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Cosmic Octave Orchestra: Gaiatron & Robert Schroeder: Esthétique

img  Tobias Fischer

In 1979/80 the careers of Steve Schroyder and Robert Schroeder both entered critical orbits. The former had just spent a decade re-defining rock and electronic music as a member of Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel and was now looking for a more grounded approach with his new duo Augenstern. Schroeder, on the other hand, emerged from studying with Klaus Schulze, constructing his own synthesizers and with a solo debut (Harmonic Ascendent) which had all the traits of the „kosmische“ tradition Schroyder had been so instrumental in shaping. Outwardly, they were clearly headed in different directions. Although still excelling in hypnotic sequencing, Augenstern constituted an effort of bringing the inaudible to the fore and tuning into the sounds of plants and flowers and it thus marked a decided departure from the Berlin school of electronics. Schroeder, contrarily, sought to continue the genre into the future. And yet, he, too, was looking for new horizons. Rather than entering into a philosophical debate about time and space, his compositions were turning inwards, roaming sentient galaxies and intimate spaces. With the exception of demonstratively named Galaxy Cygnus A, produced by Schulze and making use of material produced by the world's largest radar telescope, already album titles like Floating Music, Driftin', Brain Voyager and Mindwalk delineated private concepts – to Schroeder, he was creating „emotional-“ rather than just „electronic music“.

Thirty years after this junction, Schroeder and Schroyder are back in the spotlight, simultaneously releasing new work clearly harking back to the  beginnings of their biographies. Fans of neither should and will be overly surprised. After the earthly pulses of Augenstern, Schroyder in particular had long returned to the higher spheres of his early discography, returning with an epic solo work demonstratively titled Klänge Bilder Welten (Sounds Images Worlds) in 1990, as the Star Sounds Orchestra in 1991 and, now, as a member of the Cosmic Octave Orchestra, a formation dedicated to the harmonies of the spheres. A trio comprising of soulbrothers Akasha Project and Klangwirkstoff label-head Bert Olke's B. Ashra, their cosmic-music-v3.0 extends into adjacent scenes like goa and trance, juxtaposes live- and studio-work and combines analogue sound synthesis with software-based processing. It is almost as though Schroyder had traded in the outdated spacecraft of Ridley Scott's Nostromo for a far more agile model: From the vivid and in-the-moment production – a live recording at the Rathaus Schöneberg in Berlin – to the myriads of samples buzzing through these two expansive tracks, everything about Gaiatron feels perfectly contemporary.

At the same time, it is an album that thrives on the wealth of experience all participants have amassed over the years. Certainly, already the opening title track, a half-hour long wormhole through swelling and ebbing bass drones, distant echoes of rhythmical pulses, otherworldly harmonics and moments of intense harmonic beauty, requires the full attention of its three captains to arrive at the right balance between restraint and active participation. And yet, the piece is merely a prelude of sorts for thirty-eight minute „Cassinidrive“, a stellar realisation of a single, uninterrupted stream of thought. From a murky opening sections – a romantic sunrise in the outer nebulae, perhaps – the Leitmotif of the composition emerges in the lower registers of the strings, gradually winding its way up towards the higher frequencies and morphing into a gently chiming sequencer line accompanied by airy shaker loops. At around the ten-minute-mark, it appears to have reached exhaustion point, but the musicians know better, shooting it through a four to the floor trance beat and a multitude delirious sound effects. Locked into this mesmerising groove, one doesn't want this machine to stop – and it thankfully never does, running for what seems a heavenly eternity on the strength of nothing but delicate variations and mesmerising melodic counterpoints. It is a piece which would probably have seemed out of date in 1980, but takes on an almost futuristic quality today: With its psychedelic depth and borderless freedom, Gaiatron is a grandiose backflash to a long forgotten era and the ideal of music as a vessel for space travel.

It is an ideal Robert Schroeder has increasingly been returning towards as well. His previous full-length, Cream, in particular, represented a deliberate return to his roots, replete with lush synthesizer pads, hypnotic bass runs and plenty of breathing space. The fact that Esthétique was originally (albeit almost certainly tongue-in-cheek) set to be titled SpaceShit hints at the continuation of this tendency. And yet, as with his entire output from 2005 onwards, it is not a nostalgic look back. For Schroeder, the challenge has never consisted in finding inspiration as such, but in channeling the diversity of his occasionally contradictory interests - which he once, in an interview with Stefan Erbe, described as „expressing his love for analogue sounds, growing as an artist and perhaps even achieving commercial success“ - into a coherent style. „What may still be missing from the Robert-Schroeder-discography in the new millennium is a full-length which unifies his increasingly more precise ideas under the umbrella of a singular sonic concept.“ is what I wrote about his current oeuvre in 2009 and on his 25th full-length, he appears to have found it: While an album like BrainChips still branched out into millions of different directions, the new material has a clarity of vision and a stringency that seem to reflect an inner calm at the eye of the creative storm raging in Schroeder's head.

This is mainly because Esthétique is a glowing testimony of what may well be Schroeder's most unique talent: Building spellbinding tension archs on the strength of nothing but melodic movement. All tracks develop incrementally and almost imperceptibly, from quiet beginnings to anthemic dimensions without ever over-doing it: „Evaluation of Time“, the longest of seven tracks in between six and fifteen minutes, keeps circling a captivating motive tentatively introduced in its very first seconds, drawing its power from withholding, rather than delivering on its promise. „Structures“ feels like an empty galaxy filled with solitary figments of melody and harmony, until, in the last two minutes, Schroeder carefully layers all of them on top of each other for a dense, yet contained finale. And on the initially slow-burning title track, a sudden switch in gear and groove locks the listener in and lifts his feet off the ground with astounding ease. The association with the downbeat-movement of the early 90s is still audible, manifesting itself in laid-back drum machine patterns and a generous, deep production. And yet, these epic chill-out tracks simply keep on playing where others would cut them off, leading their audience to places none of the music seemed to suggest at first - almost certainly the result of hour-long nocturnal sessions in the studio, which, vice versa, turns it into the ideal companion for hour-long nocturnal sessions underneath your headphones.

Escapism is only part of what makes this music so appealing. Space, to Schroyder and Schroeder, is a metaphor which allows for the discussion of things which can not be rationally explained and phenomena words can not adequately describe. It can hardly come as a surprise that they should be returning to it again and again even decades into their careers. It is, after all, a pretty big place.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Robert Schroeder
Homepage: Spheric Music
Homepage: Steve Schroyder
Homepage: Klangwirkstoff Records

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