This live release from Cluster captures performances from around the United States, including New York, Portland, Chicago and Phoenix. The pieces are each named after the location where they were performed. The music is a collection of mellow, drone-based ambient work.
Cluster isn’t well known, but their music is important and has been influential over the years. Cluster was formed in the late sixties as “Kluster”. The core of the band, Dieter Moebius and Hans Joechim Roedelius, has been been with the group since that time. Their music tends towards a restrained industrial or dark ambient sound. They collaborated with Eno in the late seventies, and it’s easy to hear elements of their ambient electronic style in Eno’s On Land.
The music on First Encounter Tour 1996 is a set of live performances. Many of the pieces are long. The longest, Portland Oregon #1 is 29 minutes long. The music is completely free of melodies, but still feels like it has a tonal center.
Cluster uses drones heavily, and layers a broad variety of sounds over the drones. Some of the sounds are recognizable as sampled instruments or voices, but most are abstract electronic ones. When a clear sampled instrument does come through, it sounds displaced. On Phoenix Arizona #2, a snatch of mellow saxophone playing appears for a few seconds, and sounds almost like something heard while switching channels on the radio.
The music won’t surprise listeners that have heard previous Cluster releases. On First Encounter, Cluster sounds like the same band that recorded their influential music of the seventies, but more mature and polished.
Cluster gives listeners a generous serving of music with this live collection. First Encounter Tour 1996 is a two CD set, and each of the CDs are over seventy minutes long. Fans of dark ambient music, like Eno’s On Land or Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol 2, will find this music absorbing and inspiring.