Mojo MAY 2015 - by Andrew Male

CLUSTER: 1971-1981

A remastered nine album box-set of the kosmische duo's decade of innovation and experiment.

When Conrad Schnitzler, Boris Schaakand Hans-Joachim Roedelius formed the Zodiac Free Arts Lab in West Berlin in 1968, the driving principal was "noises", a new music, informed by psychic art-shaman Joseph Beuys, and unmoored from the rigid regimes of the Nazis and the GDR.

Home to such free/kosmische operations as Agitation Free, Ash Ra Tempel and Peter Brotzmann, the Zodiac closed a year later but the ideas lived on, in Schnitzler, Schaak and Roedelius's improv collective, Kluster, a "free-play" art-chaos of loops, low machine reverb and dark electronics that, after Schnitzler left and twenty-four-year-old art student Dieter Moebius replaced Schaak, became a duo named Cluster.

Recorded live to tape with engineer Conny Plank at Hamburg's Star Musik studio, the duo's debut Cluster 71 developed Kluster's electronic distress calls into a futuristic dub of heavy rhythms and Ruhr Valley drone. Recorded a year later, Cluster II, adds a moon-bright dazzle; skittering rhythms, vocal chants and bass oscillations stretching sheet metal into strange new lunar-scapes. A rougher version, like evacuation alarms in a burning space station, can be heard on a previously unreleased live CD, Konzerte 1972/1977.

These sonic dialogues between the musically romantic Roedelius and the anarchist Moebius, caught the attention of Neu!'s Michael Rother, who visited the duo in 1973, at their new home, a derelict farmhouse in the Weser Uplands. The duo became a trio, Harmonia, crafting a new, fragile melodicism, imbued with a sense of pastoral well being. Zuckerzeit sees Moebius and Roedelius assimilating Rother's harmonic sensibilities, using a new hissy analogue drum-machine to map out chattering conversations of a naive, luminous optimism. Recorded following Harmonia's dissolution, Sowiesoso finds Roedelius and Moebius working in complete union, building mellifluous Arcadian anthems and faded watercolour images from rudimentary analogue machinery.

In 1977, another interloper arrived, when, following his collaborations with Harmonia in '74 and '76, Brian Eno joined Cluster to record Cluster & Eno and After The Heat. Minimal, icy, echoing, Cluster & Eno is the sound of a keyboard trio drifting into calm European despondency, while After The Heat works as the stately companion album to side two of Before And After Science, abstract robot voice tech-pop blueprints for the '80s, sketched on Synthi AKS.

Ironically, as Cluster approached this new decade they dispensed with Eno ambience completely. Cut at Berlin's Paragon Studios, in 1978, Grosses Wasser finds Roedelius and Moebius imagining the cool, playful, minimalist utopia they might have arrived at if left to their own devices at Forst.

More remarkable is 1981's Curiosum, which returns to the pulsing primitivism and lo-fi cosmic discord of the first two albums. It is the sound of a group tearing up their own legacy, returning to the start in order to keep moving forward.