Cluster - Biography
Cluster is a highly influential experimental electronic band that came out of the explosion of new German bands in the late 1960's and early 70's. They went on to produce many stylistically varied albums during their on-again/off-again existence. The two main members, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius, sit squarely in the middle of diverging paths of Krautrock, space rock, experimental and electronic —influencing all and always forging an identity of their own.
Kluster, as they were originally known, formed out of a West Berlin music and art collective/commune called the Zodiak Free Arts Lab in 1969. The band was formed by Hans-Joachim Roedelius and leading avant-garde musician and former Tangerine Dream member, Conrad Schnitzler. Early versions of the group also included future members of Ash Ra Tempel and Guru Guru. The pair teamed up with art student Dieter Moebius and formed Kluster in 1969. The trio was mainly an improvisational group and released three albums in this format, Klopfzeichen and Zwei-Osterei in 1970 and Eruption in 1971. The albums were pressed in limited runs of only 300 each. While the band toured, they met engineer Conny Plank who would later play a major part in the re-tooled version of the group. After Eruption was released, Schnitzler left the band and the duo of Roedelius and Moebius decided to continue on as Cluster and also adopting a style less dependent on improvisation.
Cluster's eponymous debut album was released on Philips in 1971 and marked the beginning of the band's long relationship with producer/engineer Conny Plank. This album and the group's second album released in 1972, Cluster II (Brain) existed within their own space-rock soundworlds. Practically devoid of melody or pulse, they acted as a bridge between the noisy excesses of the earlier band and the more ordered ambient and rock sounds the group would go on to explore.
In 1973, Moebius and Roedelius moved to the rural village of Forst and built their own studio. After setting up shop, the pair contacted Neu! Founder Michael Rother, inviting him to come down and record with them. The result was a new side project called Harmonia. The new band combined Cluster's wide-screen electronic sound with Rother's motorik rhythmic sense and distinctive guitar work. The partnership resulted in two albums of material, Musik Von Harmonia (Brain) released in 1974 and Deluxe (Brain), released in 1975. The latter album also included percussion work from Guru Guru’s drummer Mani Neumeier. Harmonia toured and a document of their live work was released much later in 2007 as the live album Live 1974 (Water). In between the two Harmonia albums, Rother returned to Neu! The duo of Moebius and Roedelius returned to Cluster and released the album Zuckerzeit (Brain) in 1974. The album definitely showed the influence of Rother on the pair, as the album was much more defined both rhythmically and melodically than their previous releases were.
After joining again with Rother as Harmonia and recording Deluxe, the trio met again in the studio in 1976, this time collaborating with their admirer Brian Eno. Eno had been impressed with both the Harmonia and Cluster albums and had jammed with Harmonia on stage at a 1974 concert in Hamburg. An album’s worth of material was recorded, though it wasn't issued until 1997 as the album Tracks and Traces (Rykodisc) and credited to Harmonia '76. Afterwards Cluster entered into a period of great productivity that would last for several years. The first release was the gently melodic album Sowiesoso in 1976 recorded for the Hamburg-based label Sky Records. Reportedly the album was recorded in just two days. Soon after, the pair joined with Brian Eno again for recording sessions at Conny Plank's studio and the sessions produced two albums of music, 1977's Cluster & Eno (Sky) and 1978's After the Heat (Sky). Both albums were collaborations that showed the influences of all the members, but sounded different than anything they’d done in the past. The first record also featured the contributions of Can’s bassist Holger Czukay and Asmus Tietchens on synthesizer. Both albums were well-received and helped raise the Cluster’s profile. Roedelius also completed a solo project during this time, Durch Die Wuste (Sky), released in 1978. Cluster continued on and released their next album, Grosses Wasser (Sky) in 1979. Grosses Wasser was produced by ex-Tangerine Dream member Peter Baumann and was stylistically more diverse than some of their then recent material, restoring their avant-garde edge.
In the summer of 1980, Cluster performed live in Vienna with percussionist Joshi Farnbauer. That performance was released as Cluster & Farnbauer Live In Vienna as a limited, cassette-only release on the British York House Records label. The performance showcased their newly avant-garde edge, often sounding more discordant and experimental than they had in recent years. In 1980, Moebius and Conny Plank teamed up to record the dub and industrial rock-influenced Rastakraut Pasta (Sky) with the help of Holger Czukay. They released a second Moebius & Plank album, Material (Sky) in 1981. After recording Rastakraut Pasta, Moebius paired up again with Roedelius and recorded the Cluster album Curiosum (1981 Sky) —an album that emphasized unusual melodies and shorter song structures. After the release of Curiosum, Moebius and Roedelius took an extended hiatus from working together and did not collaborate for another eight years.
In the interim, both Cluster members were busy with other projects. Moebius continued his association with Plank on projects such as their collaboration with Mani Neumeier on the African-influenced album Zero Set (1983 Sky) which featured Sudanese vocalist Deuka on one track. A collaboration with Red Krayola's Mayo Thompson titled Ludwig's Law was recorded in 1983, but not released until 1998 (Drag City). Their final album, En Route (Curious Music) was recorded in 1986, but not released until 1995. The Moebius & Plank partnership came to a close when Plank succumbed to cancer in 1987. Roedelius also continued issuing solo albums and collaborations during this period —including a series of ambient albums he called the Selbstportrait collection. Sky Records was also busy during the duo's hiatus —releasing several compilations of the band's material. First was Stimmungen (1984) followed by and Begegnungen I (1984) and Begegnungen II (1985), the latter collecting material recorded by Roedelius, Moebius, Plank and Eno. The American label Relativity also released a compilation of Cluster & Eno material called Old Land in 1985.
Almost unexpectedly, Cluster reunited again for the album Apropos Cluster (Curious Music) in 1989 (released in 1991). The musical style of the album was quite similar to that of Grosses Wasser, emphasizing the band's avant-garde edge mixed with more ambient colorings. At around the same time, the band's back catalog of Brain and Sky label recordings were re-issued in the United States, once again raising the profile of a band whose releases had always been pricey and hard to find in the States. Cluster worked together again in 1995, taking advantage of the CD format and releasing the album One Hour —a long, continuous piece that took up an entire CD (though it was broken down into 11 chapters). One Hour begins with gentle, melodically ambient pieces at the beginning that grow more experimental and avant-garde material within the body of the piece before reprising the sound of the beginning.
The pair set off on an international tour after the release of the album, and live documents of gigs played in Japan and the U.S. were later released as Japan 1996 Live (1997 Captain Trip) and First Encounter Tour 1996 (1997 Purple Pyramid) respectively. The American ambient composer Tim Story helped to produce both of the releases and went on to collaborate with Roedelius. Cluster again went on extended hiatus at the tours’ conclusion.
Neither member of Cluster could be said to have let the moss grow under their feet. Roedelius alone released over 14 solo and collaborative releases over the next ten years —including two albums with Story and the album Acon 2000/1 (2001 Captain Trip) with former Kluster bandmate Conrad Schnitzler. Moebius released two solo albums and worked with the Krautrock supergroup Amon Guru in 2007. Both Cluster and Harmonia have been resurrected for the new century. Harmonia staged a live concert in Berlin in late 2007. Cluster performed in Europe during 2007 and the U.S. in 2008. A live document of a Cluster’s Berlin performance is due to be released in 2008 on the Important Records imprint.