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This review is from: Musik Von Harmonia (Audio CD)
Michael Rother was a busy man in the early to mid-'70s: he was making groundbreaking records with Klaus Dinger in NEU! as well as producing Cluster's marvellous Zuckerzeit. In the same year - 1974 - he also joined forces with Cluster to form Harmonia, a veritable Krautrock supergroup. It's possible to argue that neither Cluster nor Harmonia are true Krautrock, and admittedly, their image doesn't really fit with the hairy wild men of Can or Faust (surely the Krautrock archetypes), but to this listener, Krautrock is more of an experimental musical ethos than a definite musical style. And Cluster and Harmonia most definitely share that ethos.
Coming to this album after listening to NEU!'s work is something of a culture shock; it's experimental and minimalist, yes, but it's much more electronic than NEU! The sounds here are closer to the kind of things Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius were doing on their albums as Cluster. What Rother seems to bring to the group is greater spaciness: the sounds seem to breathe more, and the best songs float weightlessly, very much like NEU!'s best early songs - 'Hallogallo' for instance - do.
'Sonnenschein' ('Sunshine') is very much the kind of thing that might have appeared on Cluster's Zuckerzeit, its repetitive drum machine rhythms underpinning keyboard melody lines that are at once almost childlike and ornate. 'Dino' though, is much more like a NEU! song: Rother's familiar guitar sound flutters and echoes prettily back and forth over a driving drum machine rhythm, while Roedelius and Moebius add growling low end synth and squeals of electronic noise. It's a terrifically upbeat and colourful pop song that manages to sound like NEU! without the iciness. This, essentially, is what Harmonia seems to be: a marriage of the kind of electronic experimentation and playfulness that Cluster would perfect on Zuckerzeit and the rhythmic, chilly beauty that Rother and Dinger were creating on NEU!'s first two albums. Admittedly, 'Ohrwurm' ('Ear Worm'), does (ironically) echo the less easy-on-the-ear sounds of 'Rote Riki' from Zuckerzeit or large parts of Cluster II, but 'Ahoi!'s burbling, low key melody is a clear influence on the title track from Brian Eno's Another Green World (indeed, Eno was obviously inspired by Cluster and Harmonia, and would go on to work with both in subsequent years).
Possibly the two best tracks on the album though are 'Watussi' and 'Sehr Kosmisch' ('Very Cosmic'). 'Watussi is another of those songs where there is an effortless, floating quality to the music. It is built on gentle but relentless rhythmic repetition, the music seeming to progress at stately pace as different layers of electronic melody are added, then repeat and develop over it. There are short bursts of distorted electric guitar noise and strange electronic yelps that build to a crescendo towards the song's end, all adding a sense of exoticness to the disciplined rhythmic and harmonic structure. Rather like NEU!'s music, it has an eccentric beauty, while still sharing the warmth of Cluster's. 'Sehr Kosmisch' is more ambient than this: it begins with distant echoes of electronic noise and a throbbing sound like a heartbeat, before different layers of shimmering electronic sound - seeming like the musical equivalent of a heat haze - replace the throbbing heart and seem to hold the song stationary, floating, for some moments, before more urgent, distant rhythms start to appear. The difference now though, is that the movement of the song seems more vertical than horizontal, as though it is heading for the stratosphere, a low, insistent throb sounding like a giant motor driving the song upwards. As this dies away, the song seems to float again as more electronic sounds drift in and out and slight, repeated phrases and melodies continue to make the song feel weightless as it hovers, as if in orbit, before the heartbeat reappears. The effect is both compelling and beautiful, and as the song unfolds over its eleven minute duration, it feels well named: this is somehow cosmic; even celestial.
What makes this a great album is that, not only is there not really a poor track here ('Ohrwurm' isn't great, but it's far from unlistenable), but that it also feels so timeless. This music was recorded over 32 years ago, largely using analogue synthesisers and primitive sequencers, but it feels far more futuristic and visionary than most music produced since. Like NEU!, like Kraftwerk, like Tangerine Dream, music made many years ago using - by today's standards - virtually prehistoric technology sounds fresher than the things made today on the latest equipment. Agreed, there is a noticeable difference in sound quality - this sounds more organic - but the time and effort that went into these records rewards listening far more than the latest mass-produced, ultra-slick electronic records. The fact that this music is so little known seems something of a travesty, because without these pioneers, contemporary music would be much the poorer.