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+ {Kluster} + {Harmonia}

Not the first prog-krautrock combo to emerge at the turn of the 70s, but definitely one of the most inventive and uncompromising of the brood, Berlin’s CLUSTER were the property of improv specialists Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius – names to whet the appetite of the odd aficionado, including one-time collaborator BRIAN ENO and space-rock cadet JULIAN COPE. This highly-rated outfit remain one of Germany’s more interesting electronic pioneers and, surprisingly, after each alumni had clocked up a plethora of solo/project sets on their respective CVs, a brief reunion album, “Qua” (2009) was greeted with hands in the air.
Formed November 1969 post-moon landings as KLUSTER, the earliest incarnation of the Krautrock combo included three core members, Conrad “Conny” Schnitzler on synths/multi-instruments (ex-TANGERINE DREAM), Roedelius on synths/keyboards and Swiss-born Moebius on instruments.
A prefiguration of industrial or dark ambient rock, a trio of home-soil LPs were unveiled in their time as a complete unit: KLOPFZEICHEN (1970) {*7}, ZWEI-OSTEREI (1971) {*7} and the rare ERUPTION (1971) {*7}, before Schnitzler cheekily procured the latter album title for his subsequent project; this has always led to confusion about the record being a bona fide KLUSTER set, added to the fact that a CD re-issue added another “untitled” piece with his new ERUPTION buddies Wolfgang Seidel and Klaus Freuidgmann.
Back to the script, all three were mind-blowing pieces of futuristic rock, the first of the bunch featuring the voice of Christa Runge (on the side-long `Kluster 1’) and the second, Manfred Paethe (on the 23-minute `Electric Music Und Texts’). If one can imagine TANGERINE DREAM sharing a studio with BRAINTICKET, this Kraut/Swiss connection of sorts laid down the foundations of the multi-layered synth-symphonics prior to becoming the Euro/UK-friendly CLUSTER.
Defying convention and emerging from the Star-Musik Studios Hamburg with three lengthy pieces split only by their time duration (`7:42’, `15:43’ and `21:32’), 1971’s eponymously-monikered CLUSTER {*8} was a grandiose work of art. Produced by auxiliary 3rd member Conrad Plank, the multi-dimensional aspect of the disorientating record embraced electronically-treated cello, Hawaiian guitars and organ effects (with spaced-out wah-wah pedals) that woofered and tweetered their way into the brain. Note that for meticulous collectors, re-issues stamped the set as “Cluster ‘71”.
CLUSTER II (1972) {*9} was a definite inspiration to Michael Rother’s NEU!, who was in definite awe of the ebbing and flowing of the half a dozen pieces that surrounded its main prog-length courses served up by `Imsuden’ and 15-minute `Live In Der Fabrik’. Building upon sparse, minimalist beginnings, the multi-layered structures on the likes of the mind-blowing `Plas’ and `Fur die Katz’, unfold brick by brick until the wired-to-the-moon crescendos release the listener into another part of their cosmic fairy-tale for humanoids.
Predictably, the subsequent coming together of CLUSTER and NEU! as a triumvirate of HARMONIA was a master-stroke by all parties. While KRAFTWERK were about to work on their hypnotic magic of “Autobahn”, Rother’s chugging guitar was in complete simpatico with the synth layers of Messrs Moebius and Roedelius as the MUSIK VON HARMONIA (1974) {*8} classic underlined. Introduced by the bustling `Watussi’, all but the speedy `Veterano’, `Dino’ and `Sonnenschein’, matched the sedate surroundings of their Forst Village recording venue.
In spring ‘74, with Rother on guitar and production duties, CLUSTER’s third album ZUCKERZEIT {*8} was made up of 10 proper-length pieces of extra-terrestrial synth-rock. Splitting the compositions between them rather than working as a unit, Moebius provided the experimental cuts such as `Caramba’ and the “Clangers”-esque `Rote Riki’, while Roedelius was happier on the evocative and cinematic `Rosa’, `Hollywood’ and `Marzipan’.
A bona fide songwriting trio this time around with the addition of guest drummer Mani Neumeier (of GURU GURU), HARMONIA’s pulsating sophomore set, DELUXE (1975) {*9}, was to all intents and purposes an equal to – or better than – its predecessor. Moebius, Roedelius and Rother set their motor running, or set the controls for the heart of the sun, utilising electronic percussion, pianos and other pieces of synth delights; side one’s `De Luxe (Immer Wieder)’ and `Walky-Talky’, were balanced by the futuristic NEU!-like rock’n’roll of `Monza (Rauf Und Runter)’, `Motre Dame’, `Gollum’ and the perky `Kekse’.
The original CLUSTER pairing were ambling toward simplistic beauty once again by way of fourth set, SOWIESOSO (1976) {*8}. Happy to extol the virtues of his toy-box excursions and nigh-on a decade older than comrade Moebius, at 40-something Roedelius was an experienced craftsman. Together they played the minimalist card and came up with aces in the pack such as `Dem Wanderer’ (To The Wanderer) and `Sowiesoso’ (So Not So So). All around 7 minutes or under, their power was in their melody; `Es War Einmal’ and `In Ewigkeit’, lush lullabies to send one into another green world.
And that’s where long-time ambient exponent BRIAN ENO came into the fore, collaborating with the duo on 1977’s CLUSTER & ENO {*7} and – as ENO MOEBIUS ROEDELIUS – on 1979’s AFTER THE HEAT {*6}. A kraut-prog dream-team, the first of these LPs for Sky Records featured guest appearances by synth exponent Asmus Tietchens and Dutch sitar player Okko Bekker on `One’ and CAN’s Holger Czukay on the opening `Ho Renomo’. Remarkably enough, a busy Conny Plank was still able to engineer his craft, and if ethereal tracks such `Fur Luise’, `Die Bunge’ and `Wehrmut’ were not quite “Music For Airports/Films”, but as a whole it was certainly “Music For Peace” – and quiet.
After science and not before, the follow-up set swerved into ENO’s ambient territory, although there was no pussyfooting from the former ROXY MUSIC synth-star on the voice-enhanced bookends `The Belldog’ and `Tzima N’Arki’ (sung backwards); the previous recital piece `Broken Head’ had definite inclinations to BOWIE’s “Beauty And The Beast” of which ENO produced.
While ROEDELIUS and MOEBIUS released on were working on their own respective solo sets, CLUSTER looked to a fresh decade with the issue in December 1979 of the antiquated prog-electro GROSSES WASSER {*7}. Recalling TANGERINE DREAM in filmic mode a la “Sorcerer”, the synth-stabbing `Avanti’ and `Prothese’ short-takes had their appeal, although it was in the side-long title track that maintained that link to kraut-rock.
On the back a concert double album that co-billed percussionist (Joshi) Farnbauer, LIVE IN VIENNA 1980 {*6}, CLUSTER showed their Anglo-centric new wave of electro-poppers a thing or two on 1981’s CURIOSUM {*6}. Fascinating in how the duo looked to post-punk acts from over the channel for sustenance (think THROBBING GRISTLE in bed with OMD), CLUSTER found it all hard work with the exception of the bouncy and playful `Oh Odessa’, the industrial `Proantipro’, the JARRE-ing `Helle Melange’ and the dry penultimate track 6, `Charlic’.
It would nigh-on a decade before a relocated Hans-Joachim (to Blumau in Austria) reunited with his old CLUSTER chum for the MOEBIUS + ROEDELIUS-credited APROPOS CLUSTER (1990) {*6}. Whether a trip to bonnie Scotland inspired the 3-minute `Emmental’, or the pair had locked themselves into a home-made cinema playing soundtracks for `Gespiegelt’, the record would have a make-or-break aspect courtesy of the usual suspect side-long title track.
The aptly-titled CLUSTER bomb, ONE HOUR (1994) {*5} was what it said on the tin – so to speak, exactly 60 minutes of meticulous neo-classical ambience. Very much in the PHILLIP GLASS, HOLGER CZUKAY, BRIAN ENO and avant-garde soundtrack tradition (David Lynch movies come to mind), there were segments that were divided for CD rewind/fast-forward purposes (11 of them in all), the beginning, middle and climax tell their own story – for humanoids no doubt.
Locked together in relative competition, FIRST ENCOUNTER TOUR 1996 {*6} – live in the USA – and JAPAN 1996 LIVE {*6} were issued in 1997; their pieces corresponding to places where they ventured (e.g. `New Orleans Louisiana’ or `Osaka “Muse Hall”’ respectively). No surprise then, that after a decade in the proverbial wilderness (despite numerous solo sets), CLUSTER’s reunification was via a third consecutive live set: BERLIN 07 (2008) {*6} – live at Ballhaus Naunynstrasse 14.09.07 and split into `First Part’ and `Second Part’. A busy period for the pair, they culminated concerts around the globe with an appearance at the Big Apple’s No Fun Fest.
And just when kraut-rock and CLUSTER fans had more or less given up on them ever delivering another studio set, out spat the delicious QUA (2009) {*7}. Against the run of play, the duo decided on giving thought to titles, 17 in all, and performed to adoring fans when they supported post-rock disciples TORTOISE on tour. An adventure beyond the ultraworld or indeed any cosmic plain, austere pieces such as Na Ernel’, `Malturi Sa’ and `So Ney’ were at the core of the CDs epicentre.
Sadly, the cancer death of Dieter Moebius on 20 July 2015 put paid to any recurring reunion.
© MC Strong 1997/GPD // rev-up MCS Jul2015

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