BRIAN ENO: CLUSTER & ENO (w. Cluster) (1977)
1) Ho Renomo; 2) Schöne Hände; 3) Steinsame; 4) Wehrmut; 5) Mit Simaen; 6) Selange; 7) Die Bunge; 8) One; 9) Für Luise.
This is the first of two collaborations between Eno, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, and Dieter Moebius — the latter two of the experimental/electronic «Krautrock» duo Cluster (sometimes thought of as a trio because of their long-term association with producer/musician Conny Plank, at whose studio this record was made as well). German electronica was riding high in artistic circles at the time, with Kraftwerk making it big, and it is no coincidence that Bowie's «Berlin period» happened around the same time — all these albums should really be seen in the context of one another, as all these people were really excited about how all the new technologies allowed them to create new aural art with completely different textures.
Set against Eno's best works of the period, Cluster & Eno inevitably gets a little lost, and I remember not at all being impressed when I first heard it decades ago. However, its main difference is simply that there are no immediately resonating themes/hooks that would shatter your brainwaves at once — like that searing-cutting sound of the Sky Saw that opens ʽSky Sawʼ. Cluster & Eno should not be formally classified as «ambient»: its basic melodies and overdubs are too complex and dynamic, requiring the listener to pay some attention at least. But on the other hand, its eventual charms are so subtle that paying this attention is a bit of a chore. This is why the album used to leave me somewhat frustrated... but I'm feeling better now.
One key to enjoying the record is realizing how diverse it is, and how many different, unpredictable combinations these three guys have managed to search out. ʽHo Renomoʼ, for instance, combines a pretty piano ballad with an impassive electronic pulse, a specially treated «diving bass» part that sounds like Indian percussion, and faraway droney echoes of guitars that add an extra dimension to the experience. ʽSteinsameʼ is based on a draggy synthesizer melody reminiscent of some Bach organ piece and doubled on Fripp-style howling guitar (the actual player, if credits are to be believed, is Okko Bekker). ʽFür Luiseʼ, founded on a series of synthesizer power chords, ties them together with rising and falling electronic «swoops» that sound like a particularly drunken musical saw, tottering, wobbling, and just a little melancholic. ʽSelangeʼ sounds like an unfinished demo for a stern blues-rocker, for which somebody has recorded a piano part and some rudimentary percussion — then decided to turn it into an atmospheric piece instead by adding «heavenly» synthesizer overdubs. And ʽDie Bungeʼ is like a soundtrack to a rocking horse ride, with an electronic bug caught up in the fray, buzzing its way around you, unable to escape the gravity pull among all the gentle merriment.
It's no great shakes, for sure; the record would be of serious interest only to ardent fans of both Eno and Cluster — think something like Cluster's Sowiesoso crossed with a slightly more developed version of Discreet Music, where elegant electronic soundscapes are integrated with romantic piano loops. But it is a nice kind of sound, not aspiring to much depth, perhaps, yet still evocative, synthesizing a little cozy universe of its own, where you have caves, clouds, fogs, blizzards, swamps, pools, and, yes, rocking horses — no cozy universe should be without its own rocking horse. The three of them would get much better on After The Heat, but this one is totally deserving of its thumbs up as well.