Active since the late ’60s, German avant-garde electronic music luminary Dieter Moebius didn’t get around to recording his proper debut solo record until 1982. It wasn’t out of laziness. Moebius had been steadily building a catalog of classic releases in Cluster, his project with Hans-Joachim Roedelius, as well as in Harmonia, the legendary group that saw Cluster’s core duo joined by Michael Rother of Neu!. After such a productive decade, its natural to wonder just what Moebius was after with this solo outing.
The album opens with the understated “Contramino,” a two-and-a-half minute slice of instrumental synth-pop heaven with a warm and inviting character that serves as an enticement to the increasingly abstract pleasures of the rest of the record. “Hasenheide” and “Rattenwiesel” continue in a similar vein. “Transport,” a relentless percussion loop joined by an ominous melodic progression, indicates a darker direction for the record. It distills the menacing science-fiction-score tendency (“tonspuren” means, roughly, “soundtrack”) of this particular brand of krautrock to its essence in three minutes.
“Etwas” offers some respite from the album’s moodier instincts with a sheen of processed keyboard lines, but the transformation from sunnier pop gestures to darker and more minimal landscapes is completed on the standout track “Nervös.” Here, scattershot bleeps and cascading wind-like howls parade over a relentless percussive dirge.
The record’s second half features longer songs, more minimal and dissonant in texture, as exemplified by “B 36,” on which a rudimentary drum track throbs underneath a tide of distorted synth lines that swell and break to startling effect. The track is an evocative exercise in economic sonic tactics that sounds as fresh as anything offered up by contemporary revivalists like Emeralds and Oneohtrix Point Never. “Furbo” is an even further stripped-down affair, pairing a basic percussion track with a constantly shifting keyboard refrain. “Sinister” is everything its title would imply, while the brief final piece “Immerhin” splits the difference between the poppier opening tracks and the darker tone of the album’s second half to great effect.
As a historical document, in light of the underground’s renewed interest in vintage synthesizer music and rediscovery of Cluster and other Krautrock innovators, Tonspuren is essential. As an engaging collection of left-field pop songs brimming with ideas, it’s extremely successful, although the execution occasionally leaves something to be desired.