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"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Mojo OCTOBER 2015 - by Mike Barnes
Krautrock's beating heart, Dieter Moebius died in July. Mike Barnes pays tribute.
"Joachim [Roedelius] is the guy who makes the little melodies and I am the guy who makes more the rhythm and sound things," was how Dieter Moebius summed up his role in Cluster. Moebius grew up in a musical family, but like many of his peers, when the cultural upheaval that spawned Krautrock arrived in the late '60s, he was more concerned with spontaneity and reinvention than formal training. In 1969 he formed Kluster together with Roedelius and Conrad Schnitzler, who he had met at the Zodiak Arts Lab in then-West Berlin. He initially played drums before turning to electronics as Schnitzler left and the group were renamed Cluster.
Their debut, Cluster 71, was a noisy and convulsive affair, but the music soon became more subtle and atmospheric, full of small and exquisite detail. It was what Wolfgang Seidel, drummer with Ton Steine Scherben, viewed as emblematic of their search for "a sonic Utopia, a way out of their surroundings".
In 1973, Moebius and Roedelius formed Harmonia with Neu! guitarist Michael Rother and the group initially lasted until 1976, with Eno again collaborating. From the early days Rother recalls Moebius's processed rhythm-machine and "boxes emitting signals". He also notes that he was an exceptional cook.
"He wanted to be spontaneous and he hated hard work. That's something we had little fights about in Harmonia," Rother told Mojo. "I used to think, He's so lazy, but he was so talented he got away with it."
By way of example, Rother remembers a rehearsal for a tour with Moebius in 2007, shortly before a full Harmonia reunion that year: "We took his gear into my studio and plugged in and after five minutes he said, 'OK, I go into the kitchen now and start cooking'.
"He would make strange sounds that you could not predict when you were playing live," Rother continues.
"Sometimes they were terrible, but most of them were brilliant, so in this way we had a different approach. There were some struggles, but we laughed a lot."
As well as his work with Cluster and Harmonia, Moebius made a number of solo albums and produced some outstanding work with producer Conny Plank as Moebius & Plank, and with fellow German electronica artists Asmus Tietchens and Gerd Beerbohm. Doppelschnitt by Moebius & Beerbohm (1984) is a remarkable album full of phased, distressed drum-machine and simmering electronics that is both kosmische in its outlook and remarkably prescient of 1990s German techno.
Cluster's long career ended with 2009's Qua, on which the duo's mix of "little melodies" and "rhythm and sound" was as colourful, fresh and playful as ever.
"People liked Dieter a lot and he had the ability of focusing on joy," assesses Rother. "He was one of the most important inspirations for me and we will remember him as a very special person who enriched our lives."