Cluster – Zuckerzeit

If you reach your hand into a box full of Cluster albums and select a random record, you’re bound to come out with something either pretty good to fantastic. Zuckerzeit is Cluster’s introduction to drum machines, albeit not the dance variety.

These drums shift and burble. They croak and whoosh. They are rudimentary in their design, and evoke an other-worldliness. There are bits of shakers here and there—a wooden block appears out of the murkiness in places. Through it all there is a dichotomy at work: dark, mumbling keys vs. bright, sparkly synths. It can feel at times as though you’re listening to this music underwater, or while traveling at the speed of sound.

This could be all dismissed as symptomatic of the year in which this was recorded (1974) and the infancy of the technology if Cluster weren’t so crafty. There’s a deliberateness behind this dichotomy. Up to this point, Cluster had recorded spacey, airy ambient music, and in the case of Cluster ’71, built on droning feedback and waves of static.

Take the song, “Rosa,” for example. Here we have shakers moving in and out of the mix while plucky synth leads dance above a deep and menacing bass line pooling below. The underbelly of the song, reverberations of unknown origin, slide in and out of our peripherals. It would feel a bit off the cuff if it wasn’t so intentional.

This soundscape is repeated in “Fotschi Tong,” to a bit of a higher degree. There, we hear Cluster push the drums slightly more to the forefront. They drift in and out of the mix with a bit more immediacy, wrapped in a slightly hazy reverb and heavy echo. Perhaps the most interesting thing about these songs, and “Fotschi Tong” in particular, is that although they feel repetitive in nature–the body of the song being composed by three notes–the appendages wiggle and writhe outside its core, creating new textures obscuring the inherent sameness.

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Song to song, the album feels as a piece rather than separate entities coming together. The recording methods are incredibly consistent, even if the mood and feeling of each song is representative of itself. They all culminate on the album closer, “Heisse Lippen,” in fantastic manner.

It hits you with an immediacy as if announcing that everything proceeding was in preparation for this one song. It’s short, and leaves as abruptly as it enters. But what is left behind is an imprint on the listener’s ears and mind of something other. A foray into the new and burgeoning electronic field that would change the way we listen to music moving forward. And despite all that came after, the singularity of Zuckerzeit continues to amaze and inspire.

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