"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
The Age JANUARY 1, 2009 - by Guy Blackman
HARMONIA FROM CHAOS
German guitarist Michael Rother is primarily known as an early member of Kraftwerk and for his work in '70s Dusseldorf duo Neu, whose minimal, monolithic sound that was a new blueprint for rock'n'roll sounds utterly modern thirty-five years later. Less well known, but no less impressive, is Rother's subsequent project, Harmonia, with both members of electronic pioneers Cluster.
Harmonia's two albums of the mid-'70s are exploratory marvels. The first, Musik Von Harmonia, is a cheerful collection of ambient squiggles that predates '90s intelligent dance music genre by a good two decades. The second, Deluxe, expands into a series of dreamy, hypnotic Krautrock classics. Harmonia would later work with Brian Eno on Tracks And Traces, an album not released until 1997, while an archival concert album, Live 1974, came out last year.
They may be cult heroes now, but at the time no one wanted to know. "I remember once we organised our own concert about two hundred and fifty kilometres away. We drove all the way and there were three people," Rother says. "The music was just too strange and new to most people. We just had to accept it, although it wasn't very pleasant at the time."
More pleasant, though, than continuing to play with drummer Klaus Dinger, his partner in Neu. Rother originally sought out Cluster's Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius when trying to assemble a live version of Neu, to match steady, chugging studio creations including Hallogallo and Fur Immer, but tensions with Dinger lead him to abandon Neu.
"Klaus and I were such different personalities. In many ways, I feel the complete opposite of him," says Rother. "He was sometimes a nasty guy, but he was a very creative musician and artist. Making music with Klaus wasn't difficult, it was everything else that was difficult."
After feuds and aborted reunions in the '80s and '90s, Rother and Dinger considered a Neu reunion again at the beginning of this decade. But discussions broke down once more, and when Dinger died of heart failure in March, Rother had not even known he was ill.
"I was very careful about chaos," Rother says now. "Klaus tended to create chaos around him, and I wasn't so keen on that. It would have been very interesting to record music again, because the idea of Neu music is still close to my heart, just like Harmonia. But it's too late now. We won't find out in this life."
This Harmonia reunion, then, is obviously of great importance to Rother. He has been playing on and off as a duo with Moebius since the late '90s, but the now seventy-four-year-old keyboardist Roedelius returned to the fold only last year, the trio playing festivals in Berlin, London and upstate New York before heading to Australia for this month's Bad Seeds-curated All Tomorrow's Parties.
Even with Harmonia, though, old tensions are never far from the surface. "The personalities haven't changed," Rother says.
"When we got together with Roedelius in summer, there were some difficulties, so we were a bit unsure. It's quite funny, really, thirty-five years later, to still have the same struggles."
For Rother, who has left every one of his seminal Krautrock bands with some degree of acrimony, the clash is more about musical vision than personal antipathy. "All of those musicians have very clear ideas about what they wanted to do, so for a time you manage to compromise and bring your ideas together," he says. "But at a certain point, you discover that you need to try it in a new way."