Probably, the most overused word in the English language is legend. Recently, it seems, the word has been used to describe overrated musical butterflies, who glibly flit between musical genres. They hang onto the coattails of much more talented musicians, hoping that some of their magic will rub off. When this didn’t result in commercial success beyond their home country, they returned to what they had been doing throughout their career, producing pop music that was shallow and vacuous. It was the musical equivalent of The King’s New Clothes.
Despite that, many albums that sold well in Britain. However, in Germany and America these albums didn’t sell in vast quantities. This artist wasn’t a national treasure, whose every word a slavish music press hung on. So when they died, cue an outpouring of grief. It would’ve brought a tear to a glass eye. Meanwhile, a true musical genius had passed away six month earlier. Sadly, many record buyers were unaware of this artist’s work.
Dieter Moebius, who had been a cofounded member of Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia, died on 20th July 2015 after a brave and lengthy battle against cancer. He had been a member of three of the most inventive, innovative and influential bands of the Kominische era. However, like many musical pioneers, Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia’s music was ahead of its time. As a result, their music never received the commercial success and critical acclaim in their own country. Instead, it were more popular abroad. Eventually, that began to change.
Somewhat belatedly, Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia are being recognised for being pioneers, who released ambitious, groundbreaking and timeless music. They’ve gone on to influence several generation of musicians. So has Dieter Moebius’ solo albums. This included Blotch, Dieter Moebius’ 1999 sophomore album. Blotch is the first of Dieter Moebius final four albums being reissued by Bureau B.
When Blotch was released in 1999, it marked the end of a sixteen years wait for Dieter Moebius’ fans. He had released his debut solo album Tonspuren, on Sky Records in 1983. This was two years after the two years after “Cluster had run its course.” Hans-Joachim Roedelius explains: “we decided to concentrate on other projects. There was no fall-out, Cluster just came to a natural end.” So the two friends embarked on separate projects.
Dieter Moebius’ first two post-Cluster albums, were collaborations with his old friend Conny Plank. He had been a member of Cluster when they released their eponymous debut album in 1971. Since then, they had worked on albums by Cluster and Harmonia. However, they had only collaborated together once on Rastakraut Pasta. Soon, one would become two.
Moebius and Plank.
In 1980, Dieter and Conny Plank entered Conny’s Studio to record seven tracks. They were joined by another giant of German music, Can bassist Holger Czukay. He played on Feedback 66, Missi Cacadou and Two Oldtimers. When the seven tracks were completed, Rastakraut Pasta was would be released later in 1980.
Critics hailed Moebius and Plank’s debut Rastakraut Pasta a truly groundbreaking album. It was a fusion of avant-garde Kominische, industrial, electronica, experimental and dub reggae. This disparate and unlikely fusion of genres proved a potent musical pot pourri, that proved popular with critics and record buyers. So Conny and Dieter released a second album together.
The Moebius and Plank partnership returned in 1981 with their sophomore album, Material. It featured five songs recorded at Conny’s Studio. This time, there was no sign of Holger Czukay. Instead, the two old friends and musical pioneers worked on another album of truly groundbreaking music. This became Material.
Just like Rastakraut Pasta, Material was hailed as another album of groundbreaking, genre-melting music. Elements of avant-garde Kominische, industrial, electronica, experimental and dub reggae. This resulted in music that wasn’t just innovative, but way ahead of its time. Material was also a timeless album, and one that resulted in what seemed like a queue of musicians wanting to collaborate with Dieter Moebius.
First in the queue was Gerd Beerbohm. They released their first collaboration, Strange Music in 1982. This was the first two albums the pair would record tougher. The followup Double Cut was released in 1983. That same year, Dieter Moebius released his debut album Tonspuren.
To record his debut solo album, Dieter Moebius headed for the familiar surroundings of Conny’s Studio, in Cologne. He had made this journey countless times before. In the second half of 1982, Dieter began recording ten soundscapes. With Conny looking on approvingly, and making a few suggestions, Tonspuren began to take shape. Once the album was recorded, Conny mixed Tonspuren. It was then released in 1983.
Just like his previous collaborations with Conny Plank, Tonspuren was released on Günter Körber’s Sky Records. It was the perfect label for an album of minimalist, experimental and ambient music. Günter Körbe had setup Sky Records in 1975, and had never been afraid to release music that many labels would’ve shied away from. Many other German labels were only interested in commercial music. However, Sky Records, just like Brain and Ohr before them, were determined to released groundbreaking music. This was how some critics described Tonspuren.
Critics had awaited the release of Tonspuren with interest. They wondered what direction Dieter Moebius’ music would head? When they heard Tonspuren, with its minimalist, ambient and sometimes experimental sound, they knew. It was a captivating debut album, and critics awaited Dieter’s sophomore album with interest. They would have a long wait.
Sixteen years to be exact. Dieter would released several collaborations, and Cluster would reunite before Dieter release his sophomore album. By then, Dieter had reinvented himself, while music, and the way it was made had changed.
Following the release of Tonspuren, Dieter continued to collaborate with other artists, This included two collaborations with Karl Renziehausen. Dieter also wrote the soundtrack to Blue Moon in 1986. However, it was Conny Plank that Dieter collaborated with most often. They recorded three further albums with Conny Plank, This included 1983s Zero Set which featured Guru Guru drummer Mani Neumeier; 1995s En Route; and Ludwig’s Law which featured Mayo Thompson. However, still, Dieter Moebius found time to reunite with Hans-Joachim Roedelius for the comeback of Cluster.
Recording of Cluster’s tenth album took place during 1989 and 1990. Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius recorded five tracks, including the twenty-two minute epic title-track. It was part of an album that was similar to Grosses Wasser.
That is the comparisons critics drew, when Apropos Cluster was released in 1991. The only difference was, that Apropos Cluster wasn’t as rhythmic as Grosses Wasser. Instead, it was understated, ethereal and thoughtful ambient music. The followup to Apropos Cluster was the first of three live albums.
The first of the trio of live albums Cluster released during the nineties, was One Hour. It came about after Cluster improvised in the studio for four hours. They edited this down to One Hour. The result is a truly captivating album that was released in 1995.
One Hour is Cluster at their most imaginative. They take their music in the most unexpected directions. Curveballs are constantly bowled, as what sounds like the soundtrack to a surrealist film unfolds. Elements of ambient, avant-garde and modern classical music combine, resulting in one of the most intriguing albums in Cluster’s discography.
Two years later, in 1997, Cluster released the first of two live albums. The first was Japan 1996 Live. It was followed by First Encounter Tour 1996, which was their thirteen album, was the first double album Cluster had released. It would also be the last album they released for eleven years. During that period, Dieter Moebius released four further solo albums. The first of this quartet of solo albums was Blotch.
After a sixteen year period where he was constantly collaborating with other artists, Blotch marked the start of a period where mostly, Dieter Moebius would concentrate on his solo career. While there was the occasional excursion with Cluster, and a collaboration with Asmus Tietchens in 2012, mostly, the period between 1999 and 2014 are best described as the solo years.
One thing that never changed during the solo the solo years, was Dieter Moebius’ determination to innovate. On what became Blotch, Dieter worked on a series of playful mesmeric loop based tracks. They’re atmospheric and experimental, with Dieter adding bursts of speech to the musical canvas. They’re painted by using vast musical palette.
When Dieter came to record Blotch in Berlin, he had bought an eight-track Yamaha recorder. Onto that, he recorded his E-mu Orbit 9090 sound module and a Korg Prophecy. It was way ahead of its time, and was able to replicate the sounds of various analogy synths. This didn’t come cheap, but was a lot easier and more reliable than their analog equivalent. Dieter added samples of speech throughout Blotch. The only guest artist was Tim Story, who played pedal steel guitar, piano and produced Balistory. The rest of Blotch was produced by Dieter. When Blotch was completed, it was mastered by Tim Story in his Ohio studio. Only then was Blotch released in 1999.
When Blotch was released, Dieter Moebius was hailed as the comeback King. He had reinvented himself musically, and recorded a much more experimental, genre-melting album. Dieter had made good use of new technology, and added snatches of speech to the seven soundscapes. This proved a potent combination, as you’ll realise.
Ondulation opens Blotch. Synths wah-wah before a myriad of sounds assail the listener. A broody bass synths provides the heartbeat, while bell rings and futuristic, sci-fi sounds flit in and out. So do brief snatches of speech. By then, the synths are adding drama and most importantly, a hypnotic backdrop to what sounds like the soundtrack to a space odyssey.
Drums that sound as if they’re a distance relation to those found on old seventies Afro-beat albums add hypnotic sound on Meltaway. Meanwhile, otherworldly, ethereal and space-age synth are added. So are what sounds like a sample of snarling animal. There’s even a synth sound that as it’s been influenced by David Bowie’s Fame. Mostly though, Dieter Moebius puts his extensive musical palette to good use, painting broad brush strokes using synths and samples. He creates a soundscape that’s variously mesmeric, otherworldly, dramatic and most of all cinematic.
The introduction to Temperate veers between understated and ambient, to experimental. Washes of ethereal synths sweep in, before Dieter unleashes an array of sound. Some are almost industrial, others elegiac and some are even otherworldly. However, a chirping, blinking synth adds a hypnotic backdrop. It acts like a beacon, attracting the array of sounds towards it. What sounds like a camera shutter accompanies the wash of ethereal synths, while clicks, whines and bubbling, squeaking sounds make an appearance. It’s a truly captivating soundscape, which reveals even more secrets with every listen.
Space is left within grinding, metallic sound as The Tracker begins. Soon, a mesmeric, hypnotic sound makes an appearance as Dieter combines avant-garde, experimental and industrial with Krautrock. What sounds like an alternative orchestra begins to play. They create a track that’s both robotic and fluid. Clicking, clanging, ringing and melodic sounds are joined by ethereal and sci-fi sounds. Incredibly, Düsseldorf based Sølyst have been doing something on their new album The Steam Age. However, Dieter Moebius’ recorded his compelling alternative symphony two decades ago, way before Sølyst’s career ever began. Maybe Sølyst are paying homage to one of the greatest German musicians ever?
Cinematic describes Im Raum. It sounds as if Dieter recorded the soundscape onboard a submarine, way below the Ocean. As a bubbling sound can be heard, codes are tapped out, as secrets are passed to shore. Meanwhile, a droning, buzzing sound replicates the engine, before space age sounds flit in and out. They play an important part in the success of this twelve minute cinematic epic, where the listener can let their imagination run riot.
The cinematic sound continues on Kohlzug. It’s a musical mystery, where the listener plays the role of detective. Their job is to recognise the various sounds. Is that the sound of someone digging? What sounds like a tap dripping can be heard. Or is it a steam engine skittering along? Meanwhile, a jazz saxophone plays, heads into free jazz territory. Occasionally, a cartoon boing can be heard, as if someone has sat on a broken sofa. These sounds come courtesy of Dieter’s musical palette. They’re varied and captivating. Especially, when what sounds like a chainsaw can be heard. Still, though, the saxophone and synths add a hypnotic backdrop, as Dieter leaves clues for the listener to solve.
Balistory closes Blotch. Just a wistful keyboard plays on what’s a minimalist soundscape. Occasionally, what sounds like steel pans are added. So are synths strings. What sounds like a melancholy track seems to be unfolding. That’s until 1.24 when a myriad disparate sound effects are added. They’re briefly sprayed across the arrangement, but in a controlled fashion. It’s almost a Hendrix-esque performance. By then, gone is the understated sound. Still the keyboards and steel pans can be heard. They’re joined by futuristic, bubbling, dramatic and hypnotic sounds. They assail the listener, swirling around like musical merry-go-round. It’s a case of hold on, and enjoy the ride, before the understated, melancholy sound returns. This proves a beautiful, poignant way to close another genre-melting track.
While Balistory closed the original version of Blotch, Bureau B’s recent reissue features a bonus track Neues. This is a welcome addition, and is a further reminder of one of the musicians in the history of modern German music.
Dieter Moebius played a huge part German music between 1970 and 2014. For five decades, Dieter Moebius was a giant of German music. That had been the case since his days with Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia, through to his collaborations, soundtrack work and solo career. Constantly, Dieter Moebius created music that was innovative and pushed musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes beyond. That was the case on Blotch, his long-awaited sophomore album.
Sixteen years after the release of his 1983 debut Tonspuren, Dieter Moebius returned with Blotch. He named the album after seeing paint on a canvas. Suddenly, Dieter had the title to his genre-melting album. Everything from ambient and avant-garde, through to electronica and experimental sits side-by-side with industrial, Krautrock and musique concrète. The result was an album that was very different to different to Dieter’s debut album, Tonspuren.
Gone was the minimalist, ambient and sometimes, experimental sound of Tonspuren. It was replaced by music that was atmospheric, dramatic, futuristic and sometimes, ethereal, understated and beautiful. Always, though, Blotch is captivating. It’s a case of expect the unexpected, as Dieter Moebius bowls a series of curveballs. As he does, the music is always cinematic and mostly, hypnotic. Just like so much of the music Dieter had released it was innovative and influenced further generations of musicians.
That’s the case with much of the music Dieter Moebius recorded. It was always groundbreaking, innovative and pushed musical boundaries. Blotch proved to be the start of an Indian Summer for Dieter Moebius. He released another three albums, 2006s Nurton, 2009s Kram and 2011s Ding. That brought the curtain down on Dieter Moebius’ career.
Sadly, Dieter Moebius died on 20th July 2015. The man who cofounded Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia left behind a rich musical legacy, including Blotch. It’s just one reason who Dieter Moebius deserves to be called a musical legend.