Friday, May 9, 2008
Schwann, 1971; reissued by Hypnotic and Captain Trip, each with a different bonus track; Hypnotic version out of print, Captain Trip version available but pricey
2 tracks, 44:52 (Hypnotic reissue: 3 tracks, 60:11)
Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius are names familiar to most every student of ambient and krautrock. As Cluster, they pursued a deep space electronic path, approaching proto-new age and proto-ambient frequently. However, their earliest work as Kluster (a trio including Conrad Schnitzler as well) basically invented dark ambient and ambient industrial. This highly bizarre record was their second; KLOPFZEICHEN, the first, will also get reviewed here, but it is slightly more difficult to find. Schnitzler, Roedelius and Moebius didn't use synthesizers, instead relying on organs, electric guitars (normal and slide), loads of effects, and any manner of noisemaker they could find. Strangely enough, KLOPFZEICHEN and ZWEI-OSTEREI ("two - Easter egg" in English) were funded by a church! That said, there's not a whole lot in common with other church music beyond the use of organs. Track one (which was also side one) begins with a humming drone and a repeating metallic sound. This goes on for a while, and eventually guest vocalist Manfred Paethe enters the mix. His stern-sounding vocals are reciting religious text (which allegedly was one of the conditions for church funding), and while the performance gets progressively more intense, a German-speaking friend verified that the words are absolutely ridiculous. Not speaking the language is definitely a plus in THIS case! That being said, side one is an intense piece of uneasy ambience, never fully exploding into dread but constantly threatening it, and all the more impressive for that. Side two is very similar, but more free-form. Listening to this puts early industrial in its proper perspective; you could easily pass off either side as early Throbbing Gristle. Best listened to as a whole, ZWEI-OSTEREI was very much ahead of its time, and some of the ideas present wouldn't really be explored further until much later. After this album and a collaboration album with Eruption (more on them later), the band would splinter, Schnitzler going on to a solo career and Moebius and Roedelius continuting as Cluster (as well as working with Brian Eno and forming the supergroup Harmonia with Michael Rother of Neu!). Any output associated with the original trio is very much worth investigating. The two CD reissues each have different bonus tracks.The Hypnotic release features a fifteen-minute snippet(!) of a live Cluster performance from 1980. This sees the duo of Moebius and Roedelius teamed up with Joshi Farnbauer. It's a much more space rock oriented track, but it's a very nice comedown after the intensity of ZWEI-OSTEREI. I haven't heard the Captain Trip reissue, but the bonus track there is a live piece by Schnitzler's later band Eruption, which was very similar to Kluster. The Captain Trip version is pretty expensive, but you can usually find a good second-hand copy of the Hypnotic release for under $15. It comes very highly recommended no matter what.
NOTE: There is also now a three-disc box set on Water called KLUSTER 1969-1971. While it has no bonus tracks, it does have all three Kluster albums (KLOPFZEICHEN, ZWEI-OSTEREI, and ERUPTION) for a low price (around $20-$30). Needless to say, this is the Kluster set to look for. There are also some interesting archival Kluster releases from when the band was just Schnitzler and associates, Moebius and Roedelius having gone off to form Cluster(!). Entitled VULCANO and ADMIRA, these are on Important Records and are definitely worth investigating.