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Harmonia - Live (1974)

Michael Rother - guitar, electric percussion, piano & organ
Hans-Joachim-Roedeius - electronic organ & piano
Dieter Moebius - synthesizer & electronic percussion

Harmonia to mało znany zespół z nurtu tzw. krautrocka, który wydał tylko jeden album (ukazał się w 2007 roku). Tworzyli go muzycy z grupy Cluster i Neu!

“Record covers like this one just aren’t fair. Michael Rother, Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius hiply dressed on a platform in an abandoned train station with their backs turned to the audience playing all manner of amazing looking analog electrical equipment: synths, farfisas, banks of tone generators, oscillators, patch bays, stacks of amps, leaning guitars, and cords everywhere, amongst racks of machines with all sorts of knobs and levels. It just makes us soooo jealous. Not only for such beautiful equipment, but also nostalgic for this period of time in Germany in the early seventies when so much thoughtful and incredibly inventive music was being produced. First Amon Duul II, Can and Faust then Kraftwerk, Cluster, and, Neu!, with Harmonia being the perfect synthesis of the latter three bands both in sound and personnel. Especially when you see the back cover and you get a closer look at the band and you can tell the trio just have this alchemical connection with each other and the sounds they make. Each member is focused but self-assuredly calm. Not exactly what you would expect from a band whom Brian Eno once called “the world’s most important rock band”. Not that much of the world had ever heard of them. Nor is it what most folks consider rock music to be.

So this is it! We’ve been reading about this for months, and it’s finally here: a live document of a now legendary show on March 23rd, 1974 at Penny Station in Griessem, Germany. Not that it really matters that this is live, as their is no applause or chatter to clue you in, just bits of mumbled talking as the songs wind down at the very end. Harmonia members attribute this to there being only 50 or so people in the audience most of which were either too stoned to clap or too unsure at what points the songs begin and end. Doesn’t seem to matter to the band anyway as we’ve already seen their backs were to the audience the entire time. But for a live document the sound quality is impeccable and what’s even better all of the tracks performed weren’t on any of their recordings, giving us, thirty-three years later, 5 new vintage Harmonia tracks to pore over. Most of which are over 9 minutes long.

Recorded between Harmonia’s woozy debut, Musik Von Harmonia, and its more rock-leaning follow-up, Deluxe, Live 1974 is the logical conglomeration of both sounds, sort of like the merging of Terry Riley-ish repetitions with Robert Fripp’s or Heldon’s spacey and searing guitar extrapolations. But unlike conventional rock bands, Harmonia’s music doesn’t climax or necessarily change all that much, making their deceptively simple musical structures more akin to trance, electronica and slow disco. Beginning with the slow burn of “Schaumberg”, an 11 minute epic of Rother’s sinewy guitar lines that build and loop over gentle pulses of Moebius’s programmed percussion and Roedelius’ repetitive tonal keyboard patterns merging into a more sped-up and hypnotic version with bass rhythms on “Veteranissimo”, an extended 17 minute meditation on “Veterano” from Musik Von Harmonia that breaks down to quiet heartbeats before slowly building again. “Arabesque”, the shortest track at five minutes, does away with the percussive elements altogether, instead focussing on overlapping patterns of melodic synth and guitar before slamming into the loping quarter-hour stoner lurch of “Holta-Polta”, then finally culminating in the blissful pastoralism of “Ueber Ottenstein”.

It’s been a stellar year or two for krautrock reissues as most of the Klaus Schulze, Cluster, Harmonia, Popol Vuh and Michael Rother catalogs have been reissued, re-introducing to the world the proto-new age realms of seventies German kosmiche music at a time when we can easily see its influence weaving through so many new bands like Arp, The Alps, White Rainbow, Lichens and Sylvain Chaveau. Always timeless, and never dated, Harmonia, like most of their German contemporaries mentioned above, were the most important rock band in the world simply because they cared about what they did, kept it simple, never indulged, and always left us wanting more.”

As far as krautrock super-groups go, it's hard to beat Harmonia's composition, a trio formed by members of Kraftwerk, Neu! and Cluster. With two albums released between 1973 and 1976, though, their legacy has been somewhat sparse. This live recording, from a show in Griessem in March of 1974, is thus a rather special thing.

The sound quality is actually rather stunning, with a perfect balance between the band’s chugging electronic percussion, hypnotic guitar, and droning keyboards. The photo on the back cover illustrates perfectly what to expect, with Michael Rother, guitar in hand, standing between Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius, both positioned behind racks of analog gear that would go for thousands of dollars on eBay today.

Starting from the motorik pulse of "Schaumberg," it's all good trance-inducing stuff, as the trio takes its time proving that it's all about the journey. The 17-minute "Veteranissimo" proves the point conclusively, as it shuffles along on a synthetic snare-kick rhythm. Hypnotic synth notes snake about, while spacey tones come and go. At times the song becomes extremely minimal, with the nearly-unchanging rhythm taking the forefront, and to be sure, the repetitive nature of the piece may be a bit much for some. But if you let it carry you along, you'll feel the drift – it's just a very slow evolution.

The brief "Arabesque" is a cheerfully brief, almost bouncey tune, which gives way to the slightly sinister industrial throb of "Holta-Polta," whose 15 minutes might be the highlight here. Its mechanical pounding and dense electronics feels like a direct precursor to the early proto-electro-dub of Cabaret Voltaire. It's a terrific chunk of futuristic dubbiness. The album finishes with 10 minutes of chittering percussion and the long, drawn-out notes of Rother's unmistakable guitar.

There's no question that Live 1974 is not only a noteworthy addition to Harmonia's slim discography, but also a pretty essential addition to the overall canon of ’70s German rock. It's rare to find live albums that are just as worthy as a band's best studio work, but this is one of them. The fact that it's from such a seminal band, over 30 years since the performance, is icing on the cake. A welcome, wonderful release not to be missed --- Mason Jones (dustedmagazine.com)

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