INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Spectrum Culture OCTOBER 26, 2009 - by Chris Middleman
HARMONIA & ENO '76: TRACKS AND TRACES RE-RELEASED
Posterity has decreed that the former duo behind Krautrock legends Neu!, drummer Klaus Dinger and guitarist Michael Rother, served as a kind of ying and yang in relationship to one another and in the composition of their music. Dinger, on whose snare and hi-hat Motorik was built, was said to favor the "straight, endless" metronomic beat and its combination with aggressive guitar, an aesthetic he explored further on his enjoyable, if unadventurous, La Dusseldorf records. Rother, on the other hand, was inclined more toward ambient, New Age-y soundscapes, and so followed his muse on two mid-'70s records under the name Harmonia.
Formed as sort of a German avant-supergroup with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Möbius, also known as the electronic duo Cluster, Harmonia's Musik Von Harmonia and Deluxe caught the enthusiastic ear of pop music artistic outlier Brian Eno, whom upon guesting with the band at a 1974 Hamburg concert, wanted to collaborate further. Soon to work with David Bowie on the art-damaged pop of Low and fresh from the release of his own foray into the ambient Discreet Music, Eno finally got in contact with the three Deutschers in '76 - after they'd already split up.
Rother, Möbius and Roedelius re-formed for the chance to work with Eno and the music they'd recorded was never meant for commercial release - instead, the recording being the meeting of European arty minds making cold, serious music for the sake of making cold, serious music. The resultant fruit of those sessions was not heard until over twenty years later, when Roedelius took his personal four tracks, had them re-mastered, then released them on the Rykodisc label. Rother, in particular wasn't happy with the release, saying that the record reflected Roedelius' personality more than the other three; this is said to be rectified by this year's re-release on Grönland. Rother managed to salvage three more tracks, the opening duo of Welcome and Atmosphere, and the concluding Aubade.
This begs the question: who cares? As grimly satisfying as '70s analog electronic music can be, only the most discerning fan will likely be able to tell the difference between the original re-master and this re-release. While the additional three tracks serve as their own incentive, I can't say that they're strong enough for someone who already owns Tracks And Traces mark-one to seek out. This music has always struck me as the kind that serves a very particular purpose; a purpose usually met by a few select records that prove hard to be improved upon. Where Tangerine Dream's Phaedra or Neu! exist at polar ends of the '70s electronic Krautrock experience, I find myself comparing anything in the genre up to those two touchstones.
Tracks And Traces re-released is nowhere near as rhythmically driven as either the sequencer-mad Phaedra or the expertly-metered Neu!, instead serving as sheer ambient sound. While Vamos Campaneros moves quicker than most, its distorted squelching overtly familiar to anyone who's ever heard anything Eno's worked on, Tracks And Traces re-released works best as background music- an end Eno actually worked toward on his Ambient 1: Music For Airports. And to this end, it is successful, though no more or less than any other '70s-era ambient record you may have heard. In this respect, taken on its own, Tracks And Traces re-released is a fine record and a worthy detour into dark territories of sound, yet, at the risk of sounding like a complete philistine, in no way a great lost work from an electronic supergroup of decades passed.