To my eternal shame I don’t speak a word of German other than small bits I’ve picked up from war movies, dimly remembered adult films unfit for discussion here and Krautrock LPs. It gives me an interesting vocabulary which would only work in a handful of very specific, socially rather unusual circumstances. Hände hoch knackig ohrwurm !
Although I owned a Can LP, or two I first got into the whole Krautrock scene through a friend lending me Julian Cope’s masterful Krautrocksampler book – I almost bought my own copy once too, I had it in my hand in the queue, put it back and bought a 3 Colours Red 7″ instead, I last saw one change hands for £130 years and years ago*, ah well. Through the auspices of Mr Cope I got excited by a fascinating world of music (musik?) without any, or only traces, of all the Brit / American influences, pushing free-form freak-outs and tight spacey jams to limits their hairy UK brethren could only dream of. Add in the German post-war desire for newness, something untainted by the recent past, a craving for the Neu! Stir in willingness to adopt, utilise, invent and create new electronic instruments as a further spur to creativity, sprinkle with all the anarchic sixties, early seventies arts and communal-living and Kapow!!**
Now Julian Cope is an infectiously enthusiastic guide and sells the records he loves well. At his bidding I’ve bought a load of Krautrock, some amazing, some indifferent and a couple of dire records, it certainly ain’t all to my taste, Harmonia Musik Von Harmonia really is. Harmonia were something of a Krautrock super-group, formed by bolting-on of Neu! guitarist Michael Rother to Cluster, keyboard genius Hans-Joachim Roedelius and, umm, keyboard genius Dieter Moebius.
After being hooked by the melodic mellifluous motorik of ‘Dino’ which I found on a cover disk at some point, Musik Von Harmonia was a heavily hinted at Father’s Day present for me in 2006. Sadly my copy isn’t a perfectly preserved 1974 original, it’s a Russian re-release on vinyl so heavy I can barely lift it, with all manner of interesting inner sleeve notes^ from a friend of the band and fellow muso Asmus Tietchens, who has a few choice things to say about the ‘ghastly label’ of ‘so-called Krautrock’ – I understand that broad labels encourage lazy thinking and restrict artistic thingys, but you know what? they work, that’s why they persist.
Opening with the bright, unsubtle ‘Watussi’ Musik Von Harmonia bursts off the blocks with odd chirruping beats over a reedy persistent high synth line, Michael Rother’s guitar, as always, suggesting motion. It’s great, but not a patch on what was to follow, ‘Sehr Kosmisch’ (very cosmic), which manages to simultaneously invent and lay to waste all, modern spacey ambient music. Yes I know others were working at the same coal face, but this is my story. It is 10:56 of sheer unadulterated genius, wonderfully understated and minimal but, like everything here, with real momentum.
Which is where we hit the big difference between Harmonia and all the cosmic dudes and dudettes that ply their trade in these realms. This was no dope-smoking navel-gazing bunch of dropouts, you can hear the crackle and thrust of progress in every track of Musik Von Harmonia. the title ‘Sehr Kosmisch’ is at least ironic, if not in fact meant as a pun on ‘Sehr Komisch’ (very odd) – Cluster even released ‘Kosmische Phyrze’ (cosmic farts) a year later. I listen to this track a lot, the pulsing keyboards and subtle bass-elements reward each and every visit with some point I missed last time.
‘Sonnenschein’ (sunshine – I worked that one out myself) is a bright racket of a tune, which snaps to attention like an elastic band, brings the first side to a close. The second kicks off with the inestimable ‘Dino’, which I very often just play over and over again, lost in my own mental loop. I tend to think of it as a younger, bouncier cousin to Neu!’s earlier ‘Hallogallo’, itself just one of the best tracks ever pressed and another shoo-in for the 1537 funeral mix one day.
‘Ohrwurm’ (ear worm) plays on the name meaning, a catchy tune when it is anything but. Possibly the most experimental track on the LP, it sounds like peering into the primordial swamp of life, discordant key and guitar washes around the speakers, sounding something akin to the soundtrack to a 1970’s Hammer Horror movie set on Mars. ‘Ahoi! (ahoy! – again, translated it without Google) is a brief sojourn into restful ambience, which briefly summons up a tinkling droney section before relaxing again, there is a definite touch of the Velvet Underground about this track. ‘Veterano’ (veteran in Spanish? a play on the German word for fathers?) is another journey, a real motorin’ motorik treat, Michael Rother’s guitar doing some very interesting off-road work throughout. Last up is ‘Hausmusik’ (house music) which whilst it may look like a very prescient title, was meant more as another attempt at producing grounded everyday music, rather than cosmic flights of fantasy, for my money it’s the least interesting track on the LP.
Conceptually the cover of Musik Von Harmonia links in, a cheap mass-produced bottle of disinfectant on a two-tone background. Look at the significant, insignificance of our music! Look at how un-cosmic it all is, we reject your journeys to the Pleiades! Look at our cleansing drive, stop all your messy free-form jamming! Look it’s getting very late and I’ve got work tomorrow! Look I haven’t even done the Lego bits yet! Look!
What always strikes me about this LP is the sheer modernity of it, both in terms of being a harbinger of modernism in 1974 (in the art-crit sense of the word) and, the odd parping synth sound aside, in terms of how new Musik Von Harmonia sounds today. There are a hell of a lot of bands desperately striving today to get where this LP got to 39 years ago.
Ist gut gelaufen.
*the book, not the 7″ unfortunately. Reissue it Julian, reissue it!!
**okay so I’m simplifying stuff, but it works.
^not as good as back cover sleeve notes, but close.
^^it went well, for those of you who don’t speak fluent German like me. Oh and the hande hoch … bit? translates as Hands Up luscious ear worm/catchy tune/ear wig. Of course.