Harmonia - Complete Works [VINYL] - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Harmonia - Complete Works [VINYL]

by Rob Taylor Rating:10 Release Date:2015-10-30

A fair degree of ethnocentricity is evident when it comes to the western history of the supergroup. It’s almost impossible to find a reference to Harmonia in lists of successful, or at least popular, supergroups outside of Germany. Of the more interesting entries are [still] obvious candidates such as the Bad Seeds’ Einsturnzende Neubauten / Magazine / Nick Cave franchise, and Jack White’s Raconteurs with Greenhornes / Brendan Benson. Otherwise, it’s the likes of CSNY, or Blind Faith, or Them Crooked Vultures.

Harmonia was a ‘Krautrock’ supergroup, bringing together Dieter Moebius [recently deceased] and Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Cluster, and Michael Rother of NEU! At the time of their tenure between 1973-1976, Harmonia were not widely recognised even in their native Germany. 

Harmonia were undoubtedly the most organic manifestation of what a supergroup could be, each member bringing a distinctive talent and temperament to the group. Rother was well versed in rock guitar and pop music, Moebius was noisier and more experimental, Roedelius more classical and tuneful. 

All of those elements can be heard on the five album vinyl complete works box-set  including the two albums Musik von Harmonia and Deluxe, the collaboration with Eno as Harmonia 76 Tracks and Traces, the live album Live 1974 and the previously unreleased material titled Documents 1975. There is also a 36 page book, a poster, some pop-up artwork and a download code for the digitised versions.

Complete Works is breathtaking in it innovative scope, the breadth of musical ideas flowing off the manuscripts belying any single member having creative control. Although Rother’s trademark NEU! sound is discernible across the groove machinery of Musik von Harmonia, the more unified Deluxe is a panoply of progressive musical styles, plucking musical forms instinctively from across the vestiges of time. Deluxe claims sovereignty over all Harmonia’s work in my view.

Take for instance, the possibly Stockhausen influenced ‘Keksi’, with its musical boxes, or ‘Gollum’ a B-Movie sci-fi nugget with jammy keyboards, marching drums and interloping electronica, a much heavier dose of experimentation than the debut album. ‘Walky Talky’ with its varying guitar shapes that seem like they’re playing in different dimensions, and at different volumes, showcasing the band’s ability not just here, but elsewhere, to build structure and counterpointed melodies, all the while maintaining a groove that imitates the steady pace of human activity. The ‘Frippertronics’, bubbling waters, indiscernible ranting and ultramodern psychedelic abstraction of ‘Monza’ is seven minutes of pure bliss out, and a superb track.

If the ambient portion of ‘Notre Dame’ didn’t inspire Vangelis’s soundtrack to Blade Runner, then I’ll be a monkey’s copyright lawyer. The sheets of reverberant synth bathed with little alien sounds is unmistakable. 

Eno inspired Harmonia in their second guise to explore a more ambient template, but there’s nothing insipid about either Harmonia or Eno’s approach to the genre, for instance sample the exotic gypsy overtones and Wakeman style sci-fi allusions of ‘Trace’.  

Live 1974 draws together all the experiences of the albums proper, although with much fresh material including the brilliant ‘Holta Polta’ with its stabbing four note repetition, and phases of electronic noise wrapped in motorik beats pushing across both left and right channels, and ‘Veteranissimo’ apparently the expanded form of ‘Veterano’ but turned into a extended trance jam. 

Documents 1975 includes some excellent unreleased material, like ‘Live at Onkel Poe in Hamburg’ a glittering prize of improvised piano, a guitar meditation and a monolithic development into space jam. 

Supergroup indeed.

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