Friday, December 12, 2008

Harmonia - Live (1974)



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This archival live set catches Dieter Moebius, Roedelius, and Michael Rother at their most expansive and free form, pushing deeper into the territory they had begun exploring on Musik Von Harmonia before their work coalesced into De Luxe's more structured, glossier pieces. The emphasis here is on experimentation and process, rather than end product: guitar, keyboards, synths and machine-generated beats abandon rock's narrow narrative path in favor of hypno-minimalist soundscapes whose melodic and rhythmic patterns nod to the likes of Terry Riley.

Combining repetition and incremental change in seamless, kaleidoscopic configurations, these five previously unreleased tracks take listeners on proto-ambient trips into inner and outer space. Such mind-expanding excursions clearly suited the rapt audience members (gathered in a decomissioned German train station), who don't make a sound for the duration, save for the occasional cough (In fact, Michael Rother claims in the press release that the show was attended by a good 50 or so people, who were too stoned to even applaud, or who couldn't work out where the songs ended. That makes sense: the five lengthy tracks here stretch out to between nine and 17 minutes each, but have an enveloping momentum that makes them feel like they are - or at least should - go on forever.)

Like Harmonia's studio work, this live document underscores the trio's ability to paint in both intricate and broad strokes, generating engrossing detail as well as larger environments. Two tracks in particular dramatize this: living up to its title, the exquisite "Arabesque" belies its five-minute duration, spinning out an ornate sonic mandala that seems to extend infinitely; "Schaumberg" mesmerizes with precise, decorative keyboard arpeggios and oscillating rhythms as Rother layers fluid, wandering guitar textures. Even at its most epic, Harmonia's material is never less than spellbinding: the quarter-hour "Holta-Polta" chugs relentlessly through dark, disquieting industrial dub terrain, while the 17 minutes of "Veteranissimo" are an exhilarating Motorik ride from start to finish.

More than 30 years after Harmonia's original studio recordings, the rediscovery and release of this long-buried treasure reiterates quite emphatically how hard it is to overstate the band's pioneering influence: from Eno and Bowie -- as Another Green World, Low and Heroes attest -- through subsequent generations of artists charting the intersections of rock, pop, and electronic musics.

1 comment:

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