Friday, May 24, 2013

REDISCOVERED: Rodion G.A. - The Lost Tapes

Rodion Roșca is a Romanian composer/performer who led an outfit, Rodion G.A., which created in the '70's and early 80's' a style of music that is hard to describe, and simply unlike anything else. I struggle for comparisons, and to some extent the European prog of artists like Kraftwerk and Can might serve as a starting point, especially for the loops and feedback of opening track "Alpha Centauri". Roșca was also a fan of progressive Western music like Zappa, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Yes, etc. - and fans of that music will immediately connect with his heavy prog rock approach on tracks like "Imagini Din Vis". Then, there's the beautiful piano ballad "Zephyr" which incorporates synths and just a hint of Morricone-style guitar - the quality and variety of this music is stunning.

Here's "Cantec Fulger" - simply freaking amazing:

Roșca's music was made using recording techniques he was constantly experimenting with, and a custom set-up of tape machines, synthesizers, various instruments and effects units. The Lost Tapes is an amazing artifact - ahead of its own time, and made in a place that discouraged artistic expression, for a future that has created music of its own. In a way it reminds me of the approach of another visionary - and if you have spent time in Walt Disney's Tomorrowland, my association may make sense to you. Like that place, this music creates its own world, not specifically anchored in either the time it was created or the time it pointed forward to. And that is part of the wonder... in fact, back in the mid-80's, Roșca's music apparently was too "out there" for an outer space-themed animated feature.

This music has never been released officially, until now. Strut Records, in association with Future Nuggets and Ambassador's Reception, is releasing the first full LP of original material by Rodion G.A. - simply entitled The Lost Tapes. It's a title that serves as a short description of a long and fascinating story.

Here is an interview of Roșca by Ion Dumitrescu of Bucharest's Future Nuggets crew, interspersed with some of the music:

And here, from Strut, is the full description of the project and some of the history behind it. This, and the interview, are truly fascinating.

34 years ago in Romania, Rodion Ladislau Roșca founded a group that came to deliver an alternative sound that was completely unique in the claustrophobic cultural landscape of those times. With only two tracks ever having received an official release (via a compilation LP on the State-owned Electrecord label), the music of Rodion Roșca’s band - composed and recorded almost entirely by its leader - has been secretly kept on dusty tapes ever since.

Rodion’s music dug a subterranean niche completely opposed to the polished surface of the mainstream sound during the last prolific period for Romanian rock bands between 1978 and 1984. The music functioned as an impossible, dark and romantic counterpoint to the stifling atmosphere of the country under the Ceausescu regime.

Rodion himself was an enigmatic figure. Half-Hungarian and half-Romanian, he grew up during the brief “open” period of 1965 to 1972 when American and English rock bands, jazz legends and international pop stars were regularly played on the radio. He lived near the border with Hungary, in Cluj, a city with a healthy music culture that spawned important prog rock groups including Cromatic and Experimental Quintet. Here, Rodion managed to find vinyl and, during the ‘70s he became known amongst friends as “King Of Records”. As such, he became steeped in the major Western artists of the era – Hendrix, The Beatles, The Who, Zeppelin – and discovered many of the more progressive and electronic bands from both East and West like East Germany’s Karat, Yes, Jethro Tull, Syrius and Skorpio from Hungary, Kraftwerk, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Matador out of Czechoslovakia and many more.

From the start, Rodion was concerned with his own style of composition and set himself apart from the rock template that dominated Romanian music during the late ‘60s. Technically and in his compositions, he was obsessed with every detail of his sound. His first sessions, as a teenager, were recorded on tape during 1969-1972 - simple, sparse and haunting pieces using reel-to-reel recorders and based around vocals, guitars and improvised drums.

In 1975-6, Roșca formed Rodion G.A., the ‘G.A.’ comprising band members Gicu Fărcaș and Adrian Căpraru. Roșca had amassed equipment and became a DIY tech wizard, improvising his own techniques of composing using reel-to-reels. Surrounded by three or four Tesla tape machines, he would record beats and guitar on one channel of the tape, then stop and add other instruments on the other – a raw means of multi-tracking. He would use the other machines (transforming a Tesla into an echo machine) to add effects and delays on both instruments and vocals. Other tools in his armoury included an East German Vermona drum machine, a toy Casio VL Tone and a little Soviet-made Faemi organ to which he added phaser, flanger and fuzz pedals.

During Rodion G.A.s active period, there was only one label operating in Romania, the State-owned Electrecord, and the band recorded two tracks at the station’s studio, which surfaced on the compilation Formații Rock Vol. 5, in 1981. The band recorded five further songs at another Electrecord session which remained unreleased apart from radio airings. During the recording session at Radio Cluj, Rodion asked the sound engineer to allow him to record all of the instrumentals onto his own Tesla machine, directly from the main mixer. Within his later productions, he would sample drum parts from this session to build new tracks. Other pieces (including some made by Rodion at home on tape machines) were picked up by national radio and Rodion G.A. even hit the top of the Romanian charts for several weeks. Beyond this brief but intense exposure, no other recordings surfaced. Undeterred, the band toured extensively during the early ‘80s.

For the band’s gigs, Rodion made his own rig by hand, complete with ‘Rodion G.A.’-branded speaker boxes and amps. From the start, the band’s sound was incomparable to other contemporaries. Other Romanian musicians like Mircea Florian had moved from a folk-rock background to experiment with more electronic productions but Rodion was different, concocting dense, visceral synth sounds set against raw programmed rhythms, intricate, unusual arrangements, with prog and classical touches.

Despite the much harsher political conditions post-'72 (the "July Thesis" of Ceaușescu), with the grip on culture and society becoming increasingly strict, a live rock scene continued to exist in Romania during the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Gigs mainly happened within a network of festivals around the country and, during the summer, in seaside towns at restaurants and clubs. Bands would push the rules, often playing Western covers and venue owners had to be careful, getting to know when inspectors might drop by. Rodion was no exception and would need to dodge the censorship absurdly often. He remembers one occasion when an inspector came to listen to a band sound check. Despite singing in Romanian, the official pulled them up for singing “yeah yeah yeah” during a chorus.

Other plans nearly materialised – Rodion scored the soundtrack to an animated movie, ‘Delta Space Mission’ in the mid-‘80s but the tracks were refused by the film company who then employed prolific Romanian electronic / pop producer Adrian Enescu for the job. Rodion also composed soundtracks for a theatre play and a ballet, both performed at Romanian National Opera in Cluj, and wrote some scores for gymnastic routines (including ‘Diagonala’). But all of these projects, despite positive feedback, proved to be ephemeral and soon Rodion disappeared from public view.

The band’s only remaining documented performance during their career was a show on Romanian television celebrating New Year’s Eve in 1980. Rodion G.A. eventually split in 1987 after a gig at the Mangalia Festival and Rodion then walked away from music completely following the death of his mother.

Fast forward to 2012. Blogger and film-maker Luca Sorin is intrigued by the mythology around Rodion G.A. and, after months of hunting, tracks down Rodion Rosca, and posts a handful of tracks and video footage of the band’s 1980 New Year’s Eve concert online. The links come to the attention of young Romanian crew, Future Nuggets, a collective of producers and musicians as dedicated to unearthing Romania’s musical past as they are to forging new sounds and fusions for future traditions and the global community of beat diggers. Then, further conversations, a live comeback gig in Bucharest, the first in over 25 years. A partnership with Steve Kotey of Ambassador’s Reception leads to a compilation of Future Nuggets’ own studio work, Sounds Of The Unheard From Romania in 2012 and a release from their acclaimed psych-jazz project, Steaua de Mare, in April 2013.

A strange and very precious artefact, the powerful music of Rodion has a special place in the unofficial museum of sonic oddities made behind the iron curtain. Strut, in association with Future Nuggets and Ambassador's Reception, are honoured to release his first full LP, delivering the tracks - made in the past but undoubtedly for the future - that will earn him a deserved place in the international electronica pantheon. Rodion G.A. The Lost Tapes is released on May 28th 2013, remastered from the original tape reels. Rodion G.A. backed by Steaua de Mare will be touring fully across Europe from Summer 2013.

So, get this: the story is amazing and we are indeed fortunate to have this artifact, but it is of much more than merely historical significance. It is wonderful music, made by a supremely talented artist, technician and visionary. You need this.

Rodion G.A. at Strut Records

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