"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno

Uncut NOVEMBER 2013 - by Tom Pinnock


The "world's most important [kraut] rock band" - Michael Rother, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius - put out three pioneering albums, and this, their only single: "It was a hit, but nobody realised!"

Around Easter 1973, Michael Rother, one half of kosmische Düsseldorf group Neu!, visited his acquaintances Cluster at their home in the picturesque Lower Saxony village of Forst. The guitarist was there to see if the duo would help Neu! perform onstage, but instead he, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius decided to form a new group, which Rother would name Harmonia.

"Everything took a turn," he explains today, "because I realised that this music was what really interested me at the time. And it was also possible to play live, quite opposed to Neu!, which actually only existed in the studio."

The trio would make three albums in the Eden of Forst - 1974's Muzik Von Harmonia, 1975's Conny Plank-produced Deluxe, and Tracks And Traces, recorded with Brian Eno (who dubbed them "the world's most important rock band") the following year. Though songs like the blissful Deluxe (Immer Wieder) - released as the group's only single in substantially edited form - failed to reach mainstream acceptance, they remain among the most forward-thinking electronic creations of the '70s. Their complete works, including four unreleased pieces, are being reissued as a fittingly deluxe vinyl boxset in October. The timing is poignant, however, coming as it does just after the death of Dieter Moebius in July. "Moebius was ill already and he could not really contribute much," says Rother. "He was always involved still, when there were any decisions to be made. But it's a pity that he's not around to see the final work, to have that box set, to hold it in your hands."

Despite leaving the group back in the mid-'70s, Roedelius, who in September saw his eightieth birthday commemorated with a Berlin festival, Lifelines, is still exceedingly proud of what the trio achieved. "Deluxe (Immer Wieder), it was a hit," he says. "But nobody realised!"

MICHAEL ROTHER: I met Moebi and Roedelius when I was playing in Kraftwerk in 1971.We played a concert together in Hamburg. We were very democratic, so before the show started we sat down and talked about who was going on first and who was going on second. Kraftwerk were more famous already at that time ,but we left the choice to the Cluster guys and they said, "Oh, you start." Which was a really big mistake [laughs]. Because the music we did - Klaus Dinger, Florian Schneider and I - was very ecstatic, very rough, and the whole venue went wild. Then Hans-Joachim and Dieter started playing their soft notes and strange noises and many people rushed to the stage. It was frightening. They turned round the speakers, disconnected them, and I thought they were going to beat Cluster. That was a terrible experience.

HANS-JOACHIM ROEDELIUS: Cluster always wanted to do open music, soundscaping, and starting each concert from point zero. We definitely met Michael at the gig we played with Kraftwerk. I don't remember where it was, though - it was a long time ago, you know!

ROTHER: Klaus Dinger and I tried to put Neu! onstage after we recorded the first album [Neu!, 1972] but we couldn't find any musicians who were capable of helping us. And then I heard Cluster II, especially the track Im Süden, I recognised some similarities in the melodic approach and thought I should check out if Cluster could help us to play Neu! music live. So I took my guitar in '73 and visited the two guys and started jamming. That was the start of Harmonia.

ROEDELIUS: Harmonia were very influenced by what Michael had learned already as a songwriter. So we were happy, and it was a good situation for us to change from the industrial music that Cluster did before Harmonia.

ROTHER:I would like to correct the image of Klaus [Dinger, Neu! drummer and multi-instrumentalist] and me fighting over music, as that was not true. But I did not want to be around him, because even then he had some traits which were not pleasant. So our communication was limited to the time when we made music. And with Hans-Joachim and Dieter it was different. But the music was just as exciting, I always had the same conviction of being on the right track with Harmonia as I was with Neu!.

ROEDELIUS: Was Harmonia an equal partnership? I don't know. I did my solo work at the same time as well, so I was working on three different platforms - Harmonia, Cluster and solo. It was Michael's idea to call it Harmonia.

ROTHER:In Harmonia - the name was partly a joke - we had these artistic struggles right from the beginning. But we recognised that we were all very different and that was the reason for what I 'd say was the magic of Harmonia; the three personalities throwing in their strengths and struggling for the direction of the music.

ROEDELIUS: At the beginning we just tried to find the best bits from what we did. When we recorded it, we slowly came to tracks that we could somehow play live. Michael knew a lot about constructing songs from Neu!, so it was almost all his influence to involve some drummers in our music. During the three years we worked with two drummers from the German scene - one being Mani Neumeier.

MANI NEUMEIER: I met Cluster around 1971, I played a gig with them and my band, Guru Guru. So I met Moebius and Roedelius for the first time there, and I thought they were one of the more interesting acts then, beside ours. We stayed good friends. Maybe one or two years later, we met up in Forst, and they decided to make their recordings there in that house. It's a very old house, many hundreds of years old, directly on the river, with big walls. I think in early times ships would come through there and they'd take some toll or something. There were some horses there too, and besides Moebi and Michael, other families lived there, maybe two or three.

ROEDELIUS: Forst is the most beautiful place on earth. It has very old buildings from the medieval times, with trees and horses and cows. And abandoned somehow, an island in the midst of reality. This was the reason the music somehow became more beautiful and harmonic.

ROTHER: Nobody can say for sure how we would have sounded if, for instance, we had lived in Berlin and had a studio in the cellar of a house with no windows and not with a beautiful countryside outside... Forst does have a magical aura. But it's too simple to say that because the countryside is so beautiful and peaceful that's why the music also has this element. We also had the idea of a music that sounded like it did.

ROEDELIUS: I twas almost the same musical equipment on Deluxe as on the first album, but Muzik Von Harmonia was different, because it used some live tracks from concerts and some pre-recorded stuff. We just had to find out what worked and what didn't.

ROTHER: We had a different working style and method on the first Harmonia album, which we recorded over several months with three Revox stereo machines, ping-ponging the recordings and adding new elements and then playing it back from the other tape-machine. That was a slow process of collecting ideas. With Deluxe, because Conny Plank came to Forst with his sixteen-track mobile equipment, all professional gear, the sound quality, for one thing, was much better.

ROEDELIUS: We still recorded the tracks all live. Conny Plank was a great help, and also a true musician, so it was much more complex than Musik Von Harmonia. Conny was part of the game,of course, his input was very important. I think the recording took about a month.

ROTHER: Conny did a great job with the sound. He was a very modest guy, but he was amazingly talented, and just as crazy as we were. He did not try to influence the musicians by nudging you into one direction or offering some thoughts on what you could improve, or if he did so, he did it in such a sly way and such a wise way that you did not realise. He never was pushy, he just listened to you and offered you possibilities where you could create in a good environment.

NEUMEIER: We were all good friends, we really liked each other and everybody respected everyone else.

ROEDELIUS: Whenever discussed music, we really are intuitive musicians. We relied on being able to react, to be spontaneous and that was part of the magic. We always credited all members of the band for the writing. That was meant to avoid quarrels. But the reality was, of course, different; sometimes Joachim came up with an idea and sometimes Moebi had an idea. And in the case of Deluxe (Immer Wieder), it was my song. I nearly recorded it on my own anyway. I think I even developed it on the keyboard. As a musician you really cherish those moments when you record one instrument after the other, and it just comes together. And that's what happened on Deluxe, I didn't have to correct anything. It's a magical situation. Moebius contributed the bass drum on the drum-machine, the pulse. It was such a wonderful, exciting sound in the headphones and then we just went wild on the mic, and playing guitars and stuff. Roedelius did some nice sounds on the intro, too.

ROEDELIUS: I think all three of us wanted to have lyrics on it, as it was such a nice, deeply philosophical expression of the way we saw and behaved in this place. It came out of us like every song we did, just happened accidentally in a way.

ROTHER: We had this great session when we added vocals tot he track. Originally it was supposed to be an instrumental and the story behind this is that from the beginning I was always worried because we were so shy onstage, we hardly dared to look at the audience, so it was an act of liberation, I guess. We were in Conny Plank's studio to mix the album, and we sat down and said, "Well, let's think up some lyrics and then open our mouths." So we jumbled those lyrics together and it was great.

ROEDELIUS: I used a Farfisa organ,and Moebi used a similar one,but it had two keyboards. But we also used different stuff, like little switcher machines and effects tape. It was quite complex,our instruments,our equipment, and quite heavy.

ROTHER: I played my gold-top Gibson Les Paul Deluxe. I already had a Fender Mustang which I bought from Florian Schneider, which had this fake leopardskin. [laughs] Florian applied that and some other funny things. But those two were my guitars for a long time.The echo effect? We're talking about a pre-sync time! I started using an echo in '71 in Kraftwerk and by then I had some skills in making the echo work with the beat. The machine I was using then had a slide and you could change the delay time by moving the head, millimetre by millimetre, so you'd always find the right spot for any delay pattern you wanted.

NEUMEIER: It's a very special album, the combination of electronic stuff and guitar and drums. Playing with Harmonia was always interesting and full of tension... and new.

ROEDELIUS: It was a nice gift at the time to have a single on the market [Deluxe (Immer Wieder) (edit)/Monza (Rauf Und Runter) (edit)], even though the single didn't sell as much as we thought it would. I don't know who edited it down, Conny or Michael...

ROTHER: Harmonia actually broke up in '76. The guys weren't happy with the direction and, I think, because the financial success didn't arrive. It was so strange, my love for Harmonia's music was just as strong as it was for Neu!'s music, but Neu! was quite a success while Harmonia was rejected. It was so strange. Harmonia was the main project for all of us, it was not a side-project. We lived together, we worked together. I only met Klaus for a few weeks to record Neu! '75, so if anything it was Neu! and Cluster during that time that were side-projects. It was not Cluster and Rother, it was Roedelius, Moebius and Rother. We were three musicians, Neu! and Cluster had no significance. But when Deluxe didn't do well, I guess Roedelius and Moebius reached the point where they thought, 'OK, we are doing a compromise and this is more the direction Michael wants to take, but we don't want to do it anymore.' So they decided to quit.

ROEDELIUS: We were happy with Harmonia's music. But the only thing we weren't happy with was that we would have to play the songs the same when live. So we weren't really able and willing to do it. Plus, we're used to playing from out of the moment, from point zero. At the end I was relieved when it ended up as just Cluster, with me doing my solo stuff. Michael's influence was evident in Cluster's music on the LPs we did after, though, like [1976's] Sowiesoso.

ROTHER: You have to rely on your own feelings, and sometimes you're lucky and people share your feelings and sometimes they don't. Then you have to just move on and hope they catch up later, which happened to Harmonia. Brian Eno came to a Harmonia concert in Hamburg in 1974 and we invited him to come to Forst. Three years later he suddenly called and said, "Would it be OK if I came to visit you now?" And by that time Harmonia was no longer. But we didn't want to turn him down and, when he arrived, the four of us went into the studio or took walks or played ping-pong. It was a very casual, a very relaxed situation, eleven or twelve days. There was no pressure as it was just four musicians throwing ideas around and sharing the joy of making some music, with no intention of releasing anything at the time. And that was a new experience for me.

ROEDELIUS: The LP we made with Eno, Tracks And Traces, was totally improvised. That record came out thirty years later [in 1997], as the technical quality wasn't good enough to work on it after. So we had to wait to bring it to an audience. We improvised more when we reformed in 2007. Improvisation is still the way I like to do things.

ROTHER: Deluxe (Immer Wieder), even today I enjoy playing it live. The exchange I had with Florian Schneider, Klaus Dinger, and Roedelius and Moebius helped me sharpen my idea of where I wanted to go. I was convinced that the Harmonia music deserved more attention than it got in the '70s, and the '80s, when nobody talked about Harmonia, or Neu! [laughs]. And it took thirty years for the audience to catchup!

Harmonia's Complete Works is released on October 23 on Grönland Records