Monday, 5 May 2008

Harmonia – 19 April 2008, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Tonight is the first! ever! live UK showing of the marv and legendary Harmonia. It’s only been, um, thirty-four years since these kings of kosmiche initially emerged from the Forst countryside with ‘Musik Von Harmonia’ refracting the sunlight into weird new shapes.

As we arrive, Led Bib are going Free Jazz squibbly squonk mental in the foyer. The sound they make hurts our insides and upsets our sense of balance. It makes the lady at the ticket desk scowl testily. We cower in a corner until the scary jazz has dissipated, then make our way into Queen Elizabeth Hall’s soothing wood-lined auditorium to find our seats amongst an ocean of beardy baldy men (inc. author Toby Litt who fits in well).

The beardy, baldy men and us and a small boy who has been brought along by his beardy baldy man dad are in a state of high anticipation. The stage is set mysteriously with three trestle tables swathed in black cloth. Laid out along the tables is Equipment – laptops and wires and stuff. You know the way it works with electronica – lots of Equipment, not very sexy, unless it’s olden times analogue Equipment with big reel to reel tapes and clacky bakerlite switches and dials and things. Which it never is.
Harmonia take up their positions behind the tables. Hans Joachim Roedelius is bald as an egg and wears his trousers old-man high – this is perfectly acceptable as he’s in his seventies. To the left of the towering Roedelius, Dieter Moebius is small and bespectacled. To Roedelius’ right, Michael Rother appears to have hired a younger man to pose as him.

And so they begin, stretching delicate ambient sounds out across space, choosing notes carefully. The beardy, baldy men are a bit let down. This isn’t a greatest hits thing. This is three men renowned for their mischievously experimental explorations with sound doing what they do – experimenting, improvising, building precarious structures with slivers of noise. Behind them, a screen twitches with images of themselves as younger men, in monochrome days of longer hair and lots more Equipment. The small boy is lead out weeping silent tears of boredom. After some time, a voice from the audience calls in frustration ‘Make it louder!’ They make it louder, washes of sound filter the room, techno beats thud engagingly. It’s weird to be sitting still and silent amidst an assault of such obvious dancey sounds.

Michael Rother takes up a guitar – ooh! to throw furzy, looping chords into the mix, a motorik backbeat kicks in – aah, that better. Then…more ambient drops of sound. I discover its best to close your eyes and really concentrate on each note, making each one into a little universe to be explored minutely. Time is elastic. How long have we been in here, sitting in the dark, absorbing soundscapes?

Then, finally, finally ‘Immer Wieder’ from meisterwerk second album ‘Deluxe’ ripples and flexes its way across the auditorium, yawing laconically. Beautiful. Underneath its mighty flood you can sense mass sighs of contentment. This is really what everyone came for. As the song comes to a close, too soon, too soon, the audience is euphoric, leaping to its feet to offer a standing ovation. It’s been an intriguing and touching evening.

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