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Music Review: Cluster – Qua

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Qua begins with a Mellotronic fairyland arpeggio of sorts that immediately sets the mood for this CD. Following that, some bongos come in, and shortly thereafter, the piece finishes. All the cuts on this album, or most of them, begin with amusing, serendipitous sounds that make a listener want to laugh, or at least lighten up. Or was that a Freudian slip? Did I mean to say, ‘light up?’

It’s that kind of sound.

Cluster have been around since the beginning of time, or at least since the beginning of “space” time. They’re one of the granddaddies of space, or electronic music, coming out of Germany in the sonic wave of Krautrock and space that emerged from Europe in the 1960s and 1970s. (Even later, if you consider groups such as Einstürzender Neubauten and a few others.)

Most of the 17 cuts, just under 55 minutes of great electronic music, are short pieces, six of which are over four minutes, and the longest, “Gissander,” at just under seven minutes. But there’s a flow to these short studies, a continuity that you both expect and are surprised by. I’ve mentioned the duo of Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius previously when I wrote a review of a live performance which took place last year in Philadelphia. This review, also, was prompted by Chuck van Zyl, the konzertmeister of Star’s End, a space music show that’s broadcast live on the ‘net every Saturday night/Sunday morning from one until six. Five solid hours of good space music with no commercial interruptions. Chuck breaks every hour on the hour to give us the station ID and to tell us about what we’ve just heard or what we’re going to hear. He also publishes a playlist that’s often up before the show, but always up within a day or two afterward. Chuck also hosts the occasional live concert in an appropriately peaceful setting. The Gatherings, as they’re called, take place in the very beautiful, historic and very resonant St Mary’s Church on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, in the Hamilton Village section of Philadelphia.

The prompt for this review comes from Chuck because he just sent out a notice in his (mostly) weekly email notices about this weekend’s show on WXPN radio and live on the ‘net. He’ll be featuring Cluster’s Qua in its entirety. This is Cluster’s first studio album in 14 years, so it is an event worth marking for a CD that’s worth marking.

As Chuck says in this week’s email, “Quietly treasured, their music fulfills the promise of the synthesizer to create sounds never before heard or imagined. Bypassing conventional tonal grammar for conflicted harmonies and unanticipated diversions, Cluster's work is still too playful to be considered Avant-Garde.” He took the words right from my script! The nerve.

Qua was recorded in Tim Story’s Ohio studio immediately following last year’s live performance, which also featured Story and Dwight Ashley, along with Cluster as a group and with the others. It was the obvious continuation of a wonderful, highly enjoyable musical conversation.

Obviously, you can’t watch their live performance again (unless the taping of it is ever offered); however, you can do the next best thing and give Cluster a listen this weekend. I can assure all space music fans that it’ll be worth it. And if you’d like to learn more about Cluster, you can start  at their MySpace page.

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About Lou Novacheck