Dusted Reviews

Cluster - Cluster 71

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Cluster

Album: Cluster 71

Label: Water

Review date: Jun. 1, 2006

This article – and this record, Cluster 71 – is about being first. It’s about the perils of innovation, about being the first guest to arrive at the party and having to make idle chit-chat with the host until someone else arrives. In Cluster’s case, they were about three or four years early to the party. Some would say that even in 2006 they should still have waited a bit longer before showing up.

The story is as such: Cluster with a C precipitated out of Kluster with a K, following the departure of Conrad Schnitzler from the original trio rounded out by Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius. Hitching up with engineer Conny Plank, who’d worked closely with some of Cluster’s peer group (Neu!) and would work with even more as the years went on, Cluster 71 was delivered to the Philips label, who at the time was busy snatching up any and all German rock music, no matter the variety. Labelmate status with Lucifer’s Friend, Silberbart, Weed, Eloy, and Kraftwerk had no bearing on Cluster, or the three pieces that comprised their debut album … an album with no vocals, no percussion, no single, no melodies, no static themes (though there was plenty of static), not even any titles (the tracks are listed by length: “15:33,” “7:38,” and “21:17”). Philips, therefore, had no clue what to do with the group, and with no way to market the release, there would of course be no follow-up granted, at least through their channels.

So what is Cluster 71? How about a clearinghouse of ideas, for starters. To make this music, Moebius and Roedelius built up traditional instrumentation (namely strings and organs) through a Danger Room full of sonic obstacles: effects pedals, then oscillators, tone generators, ring modulators, mechanical equipment, found objects, household tools, and testing gear. The duo would use the instruments to generate a signal, then trap it inside the effects and manipulate the sounds from there. It should be mentioned that in spite of the hellacious buzzing and astral detritus that fills these tracks, no synthesizers were used in the making of Cluster 71. Few existed at the time, and those that did were certainly outside of the group’s budget or schedule to become proficient in their use. Curiously, their approach here would have certainly been far more difficult and risky to pull off; it’s uncertain that any of their outboard “gear” was stable, to say the least, but notions of time coding didn’t bear out until the advent of MIDI in the mid-’80s, so what they did here was such completely uncharted territory that the notion of a chart in the first place seems totally ridiculous.

What else is Cluster 71? How about a sonic minefield. I listened to this for the first time about a month ago, having been familiarized earlier in their life with their “peers” of the Krautrock ilk, realizing into the first track that I’d heard nothing like it at all. I put the record away, perplexed, and decided to focus on work instead of devoting thought processes in untangling it. Coming back to write this piece, I’m still flummoxed by the sounds here, particularly in the third track and its radar-like wah-wah ping over what sounds like a nest of electronic wasps swarming in a wind tunnel. That being said, those who listen closely would be hard-pressed to not be awed by the humanity here. At no point does it sound like the machines have taken over. Nothing is quantized, nothing is even, nothing is repeated precisely. These are musical arguments, sometimes tense, sometimes slack. These are audio letters written in a language two men are only trying to learn. Hearing one performer turn the knob on another’s steady rhythm and throw the whole thing on a different course is something to get used to, but then again, this whole album is something to get used to.

Anything else? How about the first, and perhaps only, record of its kind. Cluster 71 informs the following three decades and change of outsider music, and it sojourns inwards; sprinkling its kosmische dust on techno, experimental music and composition, leftfield hip-hop production, Krautrock, New Age, even latter-day dub, doing so not only from an adventurous and refreshingly non-academic vantage point, but also from a sonically clean, open space, a far cry from the noise recordings of today, where more often than not the medium and studio textures become an accomplice to the sounds themselves. Other musicians, not the least of which Cluster themselves, would carry these ideas on to their future work and refine them into what we know to exist today.

But being first always has that curse. Most of the time someone will yell atop the mountain (or find a publicist to do so) about supposed musical innovations that are likened to installing a clock into an existing invention. When you’re truly well ahead of the curve, you don’t know how to tell people about it, because you don’t have the time – you’re innovating and refining all the while. Such was the case with Cluster 71, out of print for decades, with even its represses commanding high sums, at least up until now. Water’s reissue captures both the original Philips artwork and the Sky reissue’s, and adds well-written liner notes and a remastering job. Curiously, there are no bonus tracks, no scraps from the session. This is fine, however, because Cluster 71 stands wholly apart from the group’s discography and any other records like it. If you’re looking for a proven, digestible good time, there are plenty of other things out there for you. If you are jonesing for non-distilled, groundbreaking experimentation and primordial influence, this is your jam.

By Doug Mosurock

Other Reviews of Cluster



Read More

View all articles by Doug Mosurock

Find out more about Water

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.