Keith Jarrett‘s success in his tours of Germany in the early 70s owed some debt to the burgeoning, radical art scenes taking over that country’s larger cities. German audiences supported a fiercely independent free rock culture that drew heavily from American jazz — particularly the extended, disciplined jams of In a Silent Way-era Miles Davis — and that pushed Hendrix‘s electric sorcery into giant drifting icebergs of sound (Tangerine Dream) on the one hand or an infinitely dissected, atomized funk (Can) on the other. In between lay the devotional music of Popol Vuh, the blues-less Zep power of Amon Duul II, the world jazz of Embryo, the enormously influential “motorik” tic-tic-tic of Kraftwerk, and the organic electronic excursions of Cluster. With its origins in the Zodiak Free Arts Lab, Hans-Joachim Roedelius’s and Dieter Moebius’s Cluster shared roots with Berlin’s Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel, but, in collaborating with guitarist Michael Rother in the group Harmonia in the mid-70s, also had close ties with Dusseldorf bands Kraftwerk and Neu!. Cluster wore these associations — along with very fruitful collaborations with Brian Eno — meaningfully but lightly, maintaining in its mid-period albums a distinctly warm electronic-ism flush with melody.
With 1976’s Sowiesoso, Cluster hit its stride, creating in its sunny, languorous intimacy a 37-minute treatise on laid-back ambient techno whose mood echoes across the work of Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Air, Tortoise, and most recently Schnauss and Munk. The title track’s soft pulse and gently looping themes conjure in music the album’s cover: Moebius, Roedelius, dog, countryside, sprays of sunlight. Where Kraftwerk consciously and brilliantly used electronic music to cast in relief the human/technology divide, Cluster on “Sowiesoso” shows that separation to be meaningless. Electronic music of the heart.
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