Interview: Rodion Rosca

Richard Gehr

By Richard Gehr

on 06.04.13 in Interviews

If things had worked out better, Rodion Ladislau Roșca might have been the Lee “Scratch” Perry of Romania.

Working in his bedroom during the 1970s, Rodion Roșca invented an immediately identifiable style of electronic music with only a pair of Tesla Sonet Duo reel-to-reel tape recorders, guitar, and a Soviet-made Faemi organ with flanger, phaser and fuzz pedals. Like his equipment, Rodion’s sound was a relatively complex assemblage of fairly simple parts obtained from Anglo-American rockers and German electronic experimentalists. Sometimes it sounded like Tangerine Dream performing Black Sabbath; at others like Kraftwerk as interpreted by Emerson Lake and Palmer.

The good news is that the powerful East European sounds of Rodion and his ever-changing band, Rodion G.A., were rediscovered in 2012 (by blogging filmmaker Luca Sorin) and have subsequently been anthologized by the Strut label as The Lost Tapes. Unfortunately, Rodion feels his recognition is way past due. As he told an interviewer in a promo documentary for the project, “It hurts me because it’s too late. Even if I became a millionaire now it will be too late…[My] life was destroyed.”

Rodion was under the weather but eager to relate his story when we spoke recently over the phone from Bucharest. “I’m a little bit ill because I have a very big problem with my liver,” he explained in halting English. “I have cirrhosis.”

Born in 1953, Rodion spent nearly his entire life in Romania’s second largest city, Cluj-Napoca, in the Transylvania region. As a teenager, he was an avid record collector devoted to the Rolling Stones (especially “Paint It Black”), the Beatles (especially “Hello Goodbye”), Frank Zappa and his favorite hard rockers, Black Sabbath. “Caravane” and other tracks demonstrate a marked Kraftwerk influence as well. His local listening included Romanian rockers such as Phoenix, Chromatic, Iuliu Merca and Beat-Grup 13, the first band he played in.

The first iteration of Rodion G.A included bassist Gicu Fărcaș, a friend from the boiler factory in which they toiled, and drummer Adrian Căpraru. It was not a permanent relationship by any stretch, and the group’s “G” lasted two years, its “A” only one. “I played with 16 keyboard players, eight drummers, and 10 bass guitarists,” says Rodion of his revolving-door lineup. “The problem was that they did not like to play somebody else’s music; they all wanted to be the chief.” Although Rodion found teaching the band how to play his electronic works frustrating, tracks like “Disco Mania” and “Citadela” suggest how potent they must have sounded onstage. With the end of the so-called “open” period in 1972, Romanian bands were under intense pressure by the secret police and neighborhood snitches to soften both their message and volume, and Rodion self-censored the protest music he wrote.

Rodion’s music is modular, with most of his relatively short tracks containing from three to six sections. “I don’t like the long songs of six or 10 minutes,” he says. “My music is very active, with many changes and many ideas.” After learning how to bounce parts between tracks on his reel-to-reels to create echo and other effects, he began to recycle sounds like a Jamaican dub producer, all without benefit of either a mixing board or synthesizer. The tracks “Caravane,” “Paradoxe,” “Stela si Lumini” (Stars and Light) and “Imagini Din Vis” (Dream Images), for example, were all based on drums sampled from an earlier track, “Ora” (Hour), which was recorded during a rare session for Romania’s state-owned Electrecord label. In the ’80s, Rodion’s palette expanded to include an East German Vermona drum machine, a toy Casio VL Tone (as heard on Trio’s “Da Da Da”), and a Soviet-made Faemi organ he augmented with flanger, phaser and fuzz pedals.

When Romania’s national radio station played his music, Rodion says, the songs inevitably topped the charts. He recalls being fascinated by the annual military parades in Cluj-Napoca, and it’s understandable why his Martian martial music was sometimes heard during news and sports broadcasts on Romanian national television — although he was never paid for its use; likewise for his Olympics-caliber “Diagonale,” which a local instructor commissioned as a gymnastics accompaniment.

Rodion stopped making music entirely when his mother died in 1989. “She was a most happy person when my songs were played on the radio and TV,” he says. He worked in another factory after her death, repairing audio equipment on the side (“There are no loudspeakers in the world I cannot repair”), until four years ago, when he once again began to compose music, for his daughter.

“I never thought I would be in this situation,” says Rodion of his recent reemergence. “Romania radio stations and magazines say that I am the father of electronic and new-wave music in Romania. And when I read this, I am very, very surprised. It’s very strange for me. I cannot understand how that is possible. Still today, I cannot believe that is true.”