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Cluster - Qua



Of all the German bands to emerge from the 70’s, I find the rich sonic embroidery and ambience created by Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius to be one that reaps greater rewards with repeated listening.  Albums such as “Zuckerzeit” and “Sowieso” still sound as fresh as when they were recorded over 3 decades ago, and it’s hard to find anyone that has managed to follow their playful approach with the same sort of youthful abandon. For me, Cluster’s brilliance has always been in their ability to produce a scattered musical vision that in amongst the sonic debris one finds  the most succulent gems. I imagine it to be like walking amongst rockpools and stooping once in a while to find a beautiful shell laying twinkling in the sunlight undisturbed undereath some seaweed.

“Qua” which is their first studio LP in 14 years, was recorded with Tim Story at the helm in his Ohio studio. Story has previously worked with Roedelius before, and carefully maintains a shadowy presence as the duo play out a total of 17 miniatures that take onboard their humorous approach to sound. There are elements of their old sonic vision that re-emerge from time to time, and it would be foolish to say that this is “all-new Cluster”, (the track “Protrea” in particular invokes memories of their wonderful collaboration with Brian Eno) but the fact is that they eeked out a place in the sonic spectrum sometime ago, and it is rightly their own.

I saw Cluster play live in 2007 and there’s certainly aspects of their live sound that have made it to this album, which doesn’t possess a sense of narrative, but instead manages to keep alive a sense of experimentation and dedication to creating melody out of the most unusual sources. It’s often the case here that melodic lines take over from one over during the course of the track itself, mutating in the most unexpected directions. All sorts of sonic material, both electronic and ambient, makes it way into “Qua”, but it is processed and crafted by Moebius and Roedelius with the skill of master alchemists. The way that each track has its own definite character makes this album a real pleasure to listen to, and doesn’t jar with each transition is in part thanks to the skilled hand of Story, whose subtle production skills manage to keep the atmosphere of the album sustained throughout. Highlights include the lugubrious and expansive “Na Ernel”, “Gissander” and the almost-playground cheer of “Albtrec Com”, but every track in fairness has its little moment of joy.

Nearly 40 years on from “Kluster”, Moebius and Roedelius continue to produce music that flowers again and again with a sense of unique joy. As influential in their own way as contemporaries like Kraftwerk or Can, Cluster are still as ground-breaking as they were in 1974, and map out sonic sketches that you didn’t think existed. “Qua” is proof that the seam they mine is full of gold.

Toby Frith



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