Harmonia and Eno ’76
Tracks and Traces
When most people clean out their cupboards, they just end up finding old magazines and out-of style clothes, but if you’re Harmonia’s Michael Rother (also one-half of legendary Krautrock duo NEU!), you just might find a cassette tape of a one-off summit between Harmonia and ambient mad scientist Brian Eno, circa 1976. The story goes like this: Harmonia, the trio of Rother alongside Hans Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius of Cluster, had made quite a name for themselves in underground circles with the albums Harmonia and Deluxe, which brought them into the sights of the ever-inquisitive Eno. Brian even joined them onstage in Hamburg in 1974. Eager promises were made for further collaborations; however, Eno being Eno, he didn’t end up getting in touch with the band until two years later, at which point Harmonia had already dissolved, though they duly reunited for this one-off supersession.
When a name like Eno is tacked onto an album, it’s all too easy to assume that he took the lead and everyone else followed along, taking prompts from the Oblique Strategies and keeping their heads down, when in fact, a careful listen to Tracks and Traces reveals that Eno may have learned more from Harmonia than vice versa. The spooky, airy ambience of Harmonia’s synths and the head-nodding, vocal-less grooves echo sounds later found on side two of Low and the early Ambient albums, and alien dance party tracks like “Vamos Companeros” had to have an effect on Another Green World curiosities like “Sky Saw.”
How can music from four renowned tech-obsessives like these come out sounding so fucking organic? Angular plastic aliens in multicolored dresses no doubt dance and shimmy to these weird miniatures. Songs are much briefer than you would expect, save for a couple of mammoth ten-minute-plus tracks in the middle, and though often tending toward the minimal, are in no way “ambient.” This music has definite spikes and shapes and grooves and, yes, the occasional vocal. The songs were largely improvised, with someone starting off with a keyboard part or a synth wash and everyone else joining in, one by one, watching for visual cues, or listening for the right moment to gently enter, like stoned jazzmen floating in space. The only brief was to keep the tape rolling. Thirty years later, we’ve not even caught up to the originality of their outtakes!
Gronland Records: www.groenland.com