After a 14-year stretch of releasing only live albums, the duo of Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius — more succinctly known as Cluster — has emerged from Tim Story’s Ohio studio with another Cluster classic, Qua.
“It's like having a cup of coffee and a donut in the middle of a Martian shoe factory,” says Story of his first experience producing a Cluster session. “Moebi and Achim always have the incredible knack of carving a bit of warmth and humanity out of the most unlikely elements. On Qua, there's a surprisingly melodic solo that Moe performed on our squeaky bathroom door, and a virtuoso performance 'playing' the feedback from the unplugged end of a guitar cable. Meanwhile, Ach plays a bass line on our old orange Farfisa organ — and naturally centers his riff around the one note that's broken.”
The squeaky-door solo is one of many mysterious sounds on the 17-track Qua that
Cluster and Story have sewn together to make seamless, artful music out of what others hear as noise.
Story muses: “It's what makes Cluster absolutely unique — taking the debris of life, and the sounds most other people would 'tune out', and turning them into supremely odd, but engagingly human poetry. A happy marriage of Dada and romance.”
That happy marriage (albeit with its on-again, off-again moments) has continued for nearly 40 years — so it would be a natural to assume that the music resulting from Cluster’s return to the studio would have been something of a nostalgia trip. But at an age when other musicians are making bank on old ideas, Cluster is making music that is in every way new.
“When we first starting talking about making this record, I imagined a 20th-century version of Sowiesoso or Zuckerzeit,” recalls Story, “abandoning for now the long, freeform improvisations that had been a staple of Cluster’s recent live performances, and revisiting the short idiosyncratic miniatures that we would be able to achieve in a studio setting. But even I wouldn't have guessed that a total of 17 great pieces would result — each with it's own inner logic and personality, and all working within the framework of the whole.”
Even more remarkably, Qua’s 17 tracks aren’t just audio novelties — they have a richness of texture, tone and character unexpected in the electronic music genre. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Cluster’s sound-as-sandbox approach to music — and why they’ve inspired so many other influential musicians — is that they explore inventive and expressive potentials in electronic music seldom realized by others.
Story concludes: “With the humbling honor of being the first Cluster 'producer' in several decades, I felt my main duty was to give Ach and Moebi as many good options as possible, then get out of the way, and record their process as transparently as I could. Hopefully, Qua captures the richness and humor and the warmth that made the recording sessions so much fun for all of us.”