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Cluster & Farnbauer - Live in Vienna

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Artist: Cluster & Farnbauer

Album: Live in Vienna

Label: Important

Review date: Nov. 18, 2010

By 1980, Hans-Joachim Rodelius and Dieter Mobius had definitively established that their musical ambitions and tastes couldn’t be confined to the admittedly capacious category “krautrock.” Rendering flexible the rhythmic momentum at that music’s heart and committing wholly to improvisation and experimentalism, the range of their early recordings is vast. Even their relatively more streamlined work of the late 1970s – which can be heard as closer kin to the more widely embraced Can and Neu! (with whose Michael Rother they would develop a close association) – has a restless, expansive quality to the sound, a love of noise and mischief that seems to be looking toward, say, Einsturzende Neubaten as much as toward Eno or Tangerine Dream.

This June 12, 1980, festival date, with percussionist Joshi Farnbauer, finds them returning to the fairly chaotic feel of their early records. Previously available only on cassette, this is a slightly uneven (but mostly good) performance that shows the vitality of Cluster’s collaborations (this one right before a long hiatus) and its open methodology. The 33-minute “Service” opens the date to a smattering of applause, and – like so many lengthy improvisations – takes its time finding itself. But after a slightly gestural beginning, the three musicians meet at the intersection of long, flanged tones, metal bells, and lots of buzzing feedback. At times it sounds a bit aimless but, especially over consecutive listens, it’s a pretty engaging example of the ‘70s cosmic sound. Throughout, the players have the sense not to subsist merely in gauzy electronic fluff but to punctuate things with sudden sharp noises and swells, giving these pieces a sense of eruption (and Farnbauer’s contributions are important in this regard particularly).

They go for good contrast on “Kurz,” stuffed full of big low whooshing noises that well up and fade out, surrounded by jittery synth cells and clusters, and finding its anxious heart in a snapping mousetrap effect that’s all provocation. After this strong beginning, “Piano” sounds unbelievably saccharine, something worse than a throwaway. And the too lengthy “Drums” ambles about like Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days” via one of Can’s more dissolute moments; its whirring motors and other allsorts act as a backdrop to some fairly thudding, uninspired drumming. But they regain their form on the superb “Metalle,” to my ears the best piece here. Its huge cymbal swells merge well with soft guitar minimalism around the edges. But what makes the piece is how Farnbauer’s rhythmic implications actually set up a meaningful musical space rather than dithering and Cluster’s tonally distinct drones create a thick field that seems to blend with and fall away from the cymbals. And after the tasty final minutes – with deliciously squawky synth noise and a long space jam – one can even forgive the piano’s return on “Ausgang.”

By Jason Bivins

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