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Qua Hannah Gregory , April 19th, 2010 11:16

Cluster make music for sitting about after hours. Sounds that cannot be scripted in musical notation and will never be the same again, not now, not ever. This is how I approach Cluster, and the band's latest release, Qua - their twelfth album and first in fourteen years. The patterns of atonal sound on this album are melded with synth notes that float endlessly but are occasionally and briefly held down, forming circles within circles within spheres.

Cluster's first release in 1971 was an eponymous and abstract wonder conceived between core members members Dieter Moebius, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, and kosmische innovator Conny Plank. Throughout the 70s and 80s, Cluster collaborated with various limbs of the Germanic avant-garde, including Can's Holger Czukay, and teamed up with Neu! founder Michael Rother to form Harmonia. Naturally, kindred spirit Brian Eno rocked up at their self-built studio-chalet in Forst, West Germany, asking if he could hang out and make some sounds.

Cluster create music that is reassuringly minimal, repetitively beautiful, disconcertingly mellow. Moebius and Roedelius journeyed through industrial noise to softer sounds; took in the pastoral, the atmospheric, and with Zuckerzeit, they approach the motorik ideal. Experimental composer and co-conspirator, Asmus Tietchens, speaks of a type of Cluster handwriting, and I like the idea of a mildly evolving typography, minute changes occurring to audible syllables, to conceptualise the breadth of the band's work. Here on Qua, the ambient territories the band explored over these decades are clearly laid out, so that we might ask to what extent is this a signature record for Cluster?

Titles read like characters from Calvino's proto-sci-fi Cosmicomics stories –'Xanesra', 'Ymstrob' 'Lerandis' - and certainly evoke girls covered in periwinkles, aunts lost between galaxies, arrows tied up in time. We encounter phases of lightly clunking rhythm, shaken loose to fall into blank space, signatures as solitary pulses of unknown origin - minimal texture, minimal glare. We are guided slowly by electronic loops as Qua pushes the cosmic outwards, creating an expanding universe. The distance between notes even creates a sparseness that leaves the listener to find their own personal grooves and scratches within the sonic expanses that surround them. Throughout Qua, the meandering experimentation is scripted with a Cluster's still flowing, indelible ambient ink.