Eruption / Curiosum / Lauschen

Kluster, 1971 / Cluster, 1981 / Qluster, 2013

The evolving entity, most famously known as Cluster, is a 50 year institution of ambient experimentalism. Originally, they were known as Kluster, centered on the core trio of Conrad Schnitzler, Hans Joachim Roedelius, and Dieter Moebius.

From 1969-1972, Kluster made a disjointed, improvised racket equal parts electronics and junk shop percussion. While Kluster was distant from what we now call kosmische music, their improvisational antics have been the aesthetic underpinning of every version of the band. Most of the Kluster discography is sadly out of print (especially two multi-platter box sets), but the Bureau B label has reissued one their definitive works—alternately known as Schwarz or Eruption (which was also an early name for the band).

When the band was paired down to just the duo of Roedelius and Moebius, they traded the K for a C, becoming Cluster. This variation continued continuously from 1971 to 1981—then on-and-off-again for the next few decades. As Cluster, the duo not only defined the essentials of what we consider kosmische music today, they also charted its boundaries. Cluster have slowly grown into my favorite band from their class of German experimentalism in the 70s. Their work is more emotionally nuanced than Krafwerk, more consistent than Can and more abstract than Tangerine Dream’s structured, linear suites.

No single Cluster record is too alike, while they are all still very much of a piece. Curiosum, the last album from their initial run is a collection of odd miniatures, as opposed to the side-long meditations they’re most known for. Curiosum is a clear leap forward technologically. They’d water-shedding, recording and collaborating near-constantly throughout the 70s. While the improvisational nature of their music isn’t as messy or chaotic as in Kluster, they retain a ragged element of unpredictability.

After Moebius and Roedelius last meeting in 2009, for Qua—preceded by a small handful of records in the 90s—the duo parted ways. Roedelius continued the evolution, this time to Qluster: a duo with Onnen Bock, who wasn’t even born when Cluster (let alone Kluster) started. This new duo’s records together have ranged from discordant and dense to a collection of piano duets. Lauschen—a live album for which they had keyboardist, Armin Metz in tow—is a complex work. It moves crabwise through a series of detailed, gaseous atmospheres, existing in both analogue and digital spaces.

Fifty years is a hell of a long time in either popular or avant garde music—a divide the various incarnations of Cluster regularly straddles. Dieter Moebius passed away in 2015, and Roedelius is now an octogenarian, but Qluster remains prolific: releasing 7 full length albums in as many years. We may not have many more years of records in this lineage, but the legacy of K/C/Qluster is secure among the titans in the outer bounds of sound.

field report no.031817

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Hans-Joachim Roedelius

It's a bit of quandary, reviewing this show. At 82, Hans-Joachim Roedelius is nothing short of legendary: a member of the original Krautrock movement—among such luminaries as Neu!, Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. Between Cluster (with a C, K or Q), solo and countless, diverse collaborations (from Brian Eno and Lloyd Cole), his discography is now unfathomably deep. Since his earliest recordings he's maintained a dedication to improvised electronic music—a concept that was so far ahead of its time in the early 70s, it's still a tricky concept, 40 years later.

Roedelius is an oddly casual innovator, though, and his music's gentle abstraction obscures its advances. So Cluster doesn't inspire the rabid worship and rampant emulation that Kraftwerk and Neu! have. Of that first class though, Roedelius (and his partner in Cluster, Moebius) were the only ones to continue constantly and consistently pushing forward through the decades that followed.

That kind of quiet persistence and explains why this couldn't be a mind-blowing experience. Roedelius' music does not knock you sideways—it stays with you, instead. It endures. All the hallmarks of his work were there: bits of field recordings mingled were shaded by clouds of abstract electronics, all brightened by meandering but beguiling melodies. While it's never less than beautiful, Roedelius deftly sidesteps new age schmaltz. The amorphous nature of his music isn't settled and predictable enough to be trite. He ended with a short piano improvisation—and handled a short technical difficulty with class.

For a handful of years now, I've nurtured a growing appreciation for Roedelius (and Cluster). They are, easily, now my favorites from that particular burst of German creativity. I never imagined I'd get to him live (a feeling compounded when Dieter Moebius passed last year), let alone see him in Asheville, North Carolina. 

NOTES: Hans-Joachim Roedelius; Xambuca