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Cluster - Sowiesoso

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Artist: Cluster

Album: Sowiesoso

Label: Water

Review date: Mar. 12, 2007

In Stephen Iliffe’s liner notes to Water’s reissue of Cluster’s 1976 album Sowiesoso, Brian Eno notes that the German underground of the 1960s and 1970s drew from pop, modern composition and ‘the hippie revolution,’ the latter of which birthed “a new attitude to community and to improvisation - a kind of faith in benign anarchism. This created a climate that could welcome a music that was fluid and quixotic. A music that drew from all sources and was subject to none.”

Indeed. By 1976, the Cluster duo of Dieter Mœbius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius had community and improvisation both in their metaphoric pockets. Beginning as a trio with Conrad Schnitzler, their first clutch of recordings, as Kluster, were bold, loosely improvised explorations of chain-gang industrial-cosmic ambience of monolithic/menacing proportions. After Schnitzler left to pursue a wayward solo ‘career,’ Mœbius and Roedelius became Cluster and slowly began to let light and shade into their epic recording sessions, releasing Cluster and Cluster II (the latter guesting Krautrock lightning-rod Conny Plank on production and instruments).

They crossed paths with Neu!’s Michael Rother, forming Harmonia and recording two albums of candied metronome music: in Krautrocksampler, Julian Cope suggests that Rother’s presence finally freed Cluster of the obscuring veil that had part-obscured their melodic talents, and Harmonia’s Musik Von Harmonia and Deluxe and Cluster’s third album, Zuckerzeit (produced by Rother), are all of a piece. Cluster recorded Sowiesoso after Rother split the scene, but you can feel the after-effects of his benign luminosity in its toy-town tunes. Mœbius and Roedelius hew to a pacific wisdom on much of this album, hovering somewhere between becalmed and benumbed.

Sowiesoso’s incredible stillness came, in part, thanks to the duo’s relocation to the country village of Forst, where they had built their own home studio in an 18th century farmhouse. Sowiesoso’s genteel tenderness is immediately apparent: on the opening title track, the quietly insistent rhythm box barely infringes on a softly percolating bass drone; little glimpses of melody are strung like Christmas lights through a deserted schoolyard. Miniatures that aim to fill minimum space with minimum melody fill the rest of the album’s first side, in order to let the studio’s rural surrounds dust the recording tape with ghostly near-silence.

In subtle contrast, the entirety of Sowiesoso’s second side offers a benign astral triptych, with “Zum Wohl,” “Es War Einmal” and “In Ewigkeit” all molded out of the same sticky-sweet toffee, tinny monophonic tunes played out with all the dream-like joy of cosmic toddlers with stars in their brows. Cluster always fell just on the right side of the childlike-vs.-childish binary, connecting the ‘final frontier’ awe of outer space with the romanticized child’s view of the world as a great, magic, borderless gumpot for the imagination. And though their music would never be quite this righteously dippy again, Sowiesoso, alongside Zuckerzeit, the Harmonia albums, their Eno collaborations Cluster & Eno and After The Heat, Mœbius & Plank’s Rastakrautpasta and Mœbius, Plank & Mani Neumeier’s Zero Set, makes for some of the finest internal-empire dream-work you could hope for. Just ask Schlammpeitziger’s Jo Zimmermann or Astral Social Club’s Neil Campbell, the two great 21st century heirs to Mœbius’s and Roedelius’s throne.

By Jon Dale

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