INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Record Collector OCTOBER 2009 - by Ian Shirley
HARMONIA & ENO '76: TRACKS AND TRACES
Revisited and expanded electronica summit
Historically, the first collaboration between Brian Eno, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius was released in 1977 on the album Cluster & Eno. Of course, Roedelius and Moebius had previously established - along with guitarist Michael Rother - the musical triangle that was Harmonia.
A year before the Cluster collaboration, Eno went into a studio with Harmonia to lay down musical sketches that remained unreleased until 1997 as Tracks And Traces. With the rights reverting back to the band, these musical sketches, originally assembled for release by Roedelius, have been reconfigured by Rother, who has added three previously unheard tracks from the original session.
Musically, this refurbishment makes an amazing difference in mood and tone. opening with the previously unheard Welcome, Rother's pastoral guitar acts as a central pole around which the electronic vines of sequencers and synthesizers curl in beautiful musical bloom. Atmosphere is the sort of territory where Eno established his reputation, and it's amazing to think that this is the sound of four men improvising electronics rather than painstakingly applying coat upon coat of gloss in the studio. Previously heard tracks such as By This River and Weird Dream remain as compelling as ever. Buried treasure of the finest quality.
Q&A: MICHAEL ROTHER
How did the collaboration with Brian Eno come about?
The story was that Brian Eno came to a Harmonia concert in 1974 in Hamburg. We talked, he joined us on stage for a jam and everybody was very interested in a collaboration, so we invited him to our place. Two years passed and he called and asked if it would be OK if he came. At that time we had already started to record our solo albums, but we did not want to miss that opportunity, so we said yes.
How did you approach recording the album?
We didn't intend to record an album, we were just making music. It was the best situation you could imagine: no stress, no pressure. We were just enjoying creating sounds and working together in the studio. I had my four-track tape machine and Brian brought some tapes along.
We called the material "sketches" - there were so many sketches. Some months ago, when I started to analyse the recordings, I think I counted twenty-seven or twenty-eight which we had recorded on my four-track. There were four people and four tracks, so that was quite easy, as every member had a track on that machine and the ideas just kept flowing. It was a very easy way to move ahead. We weren't in the studio from early morning until late at night - it was more like being together talking, drinking tea, walking in the forest and playing ping-pong.
Why did you add three tracks to this reissue?
I listened to the tape and thought there was so much interesting music which we'd recorded but not used. It was difficult to choose them, because there's enough material for a completely new album. I had the impression that the original album's atmosphere was gloomier and darker than the collaboration had created. The new tracks reflect the balance of what we did back then.
Did you speak with Eno about the reissue?
I haven't spoken to Brian since 1976. The idea was that he should return a few months later, but my first solo album came out in Spring 1977 and I was very busy from then on, and the same was true with Brian. We nearly met in 1977, when David Bowie invited me to work with him in Berlin, but that's another story...