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HARMONIA
Musik von Harmonia (Lilith Ltd/Brain)

Reviewed by Sherman Wick



Categories provide simplification and generalization-especially in the music world. Music critics coin countless genres and sub-genres to link music and create connections between artists that actually only tenuously or entirely do not exist. For some groups-in particular, overtly commercial acts-the genres of pop, hip hop, punk, emo-punk, electronica et cetera are, unfortunately, far too appropriate and happily conformed to in order to continue to appeal to their record purchasing demographic. Admittedly, it is possible to excel within a genre-and categories act as a way of simplifying and understanding music. But for groups with exceptional artistic visions, the straightjacket of classification is too claustrophobic of a generalization-since they are not easily pigeonholed and willing to work in tight musical confines.

Harmonia exemplified a group that defied genre. Musik von Harmonia (1974) was the first collaborative effort between Cluster's Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius and Neu!'s Michael Rother: a German supergroup, and genuine rarity, a colossal artistic success. The three members were skilled keyboard players, guitarists, electronic percussionists and composers. This was a group musically and conceptually miles ahead of its time. They have historically been lumped into the krautrock/kosmische musik genre (which is one of the most talented and forward-looking genres ever named). Among the seminal, disparate acts thrown in this category are: Popol Vuh, Can, Faust, Neu!, Kraftwerk, Amon Düül II, Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream. These groups share only a few common qualities: they are German speaking and creatively combine eclectic music forms of the past and present, especially early electronic, minimalist and avant-garde music. In interviews, the musicians deny a movement ever existed - and that they were scattered maverick groups attempting to overhaul or destroy the contemporary rock context. And they did it extremely well: listeners are gradually, with the passage of time, catching on to their precocity and influence. Harmonia was distinct in its structured approach to nascent electronic ambiance.

Harmonia's debut is a record that sounds fresh today, over thirty years since it was originally released. The music is similar to other works by the proto-electonic duo Cluster, but with the extra oomph of Rother's electric guitar and composition skills. Eight varied instrumental tracks that, even today, challenge the modern definition of genre fill the record. The record opens with "Watusi"-the song is remarkably similar to heavily looped contemporary electronic music; however, there is one huge difference-this minimal, five-note keyboard based track is infinitely more structured and skillfully crafted. Then the group demonstrates its sense of humor on the hilariously titled "Sehr Kosmisch," or very cosmic - where the group haphazardly attempts to create music that nicely fits the confines of critics Kosmische rock category. The tune sounds as if it's from outer space-layers of organ and synthesizer parts are played against floating electronic feedback and drums. The track is epic-at over ten minutes-dovetailing with stereotypical krautrock-but until more than half -way through, lacks the genre's driving beat. The electronic subgenre, ambience, is also present on the record. Both "Sonnenschein," "Dino," Veterano," and the piano driven "Hausmusik" explore this textural territory. Although "Sonnenschein" (sunshine in German) is a 4/4 rocker that shares a close affinity with Neu! as is "Dino" which is even more similar accompanied by Rother's fast ringing guitar sound. "Ohr Wurm" is something entirely different-a drifting miasma of various layers of textured feedback, distortion and loops. Until a simple keyboard line enters, it is impossible to differentiate the source of the various sounds-this is Wolf Eyes, half of the band's on Load Records and the entire genre of noise music thirty years before its time. And if that's not enough genre jumping, then there is "Ahoi," which critics would later categorize as slowcore -- until, the song's conclusion where the guitar and keyboards crescendo for the finale.

Harmonia was a brief collaboration between three extremely gifted and important musicians. On two records in the mid-'70s they predicted and mapped countless creative directions for the future of music. The group's music demonstrated genres for the innovative musician as a confining ghetto. Unfortunately, as time has went on musicians and, in particular fans, have been all-too-happy to remain in safe space and not open themselves to the vast possibilities experimental music offers. Musik von Harmonia is a groundbreaking record created by three musical visionaries who went on to record De Luxe in 1975. The two members of Cluster later collaborated with the über-influential Brian Eno in 1976 on Cluster& Eno and, undoubtedly, influenced his approach to making music and recording. Since Eno believed during the mid '70s Harmonia was "the world's most important rock band." Unfortunately, this record has not been recognized for its precocity and indirect influence on the course that music has taken because it was released. Aficionados of exceptional experimental music should gladly pay the import price for this groundbreaking recording.

© 2007 - Sherman Wick