Harmonia - Live 1974 (CD Groenland)

Harmonia had a brief existence both in time and output.  The sessions for Neu! 2 being rushed by a lack of finance for recording led Michael Rother to explore pastures new and in 1973 he teamed up with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius of proto-ambient band Cluster and together they formed (what has been described as a Krautrock supergroup called) Harmonia.

Two albums came out of this partnership. “Musick von Harmonia” in 1973 and “Deluxe” in 1975.  Somewhere in between the two albums Harmonia performed live at the Penny Station Club a former railway station in Griessem in Germany.

What you get on this newly released album is 5 tracks none of which appear on the two albums (or the collaboration album with Eno that finally got released in 1997 20 years after it was recorded). All have the feel of improvisation about them and are deceptively hypnotic, the synth lines and basic electronic beats slowly dragging you along as they develop, swell and fall as guitar lines drift in and out.  It’s not a million miles away fromthe minimalist worlds of La Monte Young or Terry Riley.

The audience is notably silent. Maybe they were too entranced to clap or maybe the means by which this was recorded has managed to record the music on it’s own.  The cover doesn’t give much away. No information except the date it was recorded (23rd March 1974 and the track titles). It’s interesting to listen a track like Arabesque and see how much of an influence a band like Harmonia were on Eno at the time. The guitar sounds on the same track also bring to mind Steve Hillage. (Whether the paths of Harmonia, Neu! And Gong ever crossed I don’t know, might have made an interesting meeting).

The album flows incredibly well. Instrument wise you have synth, electronic percussion, electronic organ, piano and guitar. Starting with the mellow and understated Schaumburg and then drifting effortlessly into the slightly more energetic Veteranissimo (the longest piece at 17 minutes). Arabesque follows with it’s Eno and Hillage sounds. The album reaches it’s crescendo with Holta-Polta a far noisier affair with rhythm sounds that wouldn’t be out of place on a Throbbing Gristle album and some unsettling synth dissonances and ethereal noises floating in and out of the mix. The album then brings you gently back down to earth with the mellower trance like Ueber Ottenstein.

While this has only been my first purchase of 2008 I think it’s going to be hard pushed not to be one of the top albums of 2008. These tracks are over 30 years old but still manage to sound innovative and fresh even though the recording quality is not the crystal clear sharp digital sounds we’ve all become used to these days.  A truly stunning album and I’d love to see more live Harmonia albums get released over the next few years. DB

Contact:  www.groenland.com