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15 Questions to Robert Schroeder

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hello, my name is Robert Schroeder and I am happy that I have filled my live with good music and good vibes. I am happy, because I have a small but very nice recording studio here in my hometown of Aachen (in Germany, near the Dutch border) and it is a daily pleasure for me to work in it for a couple of hours. And it is also a fulfillment of my life to have two sons, to meet and know quite a few interesting people and to release a lot of nice and successful records. The things I have done in my life were the right ones - yes, I am very happy.


What’s on your schedule right now?

Well, at the moment, I am glad that I have found a new label last year, meaning 2005, on which I can now publish my music again after longer publication-pause. It is the German Label SPHERIC MUSIC of Lambert Ringlage, a small, but fine and above all very serious label. In the autumn of 1995, my new album “brainCHIPS”, my 15th solo-album, was published there.

In Spring, I also finished work on another album, which is of special personal importance to me and which I feel has turned out beautifuly. It was released on SPHERIC MUSIC in May. This is a collection of music I performed under the DREAMSTAR pseudonym and which came out under “Food for Fantasy“. Basically, this is the follow up to my succes album "Double Fantasy / Universal Ave.", which made it to number 18 of the US-billboard charts – which is something of a sensation in electronic music. Until now. there was just this one album by “Double Fantasy” and the only thing I did was exchange the former project name for “Food for Fantasy” and tied up to the concept, sound and feeling of that time. It was a truly special challenge for me to continue a music/musical style, which I developed in 1986, twenty years on and yet retain the original feeling. On top of being a challenge, it was good fun as well and offered me some self-affirmation by showing me that the original was not just a fluke. Reactions by the media and the fans have now shown that this very album, "The Secret Of Dreamin" by „Food For Fantasy“ worked out well and is definitely not the lesser of "Universal Ave." in any way.

On top of that I am already in the middle of producing my next solo album - my 16th over all by the way. In contrast to “brainCHIPS”, it will go back to the roots of electronic music. This is currently enough of a challenge for me and a pleasant one to boot. After thirty years of producing music on a professional level, one has changed both as a person and as an artist. When orientating oneself, one looks back and at the path taken – and one may realize that one would like to go back to the beginning once again. I mean, I still like the music from those times and I still enjoy listening to my first album, „Harmonic Ascendant“ from 1979 very much. I do like my current output and I am covinced of it as well, otherwhise I wouldn’t be releasing it, after all. But this electronic music of my past has a “certain something”, a positive radiance. I think the loyal fans of EM will agree with me and understand what I mean by this. And then there is the nostalgic feeling, which come up when listening to these sounds with the ears of someone who has grown up with them and sometimes wishes for things to be like they used to be once again. It was a great time at the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s. And all of this lead me to produce my new CD in the style of the good old times and to use a lot of atmospheric and bubbly sounds.

I am also talking to Spheric Music about putting out a CD, which will contain all of my „other releases“ of my past, such as Singles, Maxi-Singles, interesting jingles and Sampler-releases. Some fans will be delighted to finally be able to obtain pieces such as „Black Out/Galactic Floor“ or „Skywalker/Space Detective“ again. And they will be enthusiastic about listening to some jingles such as "Die Story der Final Legacy", an MC-Production for „ATARI-Computer“ dating back to 1984.

And I’d also naturally like to do a few concerts again in the future. Bigger and especially out of the ordinary concerts, of the sort one has got used from me, have become increasingly difficult nowadays. But these are thoughts, which will be of relevance only from bext year on. So we’ll see.


It's been quite a while since your latest release. What were the reasons for not coming up with a new album all this time?
Yes, my last release was "D.Mo. Vol.1" in 1998 (the 14th solo-album of mine) on the German label "Cue-records". "D.MO" (pronounce as: "demo", which it basically was set out to be) was not a release with new compositions, but with old stuff from the early 80's. "D.MO Vol.1" was released as special edition celebrating 20 years of Robert Schroeder, because I started my music carrier in 1978 thanks to my first contract with Klaus Schulze's Innovative Communication label (IC). The release of "D.MO Vol.1" should also be a document and a "thank you" for the 20th birthday of my son Klaus, who opened the door to Klaus Schulze for me and thus to the professional music scene as well. You know, in 1978, when I was a fan of Schulze, I asked him to be the godfather of my son, who was born in 1978. On the celebration of the christening, Klaus Schulze heard my music playing in the background and he was amazed by it. Spontaneously, Schulze told me he would like to release it. And so we/he did. And so my son "Klaus" was the door to my career as an EM-musician.

After 20 years of full creativity and success, I had a complete break for about seven years. It was based on my inner shutdown as reaction to the bad things I experienced with record companies. I fought it out in the courts for nearly 10 years – over my big worldwide success "Double Fantasy /Universal Ave." for example and also for other records, like "Pegasus". I lost my power and motivation. I never wanted to release a single further product and I decided to end my carrier as a musician.
In the first 2 years of my break, I did not play any note, I lived completely without music. I needed that time to "forget" all those negative business things.
But it all had a very positive effect. I retrieved my love for music. If you compose and produce music for over 20 years, your senses go very deep into the music, sounds, effects and technical things. It is not easy to just hear the outer skin of the music the way listeners do. But after the first 2 years of this full break I was again able to hear with "listeners ears". It was also possible again to dream while listening to music and that's the same feeling I had when I started to play EM.
Moreover, I had time to look back and to orientate myself. In the 20 years of the past, I spent all of my time being a musician, including all jobs that came with it, like composing, playing, recording, mixing, cover-design, all the office works like marketing, contracts, management, bookings and more. A lot of work which needs a lot of time. I liked it, but there is more in life. And this I found out in the first two years of my complete break.

After two years of really doing nothing (the money of my record sales was enough to live from them) I slowly got back the feeling that I would like to make music. Not to release it, not with the aim to do anything with the music, but just for fun. Together with my musical pause I had closed my music studio too. I did not sell my equipment, but I did pack it into the cases and stored it. And so first I started playing on my acoustic guitar only (I am a guitar player too). After a few months of playing guitar I felt the urge for more. Slowly, I took one synthesizer after the other out of its case. My enthusiasm and enjoyment grew and grew and was reborn on the day that I decided to re-install my studio and to buy some new equipment, like a Micro-Q, XP-60, a PC and good software.

Very quickly I gained fresh creative fire to compose new music. I spent nearly each day in my new studio and composed up to 6 or 7 new songs in one week. Different music in comparison to my earlier direction. But that was the positive effect of the break for myself, to get a kind of distance to the music - maybe like a "reset" - and also to the sounds of the new equipment. I spent a lot of time experimenting with the possibilities of my studio.

And that’s how I produced “brainCHIPS”.


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Talking about "brainCHIPS", how did you resolve the initial problem of a distribution partnership? What can you tell us about the music, apart from the fact that it features vocalist Rahal Brimil?

Yes, in the meantime I have found a distribution-partner for my new release "brainCHIPS" and also for new releases of the next years too. I am very happy about my deal with the German EM-label SPHERIC MUSIC of Lambert Ringlage (www.sphericmusic.de). After more than a year of searching for a good distribution partner without success, I got an offer from Spheric Music. The owner of Spheric Music, Lambert Ringlage, is a very human and fair businessman and - as an additional positive point - he is a musician too. Maybe that’s what made it possible to negotiate a very good and fair contract with him. In any case, I am very happy about this contract and that means that I have found new motivation to produce good music again.

The music, as it has been the case with any of my releases, is quite different from anything I’ve done before. Which is perfectly natural, for if you’re using new techniques, new tools and new sounds, it automatically implies that your current album will sound differently. And then there is the progress on a personal level and as an artist. Which in my case, after seven years of releasing nothing at all, will be pretty drastic to some. As I said, I wasn’t entirely “uncreative” all these years. So you obviously move on to something else. After I had come to the conclusion that I had some material worth publishing, I naturally wanted it to be released. . Which meant I had to go out an find someone willing to distribute it.
But let’s get back to the music of “brainCHIPS“. „brainCHIPS“ took its shape over a long period of time and especially without any pressure, in a totally relaxed way. To me, this is reflected in the music and it goes a great length to explain the freshness of this release. And then there is the fact that “brainCHIPS” was published both as an instrumental version and a vocal album, both complete works in their own right. The instrumental version was of course produced with fans of EM in mind – after all, this genre is predominantly instrumental. But then again, I considered it very stimulating to work with the human voice as well – without once thinking about the mainstream or commercial music. But merely by the use of some words, the listener can be pointed in the direction of themes, images and inspirations, which may in turn serve to experience the music in a different way. And it’s not just the combination of instrumental with vocal parts which I like about “brainCHIPS”, but also the voice of the singer, which is very harmonious. It just all works together very well. This is a kind of music, which you can listen to at any time and regardless of the occasion.
I should add, by the way, that the tracks are in fact absolutely identical on both versions, with the only difference being that five out of twelve pieces have additional singing and there’s an additional electric guitar in „So check me“, which serves to lend even more wideness and ambiance to the already pretty spheric title.
The tracks on „brainCHIPS“ offer very different atmospheres. There’s phantastic spacy sound excursions, as well as rhythmically concrete pieces with guitar licks. Everything is perfectly adjusted and connected by a very interesting sound texture, which can only be fully appreciated with headphones. That’s also the best way of experiencing this 74 minute long CD as a continous work.


Judiging from your bad business experiences, you could well be disillusioned with the music business. Would you say, that business and art exclude each other from the very beginning?
There’s two apects to this question: Everything I’ve experienced in thirty years of being part of the music business and then there’s the way in which this business has developed on a general level. On top of that, each and every evaluation can either be gven subjectively or objectively.

This my subjectiv evaluation:

My releases were very succesful both on a national and an international level and I could have been pretty satisfied with the overall development. But unfortunately I must have ended up with the wrong people and record companies – after all, I spent considerable time in front of the courts with them to receive the money I deserved or to end illegal practises. To me, the question remains, whether this is just bad luck on my part or something inherent to the business. And my conclusion is that I did get to know some real „hawks” personally, but I do believe that the industry has a general tendency towards this kind of abuse. Quite naturally, musicians will hardly be confronted with the truth or with problems, if they’re not selling any records. But if there’s a lot of money involved, record companies will always turn out to be gready and egoistical. If you’re a nobody, noone cares about yourself or your music. But if you’re famous, everyone’s cueing up to get something from you – for free, of course. Some don’t even ask and take the liberty of doing whatever they want with your music. Just to keep up with all of these things deprives you of valuable time, nerves and power, which ultimately hurts your creativity and your motivation. 
On the other hand, the new and positive experiences I have made with my new label Spheric Music from Essen in Germany have made my revise my evaluation that the entire industry is evil. Both the label and its owner are truly concerned with the music and with being honest,  fair and trustworthy. And then, suddenly, it starts being enjoyable again to work together and to build something up in unison.

This is my objective evaluation:

The EM scene has of course greatly changed over the past 30 years, While it was still an insider tip in the 70s, characterised by the new sounds of the synthesizers, which were first invented and produced at the time and made everyone take notice, these “new sounds” today unfortunately are hardly noticed any more – simply because they have become part of everyday life. Almost every contemporary recording includes synthesizers or other electronic devices and the sounds don’t enter listeners with the same sense of being special. But the EM scene as such hasn’t shrunk, but rather enlarged itself thanks to its commcercialisation.It’s not just a small club of dedicated afficianados any more and there’s more to it than merely the “berlin school”. Today, there is Ambient, Chill Out, Trance or TripHop. This is EM for the masses, and it has partly been adjusted to become danceable. So the electronic music of those former days has established itself today. This has, however, also meant that the number of people creating music has greatly increased and so has the supply of available music. Hereby, the value of music in general has decreased. What would once be sold by a single musician is now divided up between a larger group of artists and there’s ever less for the individual. Markets have shifted and you have to see how to deal with it. But there is still very much a scene for EM – since more than 30 years. 


One of the most remarkable points about your music was the impact it made with a minimum of instruments and tracks. Do you feel each musical element needs its space to breathe in order to be effective?
Well, yes. It is true that every musical element needs its space to be properly appreciated. Over-stuffing your music is no good – in this respect, I totally adhere to the claim:  Less is more. But really, this resulted from necessity at the time. A problem shared by most musicians in their early years: No money for expensive instruments. And that’s exactly how it was with me in the 70s. And so it was a true need for me to build my instruments and synthesizers myself. Simply because I loved electronic music and I wanted something like that myself. I have to add that I häve always been interested in electrical engineering and had actually explored this so far that I had already gathered experience in the field of building instruments and recording with them before 1978, when I got to know Klaus Schulze and turned music into my profession. When I played Schulze my music, he was immediately hooked and for my first release. “Harmonic Ascendant” in 1979, I naturally had to use my selfmade gear, because they provided this special sound Klaus enjoyed so greatly. That’s how I made a virtue out of necessity. Of course, I continued to construct new instruments, which I went on to to use as well, again for money reasons. Thus, I used very little means to create my music. But it apparently had a positive effect as well, in that it somehow hit a string with the listeners. By the way: That’s an effect, which Kraftwerk profited from a great deal as well. For they too buit a lot of their instruments themselves – or had them made.

 
In the booklet of "Harmonic Ascendent", Klaus Schulze characterised your music as "truly romantic". Would you agree? And: Where do you personally draw the border between kitsch and romanticism?

To me, what is romantic and what isn’t is up to the listener to decide. In my eyes, music is romantic, if it lends itself to romantic situations, be it on your own, with someone else or even in a group. It needs to transport a certain ambiance, a romantic atmopshere. In this regard I have to agree with Klaus Schulze. My music, and I’m not only talking about my debut “Harmonic Ascendant” here, is very romantic in the sense that it invites listeners to dream and relax. I think it worked so well with „Harmonic Descendant“, simply because I was using classical instruments, such as the Piano, an acoustic Guitar and the Cello alongside the electronic gear. It was this combination of two extreme opposites that resulted in the highly favourable description of the music as “a renewal of romantic music”. When does romantic music turn into kitsch? Well, I’d say, if it is produced for an audience like Richard Klayderman’s and when popular pop-hits are sugarcoated by piano- and stringtootling – that’s 100% kitch.


How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
Sound and composition are both important elements, which through their mutual interdependency decide about the overall impression of a piece. A great melody will always make sense, regardless of the sound used to play it. But choosing a specific sound will add a certain chracter and thus ambiance, atmosphere and expression.


What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What's your approach to performing on stage?
Well, if you have ever seen one of my live performances, you’ll know that it is not enough for me to play with a small set of equipment or without special effects. My live performance must offer something special regarding lights and effects, it must be a surprise and an adventure for the audience. So I use dancers, live musicians like a drummer and a guitar player at minimum, a good light show with special effects and a music program, which is specially composed for that performance. A good concert needs a red line or a theme in order for it to work well both for the audience and for myself. I hate simple concerts, because EM must have something for the eyes as well, not only the music for the ears. Very good examples for the stage design and lightings I like are “Pink Floyd” or “J.M.Jarre”. O.K., I have not attained their level yet, but it is my aim and my suggestion. To make this possible is only a question of enough money. Therefore, you need good organizers and the support from a good sponsoring.


Imagine a situation in which there'd be no such thing as copyright and everybody were free to use musical material as a basis for their own compositions? Would that be an improvement to the current situation?
Another question as an answer: From what income should musicians draw the money to produce their music? Life is very expensive, and the equipment has to be paid for. It does not work. It is a good thing that we have copyrights on our compositions and other creative works and also that we receive money from them.
I had my own bad experience with my “Double Fantasy”-project in the end of 80s. I developed a new style and sound of music. It took 2 years to find that style. That means a lot of costs and a lot of hours I spent in this endeavour. Finally, I had found the right music and a record company had released it. With over 200.000 copies sold it was very successful. Then the record company contracted two other musicians to play the style of “Double Fantasy”, which I had developed. Under the name “Dancing Fantasy”, these musicians stole the success, which belonged to me. That's not correct.
Another example for your question of copyrights is the right to copy records like CDs or Internet downloads. Piracy is a big problem today since musicians have no chance to get their fair share of money for their work. It is a must that the people have to pay for copyrights, otherwise the world and the music scene can not exist.
And further, for a real musician it should be a shame to use the ideas of another. A real and good musician should have his own ideas, otherwise he is not a good musician.


Some feel there is no need to record albums any more, that there is no such thing as genuinely "new" music. What do you tell them? Is "new" an important aspect of what you want your pieces to be?

We need both, new compositions with new ideas, but the old stuff too. The development of new music and styles is very important and who knows, what great music we can expect. But we like the old music too and we want to save it.
As a good example for new musical development I can say the following. In the 80s when DJs came up I had no understanding for this kind of music, because DJs were no real musicians, but they were awarded the same status by the audience. But the important thing is, they developed a new kind of music which was a further step of Electronic Music. They used the sounds and records of the original EM-musicians, they added a bassdrum to it and a new music was born. It was described as trance and so on and it was sometimes much better than the original pure EM of the pioneers. That has given new inspiration and new impulses to the musicians of EM and it pointed our music into a new direction. That was a good musical result from a development I experienced in the moment when it arose.


Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a poltical/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
No, music can exist for itself or for mere relaxation of the listeners. It need not have a political aspect. But it always has a social aspect. Because music gives the listener "a place of refuge". Some people use music to switch off the day, to relax, to think about things and problems or to listen with friends and to have a good time. Music is able to give the listener inspiration, power and harmony. Music is very important in a social aspect. But I think, EM is not the right music to transport political things. Therefore it is better to use Pop-music for example.


You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
That's a question I have never thought about. It is a difficult question to answer, because first I’d need to know the background of the festival. In case of a festival for EM and if the budget is unlimited, I would prefer a new arrangement of entertainment. But I think that should be my secret for the case that I am really in the situation to organize such a festival.


A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as "music". Would you draw a border? And if so, where?
As I explained a few questions earlier, my border was the generation of DJs in the 80s. But it was not a real border, because I have learned that also such a development has had good results for music all in all. So let the music and the arts run free and let the people do what they want musically, - the development will show us new directions and new possibilities, which will work. Some directions may not seem right to some people, but maybe the step which follows them will. If only the opinions of classical musicians were accepted, there would not be any other music today.


Many artists dream of a "magnum opus". Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
Yes, I have a vision of my "magnum opus". It is an open air concert with special musicians at a special place. I know all details of my vision, but I will keep it safely locked in my mind, because other musicians could use my ideas to realise it.

Thank you very much for the interview.

Discography:
Solo:
Harmonic Ascendant (1979) IC
Floating Music (1980) IC
Mosaique (1981) IC
Galaxie Cygnus A (1982) IC
Paradise (1983) IC
Computer Voice (1984) IC
Brain Voyager (1985) IC
Time Waves (1987) IC
Driftin' (1988) Racket Records
Hamaja (1991) News Music
Mindwalk (1993) News Music
Everdreams (1994) News Music
D.MO Vol.1 (1998) News Music
Brain Chips (2005) Spheric Music

As Double Fantasy/Food for Fantasy:
Universal Avenue (1986) IC
The Secret of Dreamin' (2006) Spheric Music

Homepage:
Robert Schroeder

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