Yet paradoxically, the identity of the project shifts. Sometimes it seems more dedicated than any to techno's original futurist tendencies, and at others downright steampunk-retro (consider the Zwischenwelt side-project with its obsession with Victorian séances and spiritualism). Frequently it's deathly serious, with titles and announcements centred on quantum physics, genetics, totalitarianism, the state of the modern world. But, as with its spiritual forebears Kraftwerk, there is always a hint of sly humour at work, a funkiness that leavens the occasionally stark musical palette and saves the project from the dourness that can dog experimental dance music.
All of this is confused further by the mystery-or-maybe-not of the personnel involved. The core of Dopplereffekt is one Heinrich Mueller, also known as Rudolf Klorzeiger, and widely known to be behind Der Zyklus, Japanese Telecom, Zwischenwelt and Arpanet. A second participant, To Nhan, is listed on most Dopplereffekt releases and plays live with Mueller.
The elephant in the room is Mueller's previous (or parallel?) life as Gerald Donald, and the relationships of all these projects to the Detroit electro duo Drexciya. But these connections are never acknowledged within the world of Dopplereffekt, and were never acknowledged during the existence of Drexciya either. Luke Handsfree of the London party organisation Plex, who counts Mueller as a friend, says with absolute seriousness: "I've never heard Herr Mueller refer to Drexciya, at least not in my memory of any conversations I've had with him. I would not presume to consider why this is."
Ned Beckett, of Berlin's Leisure System records, who put out Dopplereffekt's stunning Tetrahymena EP, says, "He's never Gerald—it's always Herr Mueller... unless it's backstage after a fun show."
Handsfree continues: "Herr Mueller takes his identities very seriously as they are a coherent extension of his artistic intentions, and a means by which he can more directly and with less deviation deliver the concepts that he finds intriguing. This makes it more than simple techno-anonymity, all-about-the-music stylings that a great deal of electronic artists use." And this unwavering dedication to the alternate reality of the Dopplereffekt world may explain why the music, though it seems never to waver from the same basic principles of construction, remains so fresh sounding—or, as Aaron Gonsher of Leisure System puts it: "'electro' as it's assigned to Dopplereffekt is more timeless and coherent over a longer period of time than the horrors of electroclash, or the overstuffed groups like Justice that are called 'electro' now."
In fact, Dopplereffekt fits into the electroclash years as well as it did into '90s techno, and remains just as current today. The influence on the Scottish scene that birthed Rustie, Hudson Mohawke and co is well-documented—indeed, Rustie describes himself as "a big fan" and says it was "a dream come true" when Mueller remixed his track "Zig Zag"—and his way with bare, bright synth melodies can be heard throughout what is often referred to as the "neon" tendency. Dopplereffekt's generally computer-free live performances prefigured the current shift away from laptop-twiddling and back towards the immediacy of analogue, and you could even suggest their impassively theatrical shows were a precursor of Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland.
Their influence even reaches chart-topping house producer Breach, AKA Ben Westbeech, who included "Z-Boson" on his 2013 DJ-Kicks mix. Dopplereffekt might be a heavily conceptual, serious-seeming project, which uncompromisingly refuses to play the media and promotional game (this interview was granted only after long consideration, and conducted by email after, again, a very long period to mull over the questions), but it shouldn't be surprising that it has tendrils that reach right through the underground and into pop culture. Because there's one key reason that Dopplereffekt's work is not as daunting or forbidding as it might seem: the music is instantly, and endlessly, thrilling, and as you can see below, they are happy for people to experience it purely for pleasure.
What makes an electronic performance "live"?
Herr Mueller: When one interacts with the technology, the technology is independent and the human element simply produces adjustments/additional input in this sequence of events. The entire process is automation with human supervision in essence.
To-Nhan: We play selected chords and melodies, abstract sounds live.
Is there a reason you stick to traditional keyboard workstations in your shows, when so many computer interfaces, surfaces and controllers etc are available now?
Herr Mueller: As a matter of convenience, it is more practical to have an actual instrumental interface. Access to tones, patterns and so forth is much more dynamic and efficient.
To-Nhan: I like to play the chords and melodies with actual keys. This is very natural and intuitive.
Past, present, future are all referenced in your work—in what ways can music affect the way we perceive these things?
Herr Mueller: Interpretation of soundscapes and isolated tones. You are representing concepts and abstractions with music data. In other words, physical reality can be represented by musical arrangement and atmosphere. Music must have a 1:1 correspondence to events and concepts it wishes to represent. In this way the concepts are properly communicated to the observer. Every timbre and tone is characteristic to a mood, object, event, etc.
To-Nhan: Our music is created around physics and biology. Perception of music is always a personal experience and it creates different feelings in persons, which might not be linked to science.
Your work has often alluded to other worlds—how can electronic sound create or access other worlds or states?
Herr Mueller: As I have just stated, music is representational of many attributes of real and imaginary worlds. When you listen to a musical composition, this listening phase is sort of a four-minute transportation, away from the normal daily existence. It can transport you to ancient historical events or to the mysterious nature of energy quantum. Music can be considered a form of escape or a mode of communication, physical and metaphysical.
To-Nhan: It is up to the listener where the music is taking him or her. It depends on her/his mental/psychological state, knowledge and experience of life. It is always good to be open minded. Then you will be taken into a state of relaxation.
The Zwischenwelt project suggested hypnotism, mesmerism and séance. Is there a ritual purpose in your shows, and if so do you require the audience to share your purpose?
Herr Mueller: No there is no ritual, the ideas we wish to communicate do not rely on supernatural connections, it's simplified and accessible. If there are subtle expressions, they support the main concept.
To-Nhan: Music should create emotions, thoughts (maybe of our concepts) and take the listener on a journey.
I hear a lot of funkiness in Dopplereffekt, and humour, too—in the same way that George Clinton used humour as a trojan horse to carry very serious information. What would you say to the idea that you share methodology with P-Funk?
Herr Mueller: Sometimes it is more effective to conceal dire topics under the guise of more pleasant euphemisms to mitigate the urgency, to tranquilize a subject and to allow him to relish his musical experience more comfortably. Sometimes we all want to offset the harsh realities of existence with ephemeral and illusionary bliss.
You play in places where people like to dance—what does people's movement to music mean to you?
Herr Mueller: I'm neutral on this issue. What we present is conceptual; it is not specifically created for this purpose. If you find it interesting rhythmically or intellectually, this is satisfactory for us. Each individual should form his own response.
To-Nhan: If people enjoy themselves it gives me satisfaction. It means we can reduce their inner tensions.
Electronic music now reaches more people globally than ever before. Of course the bulk of this is commercially driven, but not all. How do you feel you fit into this in 2014 and going forwards?
Herr Mueller: I'm not interested in commercialism in this field, it is of no consequence for me, this is not our aim. Our aim is to create concepts and adhere to technical and artistic value—which is much more important ultimately. We would prefer to be marginalized from the mass herd.
To-Nhan: This trend will continue. But I think also non-commercial music reaches people around the world. Non-commercial DJs and musicians perform in some third world countries—even communistic countries. This is good to teach the people there are also other aspects of the Western world like art and music, not only consumption and companies which only want to maximize profit and exploit third world workers, even children, at any risk—even at risk of their lives and health so we westerners can consume and consume.
In the imagery associated with your music, you have focused on both humanity's worst excesses and its most refined thoughts and discoveries. Do you feel any closer to understanding these extremes now than when you began your life in music?
Yes, over the course of time, one becomes more conscious of the extremes of human activity. This stems from the very fact that this activity is cyclic and we have the tendency to have recurrences of previous events and concepts. For some strange reason we have not eliminated our old prejudices and habits.
To-Nhan: I wouldn't use communistic symbolism again graphically. I always knew about the atrocities of totalitarianism.
What is the greatest pleasure for you in playing your music?
Herr Mueller: To communicate important concepts and to provide a vehicle that allows observers to form their own interpretations of the universe relative to their own existence. To provide a higher alternative.
To-Nhan: I am satisfied completely if we can stimulate people's interest in concepts, but if they can forget about the stress of every day life that is fine with me, too.