Harmonia & Eno ’76 – Tracks and Traces reissue

January 01, 1970





Ed. note: read BLURT’s
massive Michael Rother interview, conducted by Wilson Neate, elsewhere on this


In September 1976, Brian Eno knocked at the door of
Harmonia’s studio in Forst. He was rather late. Two years had elapsed since
he’d agreed to collaborate with Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Michael Rother and
Dieter Moebius, and by the time he arrived (in the interim having publicly
lauded them as “the world’s most important rock group”), Harmonia had
actually split up. Notwithstanding Eno’s enthusiasm, their two albums had met
with critical indifference and commercial disaster, and the bandmembers had
already moved on to individual projects. Nevertheless, they spent ten or so
days with Eno, experimenting and committing the results to tape. Plans to
reconvene later didn’t work out, but a document of their brief encounter was
released in 1997 as Tracks and Traces — an album put together by Roedelius, who, two decades after the fact, had
unearthed one of the tapes made at the session.


The present re-release came about when Michael Rother found
another tape, one containing Harmonia/Eno material that Roedelius hadn’t used
for the first version of the album. Convinced of the newly discovered music’s
strength, Rother set about incorporating it in a way that departed from the standard
reissue modus operandi of simply adding “bonus tracks” as
non-essential extras that are clearly separate from the original work. Rother
elected to place two new pieces at the beginning and another at the end of the
existing track sequence, establishing a frame of sorts: instead of intruding on
and disrupting the album’s already complete musical picture, his frame
preserves it intact; but crucially, the new frame also changes the listener’s


Some might disagree with artists revisiting and revising
their work after so long. It could be argued, though, that Roedelius’ 1997
version of Tracks and Traces was
never the definitive, finished article since it was compiled by him alone:
without consulting the others and without their creative input, he selected the
materials, mixed them and decided the order of the tracks. In that sense,
Rother’s return to the album is entirely legitimate, while it also accentuates
the potential of any work as a work-in-progress,
open to remaking and remodeling. And as it turns out, Rother’s inventive
reimagining of Tracks and Traces is,
in fact, a welcome one. It wasn’t that the quality of the material assembled by
Roedelius was deficient; rather, his presentation of that material felt
somewhat uneven, the track sequence vaguely unsatisfying. By reframing the
work, Rother highlights that unevenness but also, more importantly, remedies


Roedelius’ Tracks and
began with a sonic journey already underway, the bright, jittery
locomotive chug of “Vamos Compañeros” eventually depositing listeners
in the album’s darker, more abstract heartland: the core suite of “By the
Riverside,” “Luneburg Heath,” “Sometimes in Autumn”
and “Weird Dream.” On Rother’s reframed version, listeners are now
greeted by “Welcome,” a tranquil, beatless salutation threaded with
simple melodic guitar lines; then, on “Atmosphere,” shuffling beats,
subtle drones and shimmering melodies set things in motion, forming a seamless
segue into the driving, rhythmic pulse of Roedelius’s 1997 opener. These new
tracks establish a well-paced build, which, in turn, softens the sudden mood
change after “Vamos
Compañeros,” as listeners encounter the record’s quieter, contemplative
interior. Here, pastoral-industrial soundscapes conjure up natural environments
in keeping with their titles: for instance, the organic and metallic “By
the Riverside” blends faint birdcalls with Rother’s harsh, processed
guitar textures; throughout the eerie “Luneburg Heath,” a spooky Eno
wanders in and out of the drifting synthesized mist, counseling, “Don’t
get lost on Luneburg Heath.”


Just as the new opening pieces evoke the start of a voyage,
which then unfolds over the course of the record, the new final track,
“Aubade,” suggests the completion of a journey, with an arrival or perhaps
a cyclical sense of return. While, originally, the record’s austere middle
passage began to yield with the melodic idyll, “Almost,” and the
slide-guitar infused carousel ride of “Les Demoiselles,” that
progression was ultimately undermined: the closing sketch, “Trace,”
sounded incomplete, finishing the album on an open-ended, unfulfilling note
that also reprised the darker, more restive tone. Now, “Aubade”
offers a more satisfying, restful conclusion and gives the album a greater
feeling of unity and symmetry. As its title’s allusion to the medieval literary
tradition of the dawn song implies, the track itself consummates the passage
from the record’s darker interior into the light, with Rother’s bittersweet
valedictory guitar bringing things full circle and emphasizing closure.


Although a potentially risky endeavor, Rother’s reimagining
of Tracks and Traces is wholly
successful. Without intervening directly in the structure of the existing work
but by instead reframing that work, he offers listeners a fresh appreciation of
it and a far more rewarding aural experience.


Standout Tracks:
“Atmosphere,” “Vamos Compañeros,” “By the Riverside,”
“Trace,” “Aubade” WILSON NEATE




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