KOLLECTION 06: CLUSTER 1971-1981-COMPILED BY JOHN McENTIRE.
KOLLECTiON 06: CLUSTER 1971-1981-COMPILED BY JOHN McENTIRE.
One of the most important, influential and innovative bands in the history of German music were Cluster. Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius formed Cluster in 1971. Previously they had both been members of Kluster since 1969. However, Conrad Schnitzler, the third member of Kluster, left the band in mid-1971. This resulted in the two remaining members of Kluster deciding to form Cluster.
Little did Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius realise that this was the start of a musical journey that would span four decades. Cluster were together until 2010. By then, Cluster had released eleven studio albums and five live albums. However, the most prolific period of Cluster’s long and illustrious career was the period between 1971 and 1981.
During that ten year period, Cluster were at their most prolific and productive. They released eight studio albums and one live album between 1971 and 1981. This included some of their most important and innovative work, including albums like Cluster, Cluster II, Zuckerzeit, Sowiesoso, Cluster and Eno and After The Heat. These albums are the work of true music pioneers, who have influenced several generations of musicians. That is still the case today.
Cluster outlasted the majority of bands that were born in Germany in the early seventies. Their career lasted thirty-nine years. That’s something to celebrate. To celebrate the career of Cluster, the Hamburg based Bureau B label released the limited edition 1971-1981 box set earlier this year. More recently, Bureau B released a new compilation of Cluster’s music, Kollection 06: Cluster 1971-1981 Compiled By John McEntire. It features eleven of Cluster’s finest moments from their first eight albums. This includes a track from their eponymous debut album.
When Cluster were preparing to record their eponymous debut album , they were joined in the studio by another legend of German music, Conny Plank. He featured on Cluster, which marked a change in sound. Gone was the almost industrial, discordant sound of Kluster. It found Cluster move towards an electronic sound. Hans-Joachim Roedelius remembers: “Dieter and I played all the instruments and Conny added all sorts of effects. For us this was the start of a new era.”
Cluster began work on their eponymous debut album. In the studio, Cluster set about honing and sculpting a trio of soundscapes. “Cluster which had very little melody, is a series of improvised and atmospheric soundscapes.” This includes 21 32, which features on Kollection 06: Cluster 1971-1981 Compiled By John McEntire. It’s an eight minute edit of this captivating, epic soundscape.
Just like the other soundscapes, they’re best described as futuristic, moody, dramatic and truly captivating. Heavy rhythms, beeps, squeak and drones drenched in effects assail the listener. It’s as if Cluster have been inspired by avant-garde, free jazz, early electronica, industrial, free jazz and even rock. This fusion of influences eventually became Cluster.
Once Cluster was completed, the album was released later in 1971 on Philips. Little did anyone, even Cluster themselves, realise the effect album bearing the serial number Philips 6305074 would have. Nowadays, Cluster is regarded as an innovative classic, and in a sense, this was the start of Cluster’s career in earnest.
“This was Cluster’s major label debut. It found Cluster at a crossroads.” They were ready to turn their back on the avant-garde, almost discordant and industrial sound of Kluster, and begin the shift towards the ambient and rock-tinged sound of the late seventies. That was the future.
“For the followup to Cluster, Conny Plank was no longer a member of Cluster. We were now a duo, consisting of Dieter and I. Conny had other projects he wanted to concentrate on.” With three becoming two, the two remaining members took a different approach to recording.
Cluster had added to their impressive arsenal of equipment. As Conny Plank watched on, two organs, analog synths, a Hawaiian guitar, a bass and an electronically treated cello were brought into the studio. Cluster weren’t finished yet. The two members of Cluster started setting up array of effects. This included audio-generators which usually, was found in an electrician’s toolbox. They became part of Cluster’s alternative orchestra. With everything setup, Cluster got to work.
“To some extent, it was trial and error. We tried different things. Some worked, others didn’t,” Hans Hans-Joachim Roedelius explains. The end result, Cluster II “saw a further shift towards a more electronic sound.” This is apparent on Für Die Katz, which features on Kollection 06: Cluster 1971-1981 Compiled By John McEntire.
The music veered between futuristic and dramatic to hypnotic, dreamy, lysergic and otherworldly. Sometimes the music becomes pastoral; other times understated and occasionally, explodes into life. However, for much of the time, Cluster II is melodic and mesmeric. Again, Cluster had produced an album that was way ahead of its time.
When Cluster II was released, it was on Germany premier label when it came to ambitious and innovative music, Brain. Cluster II was assigned the serial number Brain 1006, and when in was released in 1972, it was well on its way to becoming a groundbreaking genre classic.
Ironically, many German critics and record buyers overlooked groups like Cluster. Instead, they were more interested in the music coming out of America and Britain. Incredibly, they never realised that some of the most innovative music was being made in their own backyard. This includes that made by musical chameleons, Cluster whose music would continue to evolve.
Zuckerzeit, Cluster’s third album, was released in 1974, and was co-produced by Michael Rother of Neu! “Michael first met Dieter and I in 1971. By 1973, Michael was on a break from Neu! We decided to head into the countryside to Forst, to build our own recording studio.” This could’ve been fraught with problems? “No. We knew what we were doing and trying to achieve. All of us had experience in studios, so knew what was required.” The result was a studio “where Michael, Dieter and I recorded the two Harmonia albums, Musik Von Harmonia and Deluxe.” However, before that, Zuckerzeit was released.
On the release of Zuckerzeit, in 1974 Michael Rother’s influence is noticeable. He placed more emphasis on melody, rhythm and the motorik beat.” Hans-Joachim Roedelius explains that previously, Cluster didn’t place the same importance on melody or structure. Michael introduced structure and discipline.” The result was a very different album.
That’s apparent from the opening bars of Hollywood, a beautiful, but haunting soundscape It’s a welcome addition to Kollection 06: Cluster 1971-1981 Compiled By John McEntire. That’s the case with Heiße Lippen were crisp Motorik beat provides the backdrop for Cluster’s synths. Cluster with the help of Michael Rother are transformed into a very different band.
They create music that’s variously melodic, ethereal, evocative, haunting and cinematic. Especially on tracks like Hollywood, Rosa, Fotschi Tong and Marzipan. Then on Rote Riki, the music becomes futuristic, with the man machine adding sci-fi sounds that sound as if they’re from a distant planet. Meanwhile, Caramel would influence future generations of dance music producers. Although Caramba has futuristic sound, it’s melodic and contemporary. It sounds as if it belongs on the dance-floors of Berlin’s clubs. This is incredible, given Zuckerzeit was released later in 1972.
Cluster had released two albums on Brain during 1972. Both would become future genre classics, and both would show a different side to Cluster. Zuckerzeit with its mixture of electronic pop, art rock and avant-garde, was an album way ahead of its time. It’s a truly innovative and timeless album, where Cluster continue to reinvent themselves. The decision to bring Michael Rother onboard as producer was a masterstroke; and also resulted in the birth of a new band, Harmonia.
Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius founded Harmonia with Michael Rother. The new band released two studio albums, Musik von Harmonia in 1974 and Deluxe in 1975. Both albums featured inventive and innovative music. Despite that, and Brian Eno calling Harmonia “the most important band in the world,” neither album sold well. Then when Harmonia recorded the album Tracks and Traces with Brian Eno, the master tapes went missing. They were only discovered nearly four decades later, and belatedly released in 2007. However, in 1976,Hans-Joachim Roedelius remembers: “Harmonia had ran its course, we returned to Cluster. We had never stopped being Cluster. We played live, but didn’t release a new album until Sowiesoso, in 1976, which we recorded in just two days.”
Despite being recorded in just two days, Sowiesoso found Cluster at their creative zenith. They had recorded an album of understated, beautiful, poignant and melancholy melodies, including Zum Wohl, Es War Einmal and the edit of In Ewigkeit that feature on Kollection 06: Cluster 1971-1981 Compiled By John McEntire. The arrangements are often minimalist, but always, cinematic. Sometimes, the music is evocative and atmospheric. Occasionally, there’s an air of mystery. Especially, Halwa, with its cinematic sound. Just like the rest of Sowiesoso, the music paints pictures. That was the case in 1976, and is the case in 2016.
When Sowiesoso was released in 1976, it was on Günter Körber’s Sky Records. It had been formed in 1975, and by 1976, was already regarded as a label that released ambitious, influential and innovative music. This described Cluster’s first album in four years. However, Sowiesoso was a very different album to Zuckerzeit.
That was no surprise to those familiar with Cluster’s music. They were like musical chameleons, constantly reinventing their music. The musical chameleons were about to enter a three year period where Cluster could do no wrong.
Enter Brian Eno.
In June 1977, the two members of Cluster were joined by three old friends. The first was Holger Czukay of Can. “Dieter and I knew Holger from way back, back to Zodiak Free Arts Lab. We hung around with members of Can. Back then, there was a great sense of community. Everyone helped and influenced each other. We even went on to tour together.” Another of the guest artists on Cluster’s 1977 album first met Dieter and Hans at a Cluster concert.
That was Brian Eno: “who Cluster jammed with in 1974. Brian joined us on stage, and we spent the second half of the concert jamming. That was how we first met Brian. Then in 1977, he joined as for the recording of Cluster and Eno. We learnt a lot from Brian. Similarly, I like to think we influenced him. That was the case when we recorded After The Heat.” Before that, Cluster and Eno was recorded.
Cluster and Eno.
The four great innovators got to work. They spent part of June 1977 recording enough for two albums. Conny Plank laid down bass lines, while Dieter and Hans-Joachim Roedelius played synths and keyboards. So did Brian Eno who added bass and vocals. Once the recording session was complete, the first collaboration between Cluster and Brian Eno was released later in 1977.
When Cluster and Eno was released later in 1977, the album was a meeting of minds. Elements of both Cluster and Brian Eno’s music melted into one. Especially on Wehrmut, which features on Kollection 06: Cluster 1971-1981 Compiled By John McEntire. Just like other tracks, Cluster supplied elements of avant-garde, while Brian Eno’s supplied the ambient influence. When this was combined with drone and world music, the result was another classic album.
Widespread critical acclaim accompanied the release of Cluster and Eno. It was hailed a groundbreaking album, one that was way ahead of its time. Cluster and Eno is an album that Hans-Joachim Roedelius: “is proud of.” He remembers the recording sessions fondly, and sees both Cluster and Eno, and its followup After The Heat, as an equally “influential album.”
After The Heat.
Just a year after the release of Cluster and Eno, the second collaboration between Cluster and Brian Eno was released. It too, was released to critical acclaim. This fusion of ambient, art rock, avant-garde, experimental and Krautrock were combined by Cluster and Brian Eno. Again, both Cluster and Brian Eno were influencing each other. Especially on The Shade, which features on Kollection 06: Cluster 1971-1981 Compiled By John McEntire. The influences of both Cluster and Brian Eno can be heard.
“This was not one way. We both influenced each other. On After The Heat, I believe we influenced Brian’s production style. If you listen to David Bowie’s Low and Lodger albums which Brian Eno produced, Cluster and Harmonia’s influence can be heard. So while Brian influenced Cluster, we certainly influenced him.” After two albums with Brian Eno, Cluster’s next album saw them return to a duo.
Following two albums with Brian Eno, Cluster returned to the studio in 1979. This time, Cluster were joined by Peter Baumann of Tangerine Dream. He would produce Grosses Wasser, Cluster’s seventh album.
It was an album where Cluster drew inspiration from ambient, art rock and avant-garde to electronica and free jazz. The result was music that’s ambitious, challenging and experimental. Other times, the music becomes ethereal, elegiac, melancholy and cinematic. Sometimes, though, Cluster decide to throw a curveball. This they do on the ten minute edit of Grosses Wasser that features on Kollection 06: Cluster 1971-1981 Compiled By John McEntire. It finds Cluster springing surprises and throwing the occasional curveball on this ambition, genre-melting track. This adds to avant-garde sound of Grosses Wasser.
When Cluster released Grosses Wasser later in 1979, it proved to be Cluster’s most avant-garde album. “This wasn’t a conscious decision. Instead, it was just a case of evolution. That was the way that the Cluster worked. It was the same live.” That became apparent on Cluster’s first live album.
Live In Vienna.
Despite releasing seven studio albums, Cluster had never released a live album. That changed when Cluster took to the stage at the Wiener Festwochen Alternativ, on June 12th, 1980. It was the only time that Cluster took to the stage with Joshi Farnbauer. The result was one of Cluster’s most experimental albums.
Sometimes, the music veered towards discordant, and was reminiscent of early performances by Kluster. Hans-Joachim Roedelius remembers: “a song was just the starting point. We never knew what direction it would take. It was improvisation at its purest. Partly, it was because we couldn’t replicate our music live.” That was the case on, Live In Vienna, which featured Cluster at their most ambitious and inventive. However, just like Harmonia four years earlier, the end was nigh for Cluster.
Cluster recorded their eighth studio album Curiosum in 1981. Recording took place at Hamet Hof, in Vienna, which was now Hans-Joachim Roedelius adopted home.
At Hamet Hof, Cluster recorded seven tracks. Some were relatively short by Cluster standards. Given the title, the seven tracks on Curiosum were somewhat unorthodox. However, they were unusually melodic. This includes Oh Odessa, that features on Kollection 06: Cluster 1971-1981 Compiled By John McEntire. It’s melodic as elements of avant-garde, electronica and experimental music are combined by musical chameleons, Cluster. They were about to bring the curtain down on chapter one of the Cluster story.
Just like Harmonia, “Cluster had run its course. We decided to concentrate on other projects. There was no fall-out, Cluster just came to a natural end. After eight studio albums, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius put Cluster on hold. They would reunite on several occasions, in the future. However, Cluster had already recorded eight studio albums. Custer would only release three more albums between 1984 and 2009.
Cluster’s music would continue to be relevant right through their swan-song Qua in 2009. However, by 1981 Cluster had released some of the most important music of their career.
Albums like Cluster, Cluster II, Zuckerzeit, Sowiesoso, Cluster and Eno and After The Heat are the work of true music pioneers. Incredibly, these albums were released during the first ten years of Cluster’s career. They also recorded two other ambitious albums, Grosses Wasser and Curiosum. Each of these eight albums features Cluster’s music as it continues to evolve.
That’s apparent on Bureau B’s new compilation of Cluster’s music, Kollection 06: Cluster 1971-1981 Compiled By John McEntire. It documents Cluster’s career between Cluster in 1971 right through to 1981s Curiosum. To do this, John McEntire chose eleven of the finest moments from the first ten years of Cluster’s career. Three of these tracks have been edited so that the eleven tracks can fit on one CD. The result is the perfect introduction to Cluster.
Especially for newcomers to Cluster. They might be unsure where to start in Cluster’s impressive back-catalogue. Not any more. Kollection 06: Cluster 1971-1981 Compiled By John McEntire gives them an overview of the first eight studio albums. From there, newcomers to Cluster can dig deeper. A good place to start is Bureau B’s 1971-1981 nine disc box set. However, it’s a limited of just 1,000 CD and LP box sets. They’ve almost sold out, and are well on their way to becoming collector’s items. Anyone wanting a copy of 1971-1981 will need to be quick. It’s the perfect followup to Kollection 06: Cluster 1971-1981 Compiled By John McEntire.
Both the 1971-1981 box set and Kollection 06: Cluster 1971-1981 Compiled By John McEntire features the music a pioneering group. The released ambitious, groundbreaking and timeless music. It has gone on to influence several generation of musicians. Even today, musicians cite Cluster as one of the bands who influence and inspired them. That will continue to the case as the music Cluster made was timeless.
There’s a reason for this. Cluster weren’t afraid to push musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, way beyond. Musically, Cluster were willing to go, where others musicians feared to tread. This was the case during the period 1971-1981, which Kollection 06: Cluster 1971-1981 Compiled By John McEntire covers. During that period, Cluster released eight studio albums, including several classic Krautrock albums. Each of these albums featured ambitious, groundbreaking and genre-melting music that even four decades later, is truly timeless. One listen to Kollection 06: Cluster 1971-1981 Compiled By John McEntire and that will be apparent.
KOLLECTiON 06: CLUSTER 1971-1981-COMPILED BY JOHN McENTIRE.
- Posted in: Ambient ♦ Avant Garde ♦ Berlin School ♦ Electronic ♦ Experimental ♦ Free Jazz ♦ Industrial ♦ Krautrock
- Tagged: Bureau B, Cluster, Cluster and Eno, Cluster II, Curiosum, Deluxe, Dieter Moebius, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Harmonia, Kollection 06: Cluster 1971-1981 Compiled By John McEntire, Michael Rother, Musik Von Harmonia, Sowiesoso, Tracks and Traces, Zuckerzeit