Though their entire existence spanned little more than three years, the lasting impact of kraut rock super group Harmonia has far surpassed their initial appearance on record, going so far as to become the epitome of the kosmische sound. Highly elliptical and hypnotically repetitive, theirs is a sound built on the cyclical nature of music; melodies flow in and out atop a series of metronomically precise rhythm tracks that in turn stretch out and double back on themselves as they gain in volume and substance. It’s an altogether hallucinatory listening experience, one well-suited to internal contemplation and general spacing out.

Consisting of members of two of the most lauded groups comprising the initial wave of kraut rock bands, Harmonia was essentially the Cream of their scene. Together, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Dieter Moebius (both former members of Cluster) and Michael Rother (Neu!) helped define the next wave of kraut rock and, in the process, lay the groundwork for countless experimental and ambient groups in the years to come. Largely abandoning the more rock-centric leanings of their previous groups, over the course of two studio albums Harmonia expanded and explored the options of minimalism and repetition to startling effect.

Much like the work of late ‘60s minimalist composers Terry Reilly and Steven Reich, Harmonia’s music is largely built around the hypnotic effect of repetition. Throughout, patterns repeat themselves to the point you begin to hear them as something utterly new and different. By placing the focus on one or two basic ideas, they seek to create the musical equivalent of verbal repetition, saying a word over and over until it loses its previously understood meaning and takes on an entirely new character. In this, there is a sort of aural hypnotism that takes place, causing the listeners to lose themselves within meditative quality of the music; an approach which takes on an almost spiritual feel, bringing the music closer to the divine than the secular.

With their debut, Musik von Harmonia, they furthered the kosmische tendency towards circular repetitions in both the melodic and rhythmic figures, augmenting these established concepts with a more nuanced and decidedly minimalistic approach. Opening track “Watussi” ebbs and flows, allowing subtle melodic variations and tones to come and go throughout the nearly six-minute run time. On “Ahoi,” they employ recognizably organic instrumentation in the form of an understated, circular piano figure augmented by plucked harmonics on a slightly out of phase electric guitar. Just as the listener begins settling into this recognizable sonic territory, the track becomes overrun by an army of synthetic ringing tones that gradually march their way across the remainder of the track before fading out in a series of reverberating overtones. It’s a quietly declarative opening statement that would carry through to their second and final studio album, the exceptional Deluxe.

From the opening moments of the title track, it becomes clear the work of Harmonia had a monumental impact on the late-‘70s work of Brian Eno. Sounding more than a little like something off of Bowie’s Low, an album on which Eno’s imprint prominently appears, Deluxe shows itself to be a deceptively influential work. Its influence resonated well beyond the somewhat insular kraut rock scene and quietly permeated the more esoteric fringes of late ‘70s pop, guided by the taste-making hands of both Bowie and Eno. It’s of little surprise that, following the group’s dissolution, Eno would go on to work with both Roedelius and Moebius on a series of recordings that, like his own ambient experiments, extrapolated the sounds created by the Teutonic trio.

Where Music von Harmonia tended to rely on shorter bursts of instrumental soundscapes, Deluxe saw the group stretching tracks to their extremes and utilizing more of a vocal presence. With the opening one-two of the nearly 10-minute title track and the nearly 11-minute “Walky Talky,” they further the sounds and ideas established on their debut, broadening their sonic palette and further fleshing out their sound. In this they create the definitive statement of mid-‘70s kraut rock experimentation. Indeed, their influence can be heard from Bowie (virtually the entire second side of Low) to Eno (nearly everything from 1977 on) to Kraftwerk (most evident on their masterpiece, Trans-Europe Express and well beyond into the 21st Century.

While Groenland’s vinyl-only box set offers the whole of the group’s studio recorded output as well as the archival live recording Live 1974 in one handy package, the real draw for collectors is the fourth disc of previously unreleased live and studio recordings from the band’s all-too-brief existence. Documents 1975 features a series of further synthesizer explorations and abstractions that would come to the fore in the work of each of the individual members’ post-Harmonia output. More than anything, these recordings bridge the gap between the past and what would become the future of music. Given their somewhat unheralded yet vastly influential nature, it comes as little surprise these recordings sound as vital and relevant today as they did when they first appeared over 40 years ago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Holy Hell! Yeah Yeah Yeahs EP Turns 20

Like their fellow members of the class of 2001, Yeah Yeah Yeahs would ultimately prove not…