Cluster (music)

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In music, the word cluster ("group", "heap", "tuft", "grape") stands for a sound structure whose tones are close together. Several adjacent keys are struck simultaneously on keyboard instruments , with five fingers, the fist, the palm or the forearm; These clusters of notes consist, for example, of pentatonic (e.g. black keys only), diatonic (e.g. white keys only) or chromatic material (black and white keys). When orchestral instruments work together, narrower intervals are also possible, e.g. B. Quarter tones or other micro- intervals ; the same applies to vocal ensembles and choirs . With the means of electronic music , the frequency spacing between the individual tones can be further reduced, right up to white or colored noise .

According to the composer Henry Cowell , who first prescribed clusters in his piano piece The Tides of Manaunaun (1912), these are to be treated as “units”, that is, he saw clusters as sound events similar to individual notes, rather than as chords .


The name "cluster" is explained by the fact that the traditional notation is similar to a grapevine :

Cluster of the tones c′d′e′f′g ′

The most common more modern form of notation looks like this:

Cluster1.PNG - the specified clusters as MIDI for listening

The black bars indicate the exact range of the cluster. The natural characters and accidentals describe whether white, black or all keys should be used on the piano.


Although the term “cluster” is much more recent, clusters of clay were used early on, for example as a rhetorical figure in baroque music (e.g. to represent chaos or earthquakes in three dimensions). At the beginning of the late romantic orchestral work An Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss (1864–1949), a quiet cluster indicates the subdued atmosphere at daybreak. In new music , clusters gained structural importance. Composers such as Béla Bartók (1881–1945) and above all Henry Cowell (1897–1965) did pioneering work. In the 1960s, numerous avant-gardists experimented with so-called sound surfaces ; György Ligeti was particularly influential with his orchestral piece Atmosphères (1961) - his choral piece Lux aeterna (1966) and his orchestral piece Lontano (1967) should also be mentioned. Clusters also played a characteristic role in electronic (pop) music , for example in the second half of the title Elektro Kardiogramm by the band Kraftwerk . The jazz pianist Cecil Taylor gained his importance not least with his varied, rousing cluster play.

Individual evidence

  1. Cluster . In: Stanley Sadie (Ed.): The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians . Macmillan Publishers, London 1980, Lemma “Cluster”.
  2. Cluster . In: Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht (Ed.): Riemann Musiklexikon. Material part . Schott, Mainz 1967.