[14 August 2009]
At the intersection between Krautrock’s psychedelic hellfire and new age’s innocuous scented-candle piffle lay some of the greatest music ever recorded. For Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius of Cluster, the tonal shift was significantly pronounced. During the few years that its name was spelled with a K, the band made some of the loudest and noisiest industrial sounds since the invention of the jackhammer. By the late 1970’s, it was exploring the sensitive side of machines with an amazing album streak split between Cluster’s own forward-thinking pop, the supergroup Harmonia and a pair of albums with ambient pioneer Brian Eno. Though Moebius and studio whiz Conny Plank would go on to make some big, strange noises together outside of Cluster, Roedelius seemed firmly suited in Eno’s allocated armchair. He began to veer away from the exploratory functions of synthesizers into straight-up piano work, and by the early 1980’s, much of this stately puff was virtually indistinguishable from George Winston.
Jardin Au Four, though, catches Roedelius before that descent, in a liminal phase between playful, minimalist repetitiveness and bland, somnolent tedium. His second solo album and the best of three major projects with which he was involved in 1979, Jardin Au Fou has an abandoned amusement-park aesthetic about it, with an askew charm, a fractured whimsy and a half-remembered innocence lingering within its calliope-like loops and phrases, not dissimilar to recent hauntological jaunts from the Ghost Box camp. “Foú Foú” on slightly more commercial equipment could have been something John Baker cooked up at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. “Rué Fortúne” and “Café Central” each contain circus-organ riffs that are alternately foreboding and inviting. “Etoiles” gives itself some ambient space to linger in before its music-box electronics try to lure the mix back into the garden with daubs of female vocal harmonies, xylophone and synth flute. Jardin Au Four is packaged with the six bonus tracks that were included in the 1998 Japanese version of the album and are mostly welcome editions, particularly since three of them are remixes that work well as reprises. Rounding out a fantastic decade’s worth of music by Roedelius, Jardin Au Four is a simple but gorgeous work that’s as easy to sink into as it is to drift away to. An ambient gem.