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"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Guardian JULY 23, 2015 - by Adam Sweeting
Musician and composer who with his band Cluster was a pioneer of 'krautrock'.
Though born in Switzerland, Dieter Moebius, who has died aged seventy-one, was destined to become renowned as one of the pioneers of so-called krautrock. A talented graphic artist as well as a versatile experimental musician, Moebius shared the restlessness of many of his contemporaries in divided postwar Germany, and helped to create a new musical genre, largely shaped by the development of electronic instruments and synthesizers, through which to express it.
It was while he was living in Berlin in the late 1960s that he met Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Conrad Schnitzler - founders of the art and music collective the Zodiak Free Arts Lab - with whom he formed the band Kluster. In 1971, following Schnitzler's departure, Kluster became Cluster and - notwithstanding several temporary retirements - continued to record and perform live until 2010. In the mid-1970s, Moebius and Roedelius teamed up with Michael Rother of the band Neu! to form Harmonia, who made three studio albums including Tracks And Traces (1976), featuring Brian Eno.
Cluster worked with Eno again on the albums Cluster & Eno and After The Heat, which helped to win them a broader international audience. From 1980 onwards, Moebius also made a string of solo and collaborative albums. The last of these to be released was his 2014 solo effort, Nidemonex.
Moebius was a native of St Gallen. His mother's piano playing left him with a lasting interest in classical music, to which he subsequently added an enthusiasm for jazz. He studied art at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels before moving to Berlin, where his grandmother lived. In a 2012 interview with the art magazine Frieze, Moebius recalled how living in Berlin felt isolated and "like being on an island", protected by the Americans, French and British from the surrounding eastern bloc.
He had been studying art at the Akademie für Grafik, Druck und Werbung - graphics, printing and advertising - in Berlin, before dropping out and becoming involved in political activism, protesting against "all the old guys that were still in power after the war". In 1969, he met the other members of what would become Kluster. "At this time, all the young people, every night, went to bars in Charlottenburg... and one night, Achim [Roedelius] and Schnitzler were in one of these bars. I came in, and they said 'Hey Moebius, do you want to play with us in our band?' And I said of course I want to play in your band."
With Moebius on drums, they made their debut with a twelve-hour gig in an art gallery, the Galerie Hammer, and subsequently left for Cologne to record with the producer Conny Plank. The trio recorded two albums, Klopfzeichen and Zwei-Osterei, creating a stark, menacing music using conventional guitars and keyboards alongside primitive filters and tape machines.
After Schnitzler left, Cluster recorded the albums Cluster and Cluster II, exercises in open-ended dissonance. Then Moebius and Roedelius moved to the rural village of Forst in Lower Saxony, where they built their own studio. Forming Harmonia with Rother, they recorded the albums Muzik Von Harmonia (which displayed ambient tendencies) and Deluxe, which was more focused and rhythmic, and reflected the "Motorik" style of Neu! This more accessible direction was also pursued on Cluster's 1974 album, Zuckerzeit, while Sowiesoso (1976) felt dreamy and hypnotic. Its sleeve, picturing the musicians in the countryside with a dog, was one of the few not designed by Moebius. Moebius commented of Cluster's work that "in the art scene it fits in because it was quite abstract music. Art people like things they don't understand."
After Cluster's 1981 album, Curiosum, a decade elapsed before Apropos Cluster, their first album released in the US. In between they had worked with Eno and both members pursued solo projects. Moebius had collaborated with Plank on Rastakraut Pasta in 1980 (which also featured Can's Holger Czukay), and their partnership continued on Material (1981) and Zero Set (1983). Plank died in 1987, but some of his work with Moebius appeared posthumously, including En Route (1995) and Ludwig's Law (1998), the latter dating from 1983 and featuring vocal tracks by Mayo Thompson of Red Krayola over the duo's electronic backings. Moebius's solo set Tonspuren (1983) was a prescient harbinger of techno music. In addition he made a pair of solo albums with Gerd Beerbohm, and formed the duo Ersatz with Karl Renziehausen.
In 1995 Cluster released One Hour, and the following year toured in Japan and the US. These dates were preserved on two live albums. Moebius and Roedelius then parted company again, eventually reuniting for some European dates in 2007 and American shows the following year. In 2007 Moebius toured with Rother as Rother & Moebius, and the Harmonia trio reunited for a one-off concert in Berlin that November.
Qua (2009) was Cluster's first studio album in more than a decade, and proved to be their last. Cluster finally split up at the end of 2010, after playing a final show in Minehead, Somerset.
Moebius is survived by his wife, Irene.
Dieter Moebius, artist, composer and musician, born January 16, 1944; died July 20, 2015