Releasing only two albums in the mid-1970's before disbanding, the revered German trio Harmonia was a Krautrock supergroup of sorts. It brought together Michael Rother of alt rock icons Neu! with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius of the brilliant avant-garde pop-rock outfit Cluster.

artist:
Harmonia

country of origin:
Germany

style(s):
Krautrock, art rock, ambient rock, minimalism

decades active:
70's

essential releases:

  • Musik Von Harmonia (1974, Brain/Universal)
  • Deluxe (1975, Brain/Universal)

Reviewed by Mike G

Releasing only two albums in the mid-1970's before disbanding, the revered German trio Harmonia was a Krautrock supergroup of sorts. It brought together Michael Rother of soon-to-be alt rock icons Neu with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius of the brilliant avant-garde pop-rock outfit Cluster.

The debut album Musik von Harmonia (1974) was made at a time when Cluster was transitioning from freeform noise and spacerock experiments towards a more accessible and structured sound that would reach its 70's peak on their 1976 album Sowiesoso. Rother, meanwhile, was coming off the back of a frustrating experience making the infamous second Neu! album, which was never properly finished due to problems between the band and its record company. Upon joining his friends Moebius and Roedelius in their new studio in the German countryside, the three began making music together.

Music von Harmonia is a beautiful Krautrock artifact, an innovative blend of soothing ambience, minimalistic rock and experimental weirdness starring muted drums, fuzzy bass, electric guitar, piano, organ and colourful analogue synths. Energetic tracks like "Watsusi" and "Veterano" show a talent for ritualistic repetition and cycling patterns that's deeply hypnotic but quite different to the sequencer-driven pulsing of the astral Berlin-school ambient of the period. You can hear the rock and roll DNA in there here - thanks probably to Rother - conjuring something akin to Phillip Glass for pot smokers and trippers. The gently surreal pastoral moments "Hasemusik" and "Ahoi!" have a rare and fragile beauty, the latter blending harmonium, piano and seagulling guitar in a way that's strikingly similar to ambient pioneer Brian Eno's early instrumentals. No surprise, then, that Eno himself quickly became a Harmonia fan and future collaborator, nearly losing his mind upon hearing the first album and telling at least one music journalist that Harmonia was "the world's most important band". The longest piece on Musik von Harmonia is the 10-minute "Sehr Kosmisch", a haunting piece of drone-based psychedelic spacemusic with organ, synths, odd scraping sounds and muted percussion, bookended with a slow heartbeat and floating off gloriously in between.

The second album Deluxe (1975) has more song-like structures and melodies than its predecessor; think Kraftwerk circa 1974 just before that band's music morphed into crisp and precise electropop. Indeed the opener "De Luxe (Immer Weider)" is an actual song with group vocals in the chorus. There's some quasi-rock jams, too, such as "Walky-Talky" but only once on the album do the drums and bass spill over into a full 4/4 groove. The rest of the album's intriguing restraint, the blunted edge to the sound, stands Harmonia apart from those of its Krautrock contemporaries like Can and Ash Ra Tempel who were also playing in a rock style; and the pretty, pastoral melodies and gentle surrealism certainly contrast with the starker sounds often coming out of Cologne and Düsseldorf in the 70's. Harmonia's music existed in a marvelous space of its own.

And then it was over, almost as soon as it had begun. Rother departed and around this time his band Neu also dissolved, but he went on to forge a distinguished solo career with progressive, electric guitar-based albums. Roedelius and Moebius also continued recording and performing both together and solo for many decades more.

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