Harmonia and Eno ’76
Tracks and Traces
Gronland/High Wire

First things first: if you were expecting Tracks and Traces to be the lost artifact of Krautrock lore it’s been described as, you’re in for a slight letdown. The “album” was first released in 1997, so those who have scoured the vaults of either Harmonia or Brian Eno have likely heard it before. This newly remastered version does little to expand upon the original mix, but does add three unearthed “songs” and twiddles with the sequencing to concoct a more complete work. To many, Harmonia was already a dream team, pairing Germany’s electronic pioneering duo, Cluster (Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius) with the propulsive motorik grooves built by Neu’s Michael Rother. Together they recorded arguably two of the era’s most seminal records in Musik Von Harmonia and De Luxe, and just recently graced the unknowing world with a mesmerizing live session from 1974, when the predominately improvisational unit were at the height of their powers. Adding Brian Eno was nothing short of a minor revelation. But by the time Eno had declared Harmonia “the most important band in rock” and called on them to collaborate, they had all but moved on and were diligently pursuing solo careers. At Eno’s insistence, being a pioneer in his own right, Harmonia reconvened to record and explore with a man who was balancing on an experimental crux himself; in 1976 Eno was right between Another Green World and Discreet Music, while on his way to aiding Bowie on the beginning of his Berlin trilogy.

Part of the reason quotes are in order to define Track and Traces is that the “album” is just that, sketches and short improvisations never truly gelling, but not without an atmospheric intrigue that these musicians have always offered no matter the parameters. There was nothing set in stone as to what was to come of their meeting. According to a recent interview with Rother, there was no plan to produce something physical for the world to hear when they bunkered down in Harmonia’s countryside studio. As was the overarching concept of these electronic alchemists, “good music is what is born of the unadulterated soul of the artist, not something fabricated with strategies and intellectual games, whatever their nature.” I’m sure at the time of these recordings this was a similar mantra for Eno, who was just beginning to invent ambience. In keeping with that code, the resulting tape shows a shared telepathy between the players, wherein each of their aesthetic voices could be heard in unison.

The only track here that could even remotely be considered a “song” comes with “Luneberg Heath,” in that it consists of a tangible verse-chorus structure, with Rother’s strangely glowing and lilting guitar lines, the Cluster twins oscillating with their ghostly synths, and Eno’s only vocal contribution in the form of a calm warning to not “get lost.” Tracks and Traces’ first half tends to be where the quartet soars in a somber yet menacing wave of space-rock and aural hypnotism. While the sessions weren’t nearly as pastoral as Eno’s previous work with Cluster, they were meditating all the same, making the environment just as much a member as the men themselves. Bird noise adds to the overall ambience of “By the Riverside;” images of dying stars pervade the dabbling in gamelan percussion that backbones “Trace;” while their Teutonic paean to Santo and Johnny, “Les Demoiselles,” is more sleepwalking and less twang.

While it’s apparent that Eno would go on to be perhaps one of the most influential musicians in all of rock, here it sounds as if Rother’s guitar work would go on to induce an entire generation of post-rock and prog-rock and Kraut-imitators throughout the dying ’70s and dawning ’80s. On Tracks and Traces, his inflatable melodies take the fore. The rest, while certainly engaging, seem to orbit around him. For many enthusiasts, of Cluster, Neu, Harmonia and Eno, this is essential stuff. Just don’t plan on being blown away. As it was for the players involved, this is merely ephemeral happenstance, the afternoon jam of guys blessed with a knack for cosmic transcendence.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “Vamos Companeros”