Friday, December 18, 2009

Brian Eno 7: Cluster Collaborations

Fans of Eno’s “first four” would be well advised to seek out his work with Cluster, a German duo who’d been big on the electronic scene for some time. These more obscure albums go in and out of print every couple of years or so, usually reappearing in a different track sequence, but stand out above some of the less, shall we say, exciting entries in his catalog.

Cluster & Eno is entirely instrumental, covering a wide range of sounds and moods, with only their predominantly German titles to give any hint to the meaning. The opening “Ho Renomo” (whatever that means) is perhaps the most successful track, a wandering improvisation of three different keyboards and some guitar interjections. “Schöne Hände”, “Wermut” and “Steinsame” are more uneasy, but “Für Luise” is a little prettier in its sadness. The phonetically accurate “Die Bunge” fits something of a cowboys-in-space motif, while “One” is an improvisation featuring what sound like sitars.

Because of the lack of credits, it’s not easy to tell just how much of the album was Cluster and how much was Eno. What he contributed is much clearer on After The Heat, which includes three vocal tracks scattered throughout the mysterious and mystical instrumentals. The best by far is “The Belldog”, which brings back the sound from Before And After Science with a wonderfully opaque lyric and soaring melody. “Broken Head” is given a monotonous reading, and “Tzima N’arki” meshes an Asian-influenced backing track with a backwards vocal that produces a similar feel. (And once you realize that the vocal comes from “King’s Lead Hat”, you’ll spend half the song trying to sing along.)

These albums aren’t everyday listening, but they deserve wider exposure. The possibilities of the Internet make it easy to find them with just a little digging. Even more obscure, mostly because of its understated labeling, is an album worth of recordings that pre-date Cluster & Eno. Shelved for over two decades, Tracks And Traces is credited to Harmonia ’76, being the moniker the Cluster duo used when working with former Neu! guitarist Michael Rother. “’76” refers to the year the sessions took place, with Eno along for the ride. More electronic than the other two, it’s occasionally prettier and occasionally unsettling.

Cluster & Eno Cluster & Eno (1977)—3
Eno Moebius Roedelius After The Heat (1978)—
Harmonia ‘76 Tracks And Traces (1997)—3
2009 reissue: same as 1997, plus 3 extra tracks

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