What can I say about Sowiesoso that hasn’t already been said? Well, loads hopefully. Seeing as each person interprets and interacts with language differently when describing something they love it should be a different story every time, right? I’d like to think so anyway… Because I do love this record.
Sowiesoso comes to being in Clusters post-Harmonia and post-Eno period where 6 albums worth of material was recorded in 3 years (most of it released too). So how could they have anything left to give after Zuckerzeit, Musik Von Harmonia, Deluxe and a bonus batch of recording with Eno as both Cluster AND Harmonia? Well, they were clearly smart, as their legacy proves, and I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if they had this material ready in some form when Eno arrived for his stay at Forst, the bands home and studio. But rather than ask him to attempt to augment these recordings, I get the sense that they knew where to go with this one and “anyway, let’s do something new with our new arrival.”
That said, though… You can sense those long evening shadows of Brian, cast over lots of Sowiesoso in a similar vein to Michael Rother’s influence on Zuckerzeit.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s an ambient album though, but it’s definitely Cluster’s gentlest and most pastoral long player. The 2 sides of the cover, showing Roedelius and Moebius languidly leaning against trees at Forst, petting a canine friend, give off a relaxed air and for the first time in their career they let their guard down and fully reveal themselves.
Moebius, the more sinister sonic-dervish bringer, giving off a whiff of occultism in his black suit and Roedelius, the wise man, totally comfortable with himself, angelic in white. The light and dark matter of the universe, conjoined together as one force.
It is here, though, where Roedelius flexes his tenderness and the grains of his Selbsportrait reel to reel recordings are milled to make the big doughy loaf of warmth that is Sowiesoso.
In fact, a loaf of bread might be a good likeness for this album… So sumptuous in places you could possibly survive on it. To add further weight to this analogy let me say this… I’m a firm believer that music that makes you this relaxed will make you live longer the more you listen to it.
I now want to jump in and describe the effect that the final track, In Ewigkeit, has on my heart rate but Sowiesoso is all about taking it slow…
Sowiesoso (title track)
I heard somewhere that Sowiesoso is a phrase that means “always the same” which suits the theme here…
The sound of a babbling brook flowing and growing into a wide sunlit river over the course of seven shimmering minutes .
Cluster really have taken precise control over whatever gear they have amassed now. A few years in the bosom of the countryside with little else to do other than fix windows and chop wood to distract from the main task at hand has seen to that. And anyway, all great art of old was always as a result of the gift of time and this track is a proverbial orchard laden with the plump fruits of their findings from the past few years of work and play. So rich and aplenty is this track it has the spirit of Christmas about it. You can hear the 2 members in celebratory mood as they play and tweak their way through fields worth of ideas.
Even just the rhythm track from this would have enough of a gift… The popping of electro toms and the odd, well placed snare all sent through a delay/echo are enough to get you dancing on their own. Some kind of sedentary armchair dancing anyway. Then we have the keyboard chords with changes to major 7th (non muso’s this is the happy/sad Astrud Gilberto chord) and then all manner of wonderful and heartwarming Cluster magic on top.
The ideal opener then, it fades in as a brook appears from the land and fades out again as a river into a great sea of calm.
From water to sand now… the sea to a desert. Halwa is the closest they get to sinister on this collection. Yet, it’s totally still and clear in its intentions.
Using the Eastern/Arabic scale they pluck at guitars and add gentle piano. Occasional cymbals are tapped and choked while synths swell and snake around its unchanging foundations. Only right at the end of the track do they give any variation as flames rise gently from the sand and just as the track feels about to grow into something, I don’t know, heavy perhaps… it disappears.
They have done well to resist the temptation to “jam” on it as many of their Krautrock Kounterparts would have done and have kept it to under 3 minutes. You can easily imagine others building it into some 15 minute side-long prog wankery though, and that would have been horrible.
The instant angular zig-zagging of the intro chords evokes the spirit of Bauhaus futurism. Blocky, Konstruktivist and boldly Germanic. It should be scored and given to an orchestra to play to rouse the plebs from their apathy!
But then, after it’s posturing and imposing its initial greatness on us, the piece unexpectedly lies down.
With a desultory wobble of a fretless bass (huh? yep, that’s right!) it launches into a sleepwalk through deftly crafted skittering rhythms, more bass wobbles and simple walking patterns whilst keyboard lines are daubed upon the canvas like those stretched pink and purple clouds that grace the autumn skies. A dusky setting indeed and, after Halwa, helps to set the tone again for the rest of what you are about to hear.
This track comes close to ambient in the way that it lulls you into a near-sleep state but, just as you’re settling into the surroundings, back comes that rousing intro, as outro now, to bookend the song with its strange glory.
Ah! Here is the influence of Eno in his ambient ambulance, administering audio-morphine to frightened airline passengers, I dare myself to say as this track plays in. Not unlike the opener Ho Remono on the Cluster & Eno album, minimal repetitive piano patterns and the sound of time slowly ticking suck you into a false sense of security. Then, after a minute or so, it’s suddenly over-come by a tribe of piss-takers, fading in as though approaching over the brow of a hill.
Its as though a Faust outtake has been mixed in to detract from the seriousness of the Eno-ness. You’d be forgiven for imagining that Jean Hervé Peron had been drafted in to do his caveman routine as heard on the manic gospel beat-thumpings of No Harm from Faust’s So Far album.
But I’m going to be more ridiculous here and suggest that this track is the Krautrock version of a Morecambe & Wise sketch.
Stay with me here!…
On the one hand you have Wise (represented by the piano part) earnestly tinkling away, trying to impress the audience in his bow tie, all best bib and tucker. Then Morecambe enters, stage right (represented by the rabble banging drums, yelling and ringing bells, Dada fashion) glasses askew shouting “Wahay” and receiving double the admiration than Wise from the crowd for his anarchic and anti-establishment raspberry blowing.
And, quite rightly, Morecambe wins the show and it all tumbles to a halt with the rattle of a cowbell and now we are getting a clearer picture of the men at work. The tender side shown in Zum Wohl (up next) is matched here by their playfulness, humour and irreverence.
Like Debussy playing on synths that have been programmed to sigh in awe at the wonders of all creation, this is the sound of someone at the top of their game.
Unashamedly contented… glass totally fucking full, thanks, none of this fluffing around between half full or empty. In fact the title translates as Good Health, always exclaimed when glasses are fully charged, which is as much proof as you need really.
Zum Wohl starts with a simple batch of electric piano chords and grows in its own time, adding programmed bird-song, subtle snatches of breath here and there, summer flies zipping by and then an ascending motif which gives the track it’s occasional and ecstatic peaks.
It is utterly pastoral and sets the scene for the two members pulling back the curtains at Forst onto a beautiful misty morning in rural Germany.
As the track builds to the emotive rising chords for the penultimate time, the gently fizzing synth line is raised an octave, getting louder now, tugging harder at the heart strings, and you hear what sounds like an android with a lump in its throat. Synthesised circuits warmed by human emotion, audibly gulping back tears, wondering “What IS this feeling?”
Well, dear robot, this is the sound of someone in love with everything. And these moments in life (when not chemically induced) are rare and short lived. To have a couple of our fellow bags of meat capture it through the medium of cold machinery is something for which we should prick up our ears and take note.
Es War Einmal
If you’re all rosy cheeked and swelling with emotion after the rousing beauty of Zum Wohl then you’ve earned a moments calm.
Es War Einmal calls to mind the lullaby sounds of Raymond Scott’s Soothing Sounds For Baby. The main focus of this piece is its pendulous tick-tocking back and forth, as gentle as reeds in the breeze slowly bowing and rising like a crowd of respectful Japanese monks. At first listen it might seem a bit like a broken record, skipping silently and perfectly in time. But then it changes to a ponderous passage, entering the woods of subtle doubt before emerging into the reed fields again. It does this several times until you stop noticing the changes between the two shifts and the track spreads itself as warm butter onto your mind becoming one soporific stargaze at the whole nights sky.
This is perfect music to set a bedtime story to and fittingly the title translates as Once Upon A Time. It ends with descending and ascending twinkles, conjuring an image of dew drops trickling down to the centre of a spiders web a la Disney’s Fantasia.
And like that web, the strength of this track lies in its simplicity and perfect construction.
Coming on like some kind of David Lynch Heroin Porn, this is Cluster’s most seductive and opiated track.
Time has literally slowed right down now as Moebius and Roedelius have cottoned on to another great idea that lends itself best to working with reel to reels… Recording to tape, then playing it at half speed to instantly drug us into a cosy smack-fog.
The warmth brought by the low thudding of the half-pace kick drum slows down the heart rate like a hatful of Quaaludes dissolved into a jug of fine red wine… Yum. And the distant dreamlike chiming of someone ringing a doorbell, somewhere off in the real world? Well, whoever it is will just have to fucking WAIT because this just feels toooooo niiiiiiice.
It’s like I’m in a slow moving, luxurious elevator, complete with Lynch’s red velvet drapery, drifting in slow motion through orange clouds towards heaven whilst the slinky, almost bluesy refrain, snaking its way around this piece gifts me the mental image of a lap dance from Sherilyn Fenn, slowly waving her hips like the Tales Of The Unexpected girl on heavy downers.
Well… I say lap dance… I’m being polite. If I let my mind go this will become a different kind of review and I’m sure you can guess where that’s headed so let’s get back on track…
In Ewigkeit is so perfectly realised that you’d have trouble telling the difference between what has been slowed down and what has been added. And as it plays on we’re treated to some of Clusters greatest adornments to any track. Synths squeal and waver like a rasping blown-up then slowly exhaling ballon. Every now and then a poltergeist of sound swallows the whole track by way of enormous vapourous ghosts. And the almost ever clanging presence of a mong-gong bathes you in a wave of inertia. All this amounts to conspire against anyone of a nervous or fidgety disposition and would hopefully do the job of placating a crowd of pissed and coked up hipsters in a bar comparing ironic facial hair or some such bullshit…
But I don’t want to have to be there in case it doesn’t work and anyway, they don’t deserve it.
review by Ian Hinton-Smith