In the late sixties the first post-war generation in Germany was trying to throw off the burden of the past. Musically they broke radically with the past by exploring the possibilities of new technologies and free form music. This type of music would later become known as krautrock. In 1969 the Zodiac Arts club in Berlin was the place to be. This club was the kindergarten of what later would become the electronic music from Berlin, better known as the Berlin School. It really was a kind of playground where people like Klaus Schulze, Edgar Froese, Manuel Göttsching and many others met and jammed together. The club existed for just about nine months before it was closed down, but the energy that rose from it still vibrates today.
The Zodiac Arts club was founded by a group of people that included Conrad Schnitzler and Hans-Joachim Roedelius. Schnitzler was for a short time member of Tangerine Dream and after he had left he formed together with Roedelius and Dieter Moebius the band Kluster. Kluster recorded two albums in its short existence before Schnitzler left again to go solo. Roedelius and Moebius decided to continue and renamed the band to Cluster. Officially Cluster was a duo, but producer Conrad (Conny) Plank, who became famous later on, could be considered to be the third member. He was involved with all the albums until his death in 1987; he was more than a producer and engineer. He brought in a lot of ideas and sometimes even played with them.
Cluster never became as well-known as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. They didn't reach large audiences, but among the people they did reach were many musicians. Cluster released a few groundbreaking albums including collaborations with Michael Rother − under the name of Harmonia − and Brian Eno. Next to that both Roedelius and Moebius released a lot of solo albums. Although their pinnacle lies in the seventies Cluster is still active today. In recent years they released Berlin 07 (2008) and Qua (2009) and they did some live gigs. Despite their respectable age they use laptops and soft synths, showing that they're still innovative.
As the title already indicates II was the second album by Cluster. It was originally released on Brain Records in 1972. It was also the last album they recorded in Berlin; in 1973 they moved to the German countryside to a small rural village called Forst. Although this is an electronic album, they didn't use synthesizers and rhythm machines as they would on the following albums. The main instruments were the organ and the electric guitar. In addition to that they used tone generators and a lot of effects. II has the rawness of the first album and both Kluster records, but it's a step in a different direction. The previous records, including the two recorded by Kluster, have been composed of chaos and noise, while on II they started to use repetition, structure and harmony. They had toured a lot since the release of the debut, so they were much more skilled as well.
In my opinion the best track on the album is the almost thirteen-minute piece Im Süden. It starts with a guitar sequence that is constantly repeated. Then an organ, a bass organ and a second guitar are added, all playing a repetitive sequence but slightly out of sync. Slowly the accents are shifting thus creating a very hypnotic piece of music. Using guitar sequences can nowadays easily be done by using a digital sampler. In 1972 they probably used a tape loop. If you listen closely you can hear small deviations as if they all played it by hand. Even for people who know and appreciate their later, more ambient albums this is a hard one to get into. I started to get into it a few years ago when the track Im Süden was played during the break between two performances at the Roadburn Festival. Then it was performed on a superb sound system in a venue with very good acoustics. Although the music sounded familiar to me, I didn't think of Cluster but then I recognized the piece. I realized that this album needs to be played loud in order to let the sound come alive.
In recent years this kind of minimal, guitar drone based music has become more widespread with bands such as Sunn O))) and Fear Falls Burning. So, in a way Cluster II was 35 years way ahead of its time. For sure I consider this record to be one of Cluster's groundbreaking albums. The remastered re-release by Esoteric Recordings is straight, so no bonus tracks have been added. The original artwork is kept on the outside and on the inside some pictures and a short history were added. If you already have a copy of the CD and you like it, you should check out this one, since the sound is clearer and more dynamic and has improved a lot.
**** Erik Gibbels (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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