I wish I could sit here in my lederhosen, wood clogs, and stein full of warm beer and say I’ve been hip to Krautrock since I was a stellar Midwest teen. I wish I could say I started a movement in my John Hughes years of forward-thinking teenagers filling their heads with komische music like Kraftwerk, NEU!, Cluster, and Popol Vuh. I wish I could say that. Truth is I didn’t even know what Krautrock was till I was well into adulthood. I’d heard the name now and then, though I thought it was something to do with sauerkraut that sat in the fridge too long. “Don’t use that sauerkraut! It’s got the krautrock!” Okay, maybe I didn’t think that(or didn’t I?)
Point is I had my “come to Komsiche” moment and I’ve never looked back. It started with Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express ten years ago and since then Krautrock has become one of my favorite musical genres(right behind ukulele doom metal and Mediterranean throat singing.) I think the album that really did it for me was NEU!s first album NEU!. When I first heard the motorik beat of “Hallogallo” I knew I’d found my people. With Klaus Dinger’s drums and experimentation and Michael Rother’s enigmatic guitar playing I felt like this was true blending of rock and art. Of course those two got along infamously. Dinger was the experimental chap that wanted to make everything they did a political statement. Michael Rother was more interested in making good music and the creative process. In between NEU! records Rother formed another musical alliance with two other Krautrock OGs, Cluster’s Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius. That band was called Harmonia.
The first time I’d heard of Harmonia was over at my pal 1537’s place. After reading his great piece on the record I knew I needed to get it in my head. Of course I’d only listened to snippets here and there. I did check out a live album of there’s that was excellent, but I never found a copy of that debut for myself. Until now.
On a college trip to Bloomington a couple weeks ago I happened across a copy of Harmonia’s Musik von Harmonia at Landlocked Records for a quite nice price and proceeded to happily give my money to the young lady at the counter. When she looked at me funny I realized I didn’t hand her the record. Record bought, we left looking for sustenance.
Musik von Harmonia is quite the aural feast. It loops, blips, and bleeps all over the place like a drunk android giddy on high octane motor oil. The album opens with the bouncy “Watussi”. It seems to unfold over the course of its nearly 6 minutes like an endless red carpet that elevates to spatial levels. They’re not songs more than they’re moments of exquisite discovery. “Sehr Komische” floats and expands over the course of nearly 11 minutes. It pushes the boundaries of ambient music to new heights, really. Out of the ether you can make out a motorik beat attempting to come to the service, the gauzy tones raising as the beat does. “Sonnenschein” has somewhat of a tribal beat to it. Synths glide in and out as the rhythm gains momentum.
I can almost picture Rother, Roedelius, and Moebius inside the old house pictured on the inside gatefold sleeve, maybe under the influence of mind-altering substances, just throwing these ideas out and seeing where they’d land. Moving from instrument to instrument and seeing what would happen. By the sound of it they came across some pretty amazing ideas. “Dino”, for example, is classic krautrock goodness complete with the classic motorik beat. It has that NEU! airiness to it without sounding just like NEU! or Cluster. These three seem to have really loved the creative process. Then you get to something like “Ohrwurm” and all bets are off. Buzzing tones and wobbly guitar seem to illustrate musically a mental breakdown. “Veterano” sounds like sounds the Mothersbaugh brothers would attempt to create with Devo. “Hausmusik” starts out as a melody line but quickly descends into electronic noise, like low tide washing away drawings in the sand. Soon enough our melody reappears to help finish the song out.
With a lot of komische music there seems to be a regimented code that is followed. Everything feels free-flowing and spontaneous, but it’s very much a controlled chaos. Harmonia seem to leave regimented improvisation at the studio door and let artistic expression flow freely. There’s a lightness to the tracks on Musik von Harmonia that is infectious. I have yet to hear their other records, so I can’t comment on future Harmonia endeavors. Rother, Roedelius, and Moebius would all head back to their previous projects and continue to make boundary-pushing art in their respective “name” bands, but none would ever capture the airy magic that Harmonia created. At least to my ears.