that was the first version, which had all the tracks starting from “Vamos
Companeros” until the second last; now we have three additional tracks on
the new version. I should add that I knew all the time that I had a
cassette of the tapes; I made a cassette copy of all the recordings we did
in ’76 shortly before Brian left us, and I had this tape on the shelf in
the studio all the time. But I didn’t listen to it for a very long time,
and so when we started talking about releasing Tracks and Traces, I listened to that tape and
I transferred all of the recordings into my computer and I knew that it was
a very good collaboration, but I was really surprised that there were so
many good sketches that we had recorded, I think 37 sketches, plus minus one
there was much more material than Roedelius had found on that one tape. And
we started to discuss the idea of doing a second complete album or to just
add some elements to the existing album. In the end we agreed on that idea,
and the guys were happy that I did all that work; I chose maybe nine tracks
which I favored, and at least I remember that Roedelius more or less had
the same favorites.
so I said okay, I’ll take care of that, and then in the end I presented my
edits –– I edited the second track out of two short versions –– anyway,
everybody was happy with the results. And then I put in two other extra
tracks and changed the running order, not as much to add the new tracks at
the end but to change the atmosphere, because I think the whole of the
album, all of the material we had recorded, I felt the balance of the moods
was a bit one-sided on the first version. If you look at these three new
tracks –– the first, the second and the last track –– and you compare that
to, for instance, “Almost” or “Weird Dream,” which are interesting
soundscapes but rather gloomy or very relaxed or remorseful or far-out, the
balance I thought could do with a slight change to reflect really what we
had developed in 1976. Everybody was happy with what we have on the new
you augment the album’s original tracks with new parts or treatments?
did a remastering at a studio in Hamburg, and the mastering engineer made
some adjustments with the equalizer, and I quite like what he put on; the sound
is fresher, the balance is better, and of course it was a good job to
improve the sound of the three additional tracks, because they were
transferred from a cassette of 1976, and had to be de-noised in a special
way and treated. But nothing new was added, it’s just the original
material, and of course that’s the idea –– we don’t want to change the
history, it’s just to get out the hiss and as much of the noise which
covers the music, which distracts from the music.
did Eno bring to Harmonia?
memory is that Brian Eno was very modest and very interested in just being
part of the team. It was just four musicians, sometimes only two musicians
or three musicians, and it was such an easy, relaxed atmosphere when we
were spending those 11 days together and not feeling any pressure at all.
It was just the fun, the joy of creating music on different instruments and
in different groupings. Whenever you change a team, of course the result
also changes, if you have others involved that stand for a specific music.
But Brian didn’t try to create something pre-meditated. Sometimes we just
jammed; some of those long tracks were the result of just listening to each
other, actually more or less the same way Harmonia started in the
beginning, when we went onstage with nothing pre-arranged, just the idea:
Okay, the next song would start in D, and I would play electronic drums and
guitar, and then the others would listen and then join in. And that was the
way most of the material was recorded with Brian Eno.
long did these tracks take to record?
of them are very short, just two minutes, two and a half minutes, three
minutes, because they were all sketches, more or less. That’s part of what
makes it so fresh, because there was no process of analyzing recordings, it
was just done on the spot and then we moved on. And that’s how we ended up
with so many sketches. The work, the ideas just seemed to flow out of us. We
had the possibility to record four tracks, because it was a four-track tape
recorder; I had bought that in ’74 for my preparations for Neu 75.
wisdom holds that the early to mid-’70s was a good time for rule-breaking
artistic freedom in Europe. Was there in fact more openness to musical
back, one can have that impression, and of course there were these
musicians who started to make a completely new music. But if I remember the
reactions that Harmonia got in the ’70s, I must say that the audiences and
the critics were not ready for Harmonia’s ideas back then. We were
definitely not welcomed. [laughs] We sometimes drove for several hundred
kilometers and played for an audience of three people. I remember doing
that more than once. And many people just ignored us, or hated the music,
even. These days, it seems, if I look at all the press coverage we’re
getting for Live 1974, it seems a much better time for our aesthetics, our
approach to music, than all these previous years.
You say German audiences weren’t interested in what
Harmonia was doing. Was the response better in other European countries?
Harmonia happened in Germany, and didn’t have a fan base outside of
Germany, hardly any sales –– really very poor sales of our albums. Neu did
much better back then; I think the strong beat that was part of the Neu
music made it easier for people to understand or get a feeling for where we
were heading. But Harmonia music really demanded more of the audience.
The impression I got was that French audiences were
more receptive to the German experimental bands than the bands’ own
could have been true for a band like Tangerine Dream, maybe Faust, Can maybe, and then later on Kraftwerk. But, I don’t know for
which reason, it wasn’t true for Harmonia. We tried to survive by doing
concerts in Germany, some in Belgium and Holland, but never made it across
the channel to the UK, and never played in France. It was a very difficult
time to survive with that kind of music.
With your introduction to the world in Kraftwerk, you
seemed to arrive fully formed, with a distinctive, minimalist style of
melody and harmony. How do you see yourself in the context of the
avant-garde music of the time?
returned to Germany from living in Pakistan with my parents in ’63, and
that was the period when all those pop bands from England came out,
and Stones, etc. That was the time when I really became interested in
making music. I had been listening to Indian and Pakistani music and of
course the classical music my mother played, but I started playing pop
guitar in ’64, really trying to be like Eric Clapton, George Harrison and,
later, Jimi Hendrix or Jeff Beck, all these great musicians, until I
somehow realized that there just wasn’t enough benefit to me from
all this copying; I wasn’t expressing my own personality.
I was about 19 I started doing conscientious-objector duties instead of
going into the military service; you could choose from institutions, and I
chose a mental hospital, psychiatry, because I was interested in psychology
at the time. And music was starting to form a part of me, because I was
looking around for a way out of this dead-end street –– at the end of the
’60s my band tried to improvise more, to modify the ideas of others, but
that’s not all that fulfilling, that wasn’t enough. And I wasn’t sure what
way out I could take. I wasn’t listening to avant-garde musicians; that
wasn’t my background.
was more or less in an hour zero or something when I by chance met the
Kraftwerk people and jammed with Ralf Hütter. That was a very important
step, because he was the first guy I met who had a similar approach to
melody and harmony that wasn’t rooted in American or British pop music.
Before Kraftwerk I had started to develop my own structured style very
carefully, by going back to minimal elements, like just playing one note of
the guitar, no finger acrobatics on the guitar neck, and then thinking
about the possibilities of expression within very minimal elements, with
just one harmony, one note, one direction.
was at the time, ’71-’72, when I was with Kraftwerk and I recorded the
first Neu album. On the first Neu album there’s only one track that has
more than one harmony, and that’s “Weisensee.” I remember very clearly that
at the time that was a step I really reflected on, thought about, whether
to add that harmony change was right or wrong. And I was really careful to
avoid all these clichés, the clichés that I had left behind. On
“Weisensee,” it’s an up-and-down movement, it’s like breathing, an in-and-out
movement between the two levels of the harmony. That’s how I understood the
idea, and then I thought, “That’s okay.” [laughs]
It’s intriguing to think that your studies in
psychology might have had some bearing on your very spare and simple style
of melody, harmony and tone. Your music does have its therapeutic aspects.
of these experiences I made in those early years, they had a very, very
strong impact on my way of thinking. You also have to consider the
importance of my meeting the Arabian and Indian music when I was about 9 or
10 years old. But it’s not possible to extract and say 20 percent is due to
Pakistan, and 20 percent due to such and such [laughs]; all of the elements, they
led to my way of thinking about society, of life, politics, of art, music;
many people I met, all the upheavals of the ’60s, the student revolutions
and the happenings in Paris in ’68, the march at the Palais Bourbon. I was
a bit younger than all those people, but I was very interested in it, and I
was interested in America and the opposition to the Vietnam war. And so all
that formed my own personality, and a view on society.
course there was a lot to oppose to, and the remaining conservative
structures of postwar Germany, of the equally conservative structures of
other countries, but definitely in Germany. Well, if you look at some of
the politicians, they already had been actors in the Nazi era, and some of
those characters were still around at the end of the ’60s, and in power.
On your solo albums Flammende Herzen, Sterntaler and Katzenmusik
from the mid-’70s, you collaborated with drummer Jaki Liebezeit of Can. He
has his own intriguing theories –– about how each note of a rhythmic
pattern has a counterpart in tonality, for example; he sees these patterns
as very musical in that respect. There could have been no better match for
you; his extremely economical style fits yours perfectly.
of course that didn’t happen by chance. I knew his style, his capabilities
–– he was my first choice, of course. I started recording my first solo
album in 1976 and I could only be happy that Jaki was willing to join me
and Conny Plank in the studio. He’s such an inspiring artist. And all these
albums we did together, sometimes we had some discussions, because I asked
him to play a slightly different style than what he did for Can, and he did
that with such a great way of playing, with all the qualities of a drum
machine, but being much better than that because of the actions in the
music that he expressed in small variations sometimes maybe people are not
you look at a track like “Flammende Herzen,” I played guitar –– I should go
back one step: I played my sketches to Conny and to Jaki before we went
into the studio; not only were they just sketches, but when we started
recording the basic tracks, I just played guitar along, and Jaki listened
to my rhythm guitar and then he couldn’t know what kind of melodies exactly
that would happen on top of one –– but the accents or the points where he
puts on an exclamation mark, for instance, they were all at the right spot.
So, he didn’t play the drums to the finished recording, but the other way
’round. Amazing the amount of creation he was capable of playing with.