work; in fact it's not quite like any of his work. Recorded as a separate project in 1982 and released some years later, it was originally issued in 1990 without his permission. But it's out there now, and a wonderful thing it is too - a 40 minute futuristic epic with long drones, bubbling sequencer passages and slowly developing themes. On Pegasus it's as if Schroder is paying tribute to early 80's vintage Tangerine Dream - a task for which he is better qualified than most.

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