Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Moebius & Plank—
Material


Released 1981 on Sky
The Seth Man, January 2005ce
Released a year after their bizarre “Rastakrautpasta” collaboration, “Material” was the second album from the duo comprised of half of Cluster in the form of Dieter Moebius and the brilliantly accomplished West German producer, Conny Plank. Like their previous effort, “Material” was diverse and eccentrically built around various approaches and styles that collected together into five extended and synthetically-treated instrumentals. Joined by Plank and without the pastoral influences of the absent Cluster twin, Roedelius to offset Moebius’ eccentricities here, his tight and weird rhythmic repetitions were open for full fledged development into five extended instrumentals that bore no resemblance even to the previous Moebius & Plank outing and it could be added that with scant exception, like very little else that preceded it.

The album opens with the nearly nine minute long NEU!-driven “Conditionierer,” although here in purely manual shift mode and NEU! always strike me as being exclusively stick shift in nature. At its onset “Conditionierer” appears to be the album’s sole weak moment with distinctly and cringingly transparent new wave moves ala “Turning Japanese” albeit with the very same spindly and dry guitar tones that graced “Missi Cacadou” on their previous LP. But the longer it drives forwards, the more it mutates into a light-hearted and layered movement that far surpasses its initial riff as instruments keep layering upon that most barebones of beat as Hawaiian slide guitar, shakers, and squawking saxophones appear and pass the Teutonic duo’s drunken roadtrip to Hawaii. Nobody’s told them about that slight stretch of water they’ll have to negotiate. Like they care, for they’re soon both sleeping it off in a roadside rest area underneath a pine tree where after a makeshift game of conkers with pine cones, they’re soon laughing in their sleep and dreaming their way there as they pass under endless rows of palm trees in Conny’s fully equipped Volkswagen microbus, sinking another round of coconut cocktails and toasting each others health every ten minutes. When “Rastakrautpasta” was issued as a twofer on CD with “Material” tacked on the end, I always caught myself remote-controlling over this track, but in its true context as the opening cut on “Material” it’s far more successful a placement.

“Infiltration” is weightlessly weird and giddily half asleep/half-zonked while walking a crooked, drunken flight of fancy during a gravity-free zone game of ping-pong. Weaved together with snatches of vocals and hoisted upwards with variable bass notes, it is thick with near-random clusters of sound as live bass guitar, scant electronic motifs, edited taped voices and even shards of Middle Eastern/hurdy-gurdy tones wheeze away but still the rhythmic form remains. Even as more sound fragments emerge only to be gently swept off into distant corners, new ones return to intriguingly dot the soundscape with suggestive connotations and emotional colourations.

Side two switches gears into the terrain of manifold-beats-per-minute with “Tollkühn.” A synthesizer-dominated piece whose constant, rapid-fire sequencings are interrupted only by the occasional filtered and hollowed crashing of electric cymbals as two high speed synthesizer lines orbit at breathtaking velocity to construct a white water rapids of racing electronics operating at the lowest possible centre of gravity. And the already trance-inducing paces of the synthesizers are tweaked even more so with a series of vertiginous pitch-shifting and phasing effects applied to the signal’s progression that tilt and scale it wildly beyond the gamut of its original form and into rollercoastering sensations. Both this (and “Pitch Control” off Moebius/Plank/Neumeier’s 1984 “Zero Set” album) would plot the course for Harthouse-styled techno as much as the glossy, metallic sheen of Kraftwerk’s “Computer World” -- Which is way beyond the curve as both “Computer World” and “Material” were both bestowed upon the world in the year 1981. Amazingly, “Tollkühn” was just one track by Moebius & Plank while for others it became the root textbook study for an entire subgenre. If I was Maurice, I’d say “This is acid” but since I’m not I can’t, dammit.

The quiet menace of “Osmo-Fantor” slowly nudges itself across the plain and towards the horizon with small but steadfast steps of the rhythm box’s “Fat Lady Of Limbourg”/tortoise-like paces, slowly generating underneath the reoccurrence of jagged guitar repetitions. Consequently, it is joined by many other shifting sounds that come and go, increase and dissipate but always contribute and feed directly into the otherwise stripped down rhythm.

The seven-minute “Nordöstliches Gefühl” (“Northeast Feeling”) gradually shifts with chilling permafrost qualities as though the soundtrack for water dripping slowly but surely from icicles in the path of direct sunlight on a freezing cold day. The rhythm box slowly but steadily sizzles and ticks out an unchanging metronome dipped in treacle rhythm for shifting layers and colourations to alight and quietly position upon. Spartan bass notes clutch together as wave after wave of undulating synthesizer overlays come and go like passing clouds over a bare, windswept horizon. Had Ian Curtis survived and Joy Division continued in ever-dominating electronic forays, it probably would have sounded a lot like this for “Nordöstliches Gefühl” is very contemplative as it edges patiently along at the achingly remorseful pace of three-steps-forward/one-back. So layered is this track (as well as the rest of the album and arguably, most of the records Plank had a hand in creating) that its secondary melodies rise and fall almost unnoticeably along with the rhythm, for everything here is applied so subtly it passes by nearly unseen or rather, unheard. It was only recently I was able to pay attention to the rhythm box’s eccentric, gradually-changing programming and that is at the heart of this album’s success: the details and the detailing applied to them are assembled not only by the hands, but by the brains and hearts of truly accomplished sonic architects and with all the delicate shadings and controlled gradations of master musicians.