Qluster: Echtzeit
Bureau B

Decades removed from Kluster, the first iteration of the outfit Hans-Joachim Roedelius formed with Dieter Moebius and Conrad Schnitzler in 1969 (and which two years later carried on as Cluster sans Schnitzler until 2010), Qluster continues waving the electronic ambient flag with Roedelius currently partnered with keyboard player Onnen Bock and multi-instrumentalist Armin Metz. The group's third incarnation has clearly been prolific, as Echtzeit is the sixth album from the trio since Qluster's formation.

Though 2015's Tasten witnessed the group focusing on pure piano textures, the new ten-track collection signals a return to electronic form. That said, piano is still very much a part of the mix, but it's merely one instrument in a larger arsenal. Anyone looking for dramatic departures from the sound long associated with Cluster/Qluster will need to look elsewhere, as Echtzeit aligns itself comfortably to the group's established style. The brooding “Das seltsame Tier aus dem Norden” aside, glitches and noise treatments are eschewed for contemplative set-pieces rich in atmosphere that Roedelius and company developed from long improvisations. The album's soothing material caresses more than assaults the ear, making for a very unassuming music that the listener can dip into and out of with ease. Even the most restful piece isn't lacking for incident, however; each setting engages the senses with synthetic detail, be it melodies or textures, and the album possesses a subtle charm.

In the delicate meditation “Beste Freunde,” minimal acoustic piano playing is enhanced by a hushed backdrop of electronics and synthesizers, resulting in a production that exerts a surprisingly strong emotional pull. Other tracks, such as “Von weiter Ferne ganz nah,” evoke the krautrock era but use a becalmed ambient approach to do so. “Glasperlenspiel” and “In deinen Händen” show that Qluster isn't shy about revealing its delicate and pretty sides, but the trio also doesn't retreat from material of darker hues, such as the haunted “Weg am Hang.” That Echtzeit sometimes calls to mind the wonderful albums Roedelius and Moebius collaborated on with Eno in the ‘70s (Cluster & Eno, After the Heat) is no bad thing, and there are moments during the album when one could be convinced that he's again sitting in with his old partners.

February 2016