Quick. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say the 70s? Disco? Punk? “The Village People”? Glam. Rock? Bell Bottoms and polyester leisure suits? “Cluster and Eno”?
Wait just a minute; I hear a lot of you saying. Who or what is/are Cluster and Eno? Simply put they were a musical group made up of three individuals; Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius are Cluster, and Brian Eno is Eno. Any help?
No? How about: Brain Eno started his career with the British rock band “Roxy Music”. For the first few albums his credits were limited to “tapes”, from which he graduated to keyboards by the time his tenure ended. He was responsible for a series of strange solo albums in the mid-70s, including Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy, which would fell into the conventional album category, Music For Airports, and Music For Films.
The latter two were produced with guitar player Robert Fripp, formerly of the British progressive rock band “King Crimson”. The Music for series was experiments in tonal compositions that were less songs and more ambiance. Consisting of loops of sequenced and repeated tones, they were experiments in recreating an environment through sound.
Deliberately designed not to be listened to directly, but to hover on the outside of conscience thought, these albums came complete with instructions on how to set up your speakers to create maximum impact. Interestingly enough, one afternoon a group of friends and I took out the silent movie version of “Nosforatu” from our local library. As an experiment we decided to watch it accompanied by Music For Films. It worked perfectly as a score.
” Who is “Cluster”? Ask a different question: and the question is? In a Zen-like way, “Cluster” is the question, a consciously intuitive enquiry in the improvisation properties of electronic sound, but also a quest for the human spirit…” description by Stephen Iliffe in booklet accompanying CD.
Translated, it’s two German musicians who were tired of the typical and were looking to create something new. Using a collection of early polytone synthesisers, improvised recording equipment, home-made processors and echo machines they began experiments along the same lines that Brian Eno and Robert Fripp were investigating in England.
The inevitable collision of like minds occurred in 1976 when Eno made his first pilgrimage to “Cluster’s” home-built studio in Forst, West Germany. Once ensconced, they proceeded to jam for hours on end. It’s from these sessions that the tracks on this disc Cluster & Eno are culled.
One last word from Brian Eno as preparation before hitting the actual content of the disc:
“…My problem with jamming with people before was that they would always change too quickly, they’d never listen to where they were. With Cluster we could stay in the same place and really get into the details of a piece, start to feel it as a landscape…when you’re actually playing it, you start to get this unity between a muscular rhythm and a perceptual thing that’s going on, so the playing becomes a state you’re in.”
When I requested the assignment of reviewing this CD I was anticipating something along the line of Music For Airports, ambient music that would establish a consistent background atmosphere. Instead Cluster & Eno offers a variety of pieces that are as unique in their sound as they are in the feelings they evoke.
For example, track 3, “Steinsame”, is a gradual build of synthesisers, and swirling, echoing sounds. It’s quiet and content. Similarly track 4, “Whermut”, achieves the same effect, but uses Grand Piano and some electronics to accomplish its goal.
In both pieces we hear exactly what Eno was talking about in his quote above. Unlike pop musicians, they are in no hurry to abandon a theme to move on to a conclusion, or the next solo. Instead they luxuriate in the potential that comes from repeating a theme over and over again.
In case one thinks that these are merely soulless technicians tinkering with machines, track 7 “Die Bunge” is a funny little ditty sounding for all the world like some sort of futuristic cartoon cowboy show’s theme song. Bonanza meets The Jetsons.
There are also elements of deliberate dissonance introduced in the form of sounds that have no recognizable home in pop music. Track 8, “One”, is a collection of sounds that don’t appear to bear any relation each other; sitar-like keyboard effects jangle amidst synthesised whale noises, to the accompaniment of a clanging rhythm.
Unsettling as it may sound to read about, and to the ear on initial listen, it manages to convey an image of undersea life, in all its complexity, that almost makes visuals redundant.
This is not music to idly be put on the player. It involves the listener’s participation as an audience. Although the descriptions of their music, and the songs may sound like you need to be a trained musician to appreciate them, that is not the case.
I have little to no ability musically (in fact my wife says I have the unique ability to sing a song upside down, so woeful is my ability to carry a tune), but I was able to appreciate the music on this disc. While it may not be to everyone’s taste, this disc represents a unique opportunity to listen to the predecessors of so many of today’s musical styles.
From new age, through to Techno, so many of our current musical genres owe a debt to people like Cluster and Eno, that for any of us who are interested in popular music this is a must-have for a collection. Cluster & Eno will be on shelves in music stores everywhere as of August 23rd 2005.
Buy a copy, put it in your player, slip on your headphones, and prepare yourself to be transported to a variety of “other” worlds. If nothing else it will broaden your definition of the 70s.