August 13, 2015
by Melville House
This August, as we prepare to unleash a bunch of incredible books into the world, MobyLives will be taking a bit of a breather. We’ll still post the occasional news item or feature, but for most of this month we’ll be posting a roundup like this every morning. We will, of course, remain active on Twitter and Facebook. We hope you have a great August, and that you’ll keep checking in with us!
- Jarek Steele, co-owner of Left Bank Books, has written a moving post about losing a customer over his store’s Black Lives Matter window display.
- The best new bookstore category is “Tragic Life Stories.” (LRB)
- Cops in Charlotte are cracking down on crime in a local apartment complex by, you guessed it: community building by reading out loud to children. (Charlotte Observer)
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s ashes will be returning to Cartagena, the city where he began his writing career. (The Journal Times)
“Family Christian Stores CEO Chuck Bengochea said his faith was tested and grew through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy sale that was approved by a judge on Tuesday, Aug. 11.” (Michigan Live)
Bucharest is the world capital of innovations in e-book discoverability. (Teleread)
- “I’ll come up with a great idea—a tampon that is also a mild antidepressant—and won’t have a way to write it down.” Read friend of Melville House Scaachi Koul’s hilarious piece, “Things That Will Happen If I Don’t Take My Phone Out Right Now.” (The New Yorker)
- JK Rowling roasts the British tabloid The Express. (The Express)
- This is a good book trailer. (The Awl)
- Warren Ellis doesn’t mean to be a dick, but it’s not the golden age of literary serialization. (Morning, Computer)
- “A memorable occasion, when we had a little unpleasantness, which is happily forgotten and forgiven on both sides”: the great philanthropist Andrew Carnegie on the “unpleasant” labor practices that made possible some of America’s first libraries. (Lapham’s Quarterly)
This month’s roundups are brought to you by Future Days: Krautrock and the Birth of a Revolutionary New Music. Each roundup will feature a short excerpt of the book, and a couple of songs from a Krautrock band. Today’s band is Kluster.
Today’s excerpt from Future Days: He was born Konrad Schnitzler in 1937, to a German father and an Italian mother, and wondered often in life if these dual nationalities and their supposed temperamental differences were at war inside him. He grew up in Düsseldorf, his childhood memories resounding with the metal-on-metal chaos of war and its ruinous consequences. He vividly recalled the bombs, the screaming terror of the populace, the window panes which revealed not domestic interiors but the light of raging fires. Although his father was a trained musician, Schnitzler stubbornly resisted his efforts to make him learn an instrument, as if to do so would have meant kowtowing to authority and conformity and a staid, oppressive Germanic notion of Kultur. He took labouring jobs, including one in a textile factory, where he once again found himself assailed by modern industrial cacophony, the great rooms resounding to the communal din of machinery, and another as a sailor, fixing the engines of ships. Noise was his element, and rather than seek out respite in tranquillity after his day’s labours, he subjected himself to the great extremists of the mid-century – Stockhausen, Nono, Cage, Charlie Parker, free jazz, broadcast on late-night radio.
Schnitzler was invited to join the very first incarnation of Tangerine Dream, despite his being unable to play any instrument as such. With Klaus Schulze on drums, Schnitzler would play the role of ‘outsider’. Edgar Froese, the founder and constant member, felt that the trio needed an amusical element to make proceedings more interesting. Schnitzler himself, meanwhile, focused his energies on Kluster, the experimental trio he formed with fellow Zodiak denizens Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius.
The opportunity for Kluster to record their debut album presented itself when Oskar Gottlieb Blarr, a forward-looking cantor and church organist with a penchant for such religious avant-garde composers as Olivier Messiaen, decided that Kluster had the potential to disseminate the word of God. On 21 December 1969, he arranged for the Kluster trio to be spirited into a Cologne studio owned by the church label Schwann-Verlag, who would release the album. There, in practically real time, they recorded the two sides that make up Klopfzeichen (Knocking). Conny Plank was at the mixing desk, and his experience as a studio assistant at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk, plus the high-quality acoustics, lends the first Kluster album a level of high definition that makes it feel as if it were recorded the day after tomorrow, rather than over forty years ago. This is not so much music as the artful, purposeful interplay of sounds, liberated from scale, metre, melody, mobile sculptures floating in a zone somewhere between free rock and musique concrète that was neither ‘high’ nor ‘low’ but way out there. It’s deeply prophetic – one thinks of the likes of Throbbing Gristle and Nurse with Wound, who were themselves considered to have emerged from a nowhere place of cultural ruin in their own times.
Kluster toured extensively, playing primarily in gallery and museum spaces, often for hours at a time, with their arsenal of conventional instruments subject to ring modulators, reverb units and tape delays. They recorded a second album, Zwei-Osterei (Two Easter Eggs), in February 1970 with vocal overdubs again added at the behest of Schwann. Side one, ‘Electric Music and Text’, is superb, with its sawing strings and biblical torrent of mutant instrumentation and tortured feedback, so far ahead of its time you wonder if its time has even come.
The ever-maverick Schnitzler broke away, and Kluster became the serendipitous duo Cluster. With the assistance of Conny Plank, Cluster had managed to bag a contract with Philips, one of a number of labels, including Polydor, who imagined there to be commercial potential in the new German music wave, following the relative success of groups like Can at Liberty/UA, and were making blind signings as a result.
The album, however, still has the impact of a meteorite decades after its release. Its cover, depicting a yellow and orange triangle and a set of blades, teeth interlocking and pointing north-east, barely hints at the abstract carnage within. It sounds as if it were generated by forty-feet-high banks of synthesizers in some vast, sub-volcanic hideaway leased from a Bond villain. In fact, these chugging, molten noises are achieved on conventional instruments, as well as audio generators and amplifiers. However, the toll of constant touring was having an effect on their health, Roedelius in particular. Their noisenik days ground to a halt.
A change of environment was urgently required, and this presented itself when a large farmhouse became available in the rural depths of Lower Saxony, in Forst, close to the River Weser and utterly remote from the distractions, comforts, stresses and amenities of the big city. It sounded idyllic, spoke to a desire, common to German musicians of the era, for pastoral retreat
Anyone following the Cluster discography album by album would be confused by Zuckerzeit (‘Sugar Time’), their third LP, and the apparent quantum leap it represents from noise to avant-pop. Moebius and Roedelius experiment freely, rolling out track by track small, metal, mobile models for an imminent electropop future. Each track is a solo composition – the pair were developing separate lives, united by an artistic understanding but not joined at the hip. There are hints also of Eno’s forthcoming Another Green World, in the shantyish gait of tracks like ‘Hollywood’ or the woodblock- like drum-machine effects of ‘Rosa. Eno made no secret of how impressed he was by the Cluster axis. He liked the way that they seemed to live as they worked, the pace and values of life at Forst. When he eventually came to stay at their commune, he joined them in going to the forests to collect wood, babysitting, cooking, eating, talking together, from which the music, when they repaired to another room to prepare it, arose as naturally as smoke from a fire.
There’s little doubt that Cluster’s ideas helped crystallise Eno’s own. It helped that they had arrived at their present pass from a different cultural route and historical background. Eno was not driven to make music by the pains, identity crises and upheavals that resulted from wartime. Sheer innate curiosity drove him – but not the same burning imperative for untrammelled self-expression that drove the Krautrock generation. They were unlikely to find creative satisfaction in a music, as Eno did, that could be reduced to a diagram on the back of an LP sleeve.