|D>Elektro |2.1| |> Material|
||> History/ies + Sounds|
|of modern electronic / experimental music in Germany |<|
D>Elektro 1.3 - |> Protagonists [Chronology]
It has been over 25 years and a whopping 80 albums since Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius first joined forces to create some of the most compelling and strikingly original work in electronic music.
The origin of the group can be traced back to the activities of Conrad Schnitzler, one of the first students of German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys at the Duesseldorf Fine Arts Academy. Schnitzler, affectionately known as the Madman of Berlin, was a key figure in the Berlin undergraound art scene of the late 60s.
In 1968, Schnitzler formed the Zodiak Free Arts Lab in Berlin with, among others, Roedelius, who had previously worked with Schnitzler in the avant-garde groups Plus/Minus and Noises. The Lab was known for its emphasis on experimentation and blending of different disciplines to create new forms of artistic expression. While the Lab quickly became a focal point for the Berlin underground, it was only one of many related activities.
In 1969, Schnitzler happened upon Moebius, a student of Akademie Grafik in Berlin, who was cooking in a restaurant. Upon this unlikely first meeting, Schnitzler immediately enlisted Moebius to join him and Roedelius as the third member of Ensemble Kluster.
Kluster's approach to music owed much to the Zodiak's free-wheeling attitude. Such "instruments" as alarm clocks and kitchen utensils were used in lengthy improvisational performances. The trio performed widely throughout Germany.
The group's first two albums, Klopfzeichen and zwei: Osterie, came about when Schnitzler noticed a newspaper item about a church organist interested in new music. The recording sessions were sponsored and arranged by agreement with the church.
During the recording of these albums, Kluster met producer/engineer Conny Plank, who had begun his career as a soundman for Marlene Dietrich. The relationship with Plank would quickly grow into a strong personal and creative bond that would last until his death in December 1987.
After a third similarly dark album, Kluster und Eruption (1971), Schnitzler, described by one associate as "born to go solo," left to pursue a solo career. Moebius and Roedelius continued, with a slight name modification, as Cluster.
Their first two releases as a duo, Cluster (1971) and Cluster II (1972), continued the commitment to improvisation but developed a focus on sound structure as introduced by Plank, who produced and composed the tracks with Cluster. Cluster also continued to tour extensively throughout Europe and North Africa. One memorable performance included non-stop overnight festival set "opening" for Jimi Hendrix.
In 1973, the pair left the industrial environs of Berlin and Hamburg to live in the rural German village of Forst and establish a private studio. They were joined by guitarist Michael Rother of the German avant-pop group NEU!. Cluster's next release, Zuckerzeit (1974), (recorded with instruments "borrowed" from Rother while he was away) clearly reflected the change of locale.
Moebius and Roedelius also collaborated with Rother as Harmonia on two albums, Muzik von Harmonia (1974) and Harmonia de luxe (1975) blending Cluster's avant-garde tendencies with NEU!'s pop sound. Both Zuckerzeit and especially Muzik von Harmonia, made a great impression on recent Roxy Music departee Brian Eno who contacted the group and played a live date with them at the legendary Fabrik in Hamburg.
Sowiesoso marked the beginning of a nearly exclusive relationship with Hamburg's Sky Records that would last eight years. Though it was recorded in just two days, the album introduced a fully realized marriage of electronic sounds with a pastoral warmth.
It was during this period that Roedelius began to record solo material. Though the first solo album to be released was 1978's Durch die Wuste, he actually began experimenting with solo material in 1973. Segments of these early works spanning 1973-78 were eventually released beginning in 1980 with his Selbstportrait series, of which six installments have been issued to date.
As a duo, Cluster reunited with Eno for two albums, Cluster and Eno (1977) and After the Heat (1979) that briefly brought them international attention. Eno apparently enjoyed the sessions so much that he lost track of time as he had to be summoned from Forst by David Bowie to begin work on the Low sessions.
In 1990 Cluster surprised everyone (including themselves) by reuniting for the appropriately titled Apropos Cluster. This work documented not so much a "comeback" as a continuation of their musical dialogue. Curiously enough, this release was their first to be issued in the States.
Moebius continued a string of truly brilliant collaborations during the 1980s most notably with Conny Plank. He experimented with aggressive proto-techno electronics on hist first solo album, Tonspuren (1983), and raw electro-noise on two albums with Gerd Beerbohm, Strange Music (1982) and Double Cut (1983).
In collaboration with Plank, Moebius' harsher tendencies were whittled, twisted and mutated into sheer strangeness producing three truly odd masterpieces of sound experimentation, Rastakraut Pasta (1979), Material (1981), and Zero Set (1984).
Roedelius, the more prolific of the two, has released numerous solo albums and works in a variety of collaborative formats, most recently as a member of the group Aquarello. Has has also composed extensively for theater and dance. Notable among his recent solo albums are Theatreworks (1994), Sinfonia Contempora (1995) and Selbstportrait VI (1995).
The current wave of interest focusing on electronic music along with Cluster's reinvigorated output sees 1996 as perhaps the duo's highest profile period a full twenty-seven years after Schnitzler first saw Moebius baking a Strudel.
And finally, the Erste Begegnung (First Encounter) Tour brings Moebius and Roedelius to the U.S. for the first time ever despite having been a touring entity for over a quarter of a century. In addition to the tour, 1996/97 will see the continued release of new and old, live and studio work (including some surprises) related to Cluster and a continued higher profile.
At a time when many of their peers have either left the music business or are producing pale imitations of their previous work, Cluster's music remains as odd and as interestiing, as bizarre and as friendly as ever.
Roedelius recently described their continued ability to produce interesting work, "we are like two old chaps who communicate better through sounds than words. We did what we did and we do what we do. It was never a problem for us because the name, the category, didn't interest us."
© - Russ Curry | 5/96 |