Echtzeit is neither commercial nor uncompromising. It's its own thing, a true work of art that defies its own paradoxical nature.
With Hans-Joachim Roedelius being the main driving force behind Qluster, formerly Kluster and Cluster, you would think that this recently developed trio would serve as a playground for any strange electronic whim that floated his way. It certainly was that way for a time, but last year's entirely acoustic Tasten certainly shot holes in that notion.
Roedelius loves pianos so much he decided to use Qluster as a vehicle for an all-piano album, but Echtzeit, billed as a return to electronics for Roedelius and company, is yet another curveball. True, Echtzeit is an electronic-based album, but the abstract weirdness has taken a holiday. Roedelius, Onnen Bock, and Armin Metz may be improvisationally inclined when it comes to composing music, but this is an album that leans heavily on the new age and ambient side of electronic music. If you're well versed in 71 and little else in the Kluster / Cluster / Qluster catalog, Echtzeit may come as a soft shock to your system. You could take it to yoga class and no one would suspect it to be the work of a guy from Harmonia.
Indeed, Echtzeit is so quiet and subdued that you may forget that it's playing at all. Opener "Stein auf Stein"certainly takes its sweet time fading in from the silence, so much so that I found myself thinking "I thought I hit 'PLAY' already... why is it not playing yet?" As one track floats into another, the music doesn't so much arrive as drift into the room like a faint aroma. It isn't until "Verweile doch" that Qluster make an overt attempt for your attention, using a subtle rebound effect on an analog synth figure that harkens back to the time when Tangerine Dream was as popular with college students as rock 'n' roll.
Roedelius continues his piano fixation through these ten tracks, though it in no way becomes a dominant instrument. It's doubtful that anyone will walk away from Echtzeit and classify it as piano album. The piano ostinato that molds "Beste Freunde" indelibly makes its mark through minimalist qualities and not necessarily the fact that it's driven by an acoustic instrument. The sounds that surround the piano are equality as soft, sometimes more so.
This becomes apparent as Echtzeit pushes through to its second half. The music manages to become even more sparse than before, which is no small achievement for a group that manages to make ambient music sound just weird enough for the devoted. "Weg am Hang" and "Indeinen Händen" are falling action fully realized, peeling the listener from the music in slow motion, laying them down to rest in a field of light.
Heavy-handed, no? But that's Echtzeit. No matter how much Krautrock you've been exposed to over the decades, Qluster can still use familiar terrain to create quite an impact. You don't have to rip up the playbook over and over again in order to conjure something that really hits the mark.