The most recent permutation of a musical group existing in various forms since 1969, Qluster couples the reverential Kosmiche musik figure of Hans-Joachim Roedelius with audio engineer and musician Onnen Bock. On Fragen the duo engage in a series of expansive synthesiser explorations notable for both sharing the current trend for analogue fetishism (every piece of hardware is carefully noted in the packaging) whilst focusing primarily on improvisation.
Fragen is a testament to Roedelius and Bock’s conviction in the power and continued relevance of the unadorned synthesiser, eschewing harsh drones and dissonance for a purity and melodic immediacy, wherein even the most overtly improvisatory of the pieces retains a clear melodic centre. This extreme restraint initially sounds cold and academic in its precise arrangement of harmony and space, yet the striking clarity of tone possessed by the synthesised drones and sonic detritus provides a clear, unhindered resonance that ultimately renders the most abstract sections engaging. Arpeggios and phrases resound clearly, crystalline against a background of muffled bass and elongated silences. Although mostly arhythmic and lacking in traditional percussion, the syncopated and often stunningly bizarre playing, alongside the careful application of repetition, distinguishes the compositions from mere ambient meanderings.
Atypical and initially impenetrable, “Wurzelwelt” is undoubtedly the centre-point of the album. Doubling the length of any of the other succinct compositions, its staccato pulses, non-repetitive structure, watery atmospherics and occasional Goblin-esque theatrics lack the physicality of the other pieces; its beguiling internal logic making it the most distinctly improvised. Its aberrant bass rumbles and irregular, pitch shifting tones seem hesitant to commit to a singular mood or progression, dispelling any reservations concerning Cluster’s overbearing lineage.
Although Roedelius almost certainly plays lead synthesizer with Bock controlling angular texture, the accompanying information assigns no roles to the two improvisers, obscuring the process and frustrating attempts to unravel manifestations of the various hardware. The aggressive tone clusters closing “Funf Nach Eins”, the warm sustained chords and on-off pulses replacing them in “Haste Tone”, the modulating textures and dank, mechanistic approach of “Los geht’s”, are all anonymous and peculiar moments of collaboration; glimpses beneath the careful, regimented facade.
In these bizarrely compelling passages the pair resist locking into a conventional groove. In fact the sounds appear as oppositional elements, jostling for space; the musicians not improvising to a shared aim, but propelled by dissent and frustration, disrupting the linear progression of the piece. These moments of sublime collaboration feel as if the improvisers are pulling apart, separated by centrifugal forces, only to realign just as swiftly for moments of traditional composition; the single piano chords emerging in “Funf Nach Eins”, seemingly alien amidst their synthesised surroundings or the euphonic undulations of “Auf der Alm”.
Yet alongside these passages of revelatory improvisation the record sporadically has recourse to overused New Age tropes; broad evocations of pastoral utopia and futurist pretensions that, compared with the most compelling and subtle interrelations feel inert, as if resistant to the truly unexpected and joyous passages.
Although frustrating, these sections inevitably find themselves overwhelmed by the numerous breathtaking and idiosyncratic moments generated by the tension between the improvised and more conventionally composed. What seems at first a dry and formal series of interactions at the periphery of analogue synthesis, reveals itself as a charming, singular and marvellously perplexing reconfiguration of the abstract synthesiser worship Roedelius has established his reputation upon.