In 1969, Dieter Moebius played a 12-hour gig at an art space above a Berlin shopping mall. Behind the drumkit of newly formed improvisational trio Kluster, he had the markings of an artist most at home when embracing the unknown. As a member of two game-changing krautrock acts in the 1970s—Kluster, later Cluster, and Harmonia, a group that Brian Eno once dubbed “the world’s most important rock group”—the Swiss-German first threw caution to the wind, then made it an art form. Six years on from his passing, his close friend and collaborator Tim Story curates a release that sees the vast potential in loose ends.
Alongside Conrad Schnitzler and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Moebius—or “Moebi”—set the pace for a radical career by recording the first two Kluster albums with visionary krautrock producer Conny Plank in a single night. “The concept,” said Moebi in 2012, “was to not have a concept.” It may sound tame nowadays, but back in 1969, it was a bold plan of action. Schnitzler up and left in 1971, Kluster became Cluster, and Moebi and Roedelius honed their idea of non-conceptual music via the droning industrial hum of Cluster and Cluster II. On Moebius Strips, Story rekindles that adventurous spirit—which Moebi nurtured on many solo and collaborative releases—across 15 tracks assembled from a trove of loops and samples that he left behind.
That each piece—or “strip” or “segment”—feels like wandering into various rooms at a dimly lit art space is no fluke: Originally created as an immersive multi-channel audio installation, Moebius Strips has an almost tactile quality, a kind of three-dimensional sonic sculpture. In this drift space, which is filled out with arcs and interactions between Moebi and others, the urge to reach out feels natural. With synth stabs and squalling soprano sax, “Elbow 9b” evokes a loft of creaking doors and trapped ghosts. Melding piano plinks with disembodied chimes, “Riff 2G” sits well with “Roomtone Elbow” and its Doppler-effected frequencies and unknown spinning sounds.
A love of collaboration steered much of Moebi’s most luminous work (beyond Cluster and Harmonia, alongside Roedelius and Neu! founder Michael Rother, After the Heat, with Eno and Roedelius, is a high water mark). Here, Story renews that tradition by curating not just a document of Moebi’s diffuse influence, but a cross-generational collaboration that flips time and space. As well as making his own contributions, he invites an illustrious group of musicians to leave their own mark on the strips. “Segment A,” by Geoff Barrow (Portishead, Beak>), is a masterfully mangled effort bridging the tumbling rhythms of Can’s Jaki Liebezeit with the scorched drum sound of Portishead’s “Machine Gun.” Another peak, “Strip 11” finds Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh wrangling a mesh of agitated beats and fizzling kosmische that would fit snugly as a breather on Pitch Control, Moebi and Plank’s 1983 album with Guru Guru’s Mani Neumeier.
As a work created in no one place in particular, Moebius Strips brings inner spaces outwards. Like a light bouncing off a fog-covered lake at night, Sarah Davachi’s “Segment U,” with its dancing melody amid an organ swarm, evokes the gorgeous zero gravity of Cluster’s Sowiesoso. No less gossamer, “Segment X” by Japanese avant-garde vocalist Hiromi Moritani, aka Phew, channels the fraught but muted signals of an escape pod roving into infinite space. It weighs heavy here, but Moebi’s presence is more keenly felt in the hands of kindred spirits. While the modular back-and-forth on Roedelius’ “Strip 2” hits like a brief interaction between two old friends, Rother’s “Strip 30” takes the sentiment to its natural conclusion. Like a long-lost Neu! edit, slowed down to a near standstill of backwashed synth and glacial slithers of guitar, it speaks to an eternal connection in under five minutes.
The haphazard numbering of Moebius Strips’ tracks suggests the existence of many more snippets that didn’t make the final cut. This refusal to be precious or exhaustive feels like an extension of Moebius’ own philosophy. Besides, the bigger picture tells a more interesting story. By smudging what constitutes beginnings and endings, along with preconceptions about authorship, Moebius Strips is—just like Moebi was—many things at once. It feels here and there, past and present, his and theirs. Ours, too. With a confidante like Story at the helm, it honors the legacy of a friend and pioneer whose enviable status as the godfather of electronic krautrock is beginning to feel like a case of underselling.
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