|The first sound experiments with electronic equipment date from the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. Scientists, artists and composers were investigating the complete world of sounds. The results of those first sound experiments led to the creation of electronic music and the development of the first electronic instruments.|
|In the 1930s magnetic recording was invented in Germany. In the late 1940s french composers were using acetates and magnetic tapes to compose “musique concrète”. In the beginning of the 1950s measuring technique of radiostations was involved to create synthetic music with sine-oscillators, pulse-generators, noise-generators and filters. From the mid-1960's electronic keyboards and effect-units were used more widely in pop- and rockmusic. In the beginning of the 1970s the first portable commercial synthesizer was made available.|
Germany a new generation of musicians, artists, writers and filmmakers were
looking for a cultural identity, experimenting with different forms of expression.
In this atmosphere arose what would be one of the most influential electronic musical groups on the planet: Kraftwerk. Living in the industrial region of Rhein/Ruhr, Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider Esleben were classically educated musicians who attended the same improvisation class in the summer of 1968 at the Akademie Remscheid, near Düsseldorf. Having similar musical visions they started a group called “Organisation”, doing concerts in art-galleries, universities and clubs. Moving away from traditional concepts of musical composition, Florian used echo-units and amplification for his flutes and violins. Ralf basically did the same with electronic keyboards. They shared the stage with several musicians, often different in each performance, where they frequently improvised and experimented in long sessions.
|Kraftwerk, the concept and the first albums|
early 1970 the electro-pioneers Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider started
the project Kraftwerk and established their own Kling Klang Studio in the
centre of Düsseldorf.
Here they developed the audiovisual concept and composed the music for all the Kraftwerk albums. The cover of the first album showed an image of a traffic cone, which was a trademark of this initial phase of the group, integrating the influence of the industrial environment in which they lived. The album was recorded and mixed later in the year with two different drummers in a few night sessions. The music was dynamic and very intense.
|The album "Kraftwerk 2" was recorded by the duo and released in 1971, reflecting more the harmonic and athmospheric side of their music. In later years this musical style was called “Ambient Music”. For the first time Ralf integrated his electronic drum-machine to his keyboard patterns and Florian's repetitive melodic lines, creating the meditative Klingklang Sound. For the co-production of these two albums, Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider relied on the collaboration of the engineer Konrad Plank.|
|During the years 1970/1971/1972 Kraftwerk continued their live activities all over Germany, cooperating with many different musicians and artists. In february 1973 the duo Ralf and Florian played their first shows outside of Germany in Paris, France. The audio-visual concept included coloured neonlights and the famous neonsigns with their names and slide projections by Emil Schult.|
In the summer of 1973 Kraftwerk released their third album “Ralf
& Florian”. For the first time the original tracks were
recorded at Kling Klang Studio on a mobile recording equipment by engineer
Plank. The album also featured new elements such as synthesizers,
human and vocoder-processed voices. Also the prototype of the new electronic
drumset, constructed by Florian Schneider and designed in cooperation
with Emil Schult, was used for the first time. The booklet
for the album with illustrations and music-comics was created by Emil
Schult with additional drawings by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider.
|In may 1974 Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider produced the legendary album “Autobahn”. The music was like a film script and an electronic journey into sound. The 22-minute title-track was composed and recorded at their Kling Klang studio and mixed together with Konrad Plank at his studio. Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider played all the instruments, including synthesizers, electronic keyboards, flute, electric guitar and the special electronic drum units. For the first time the minimalistic album combined music with lyrics and electronic sound-poetry, sung by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, co-written by Emil Schult, who also did the cover-painting. Additional percussion on the track “Kometenmelodie 2” was played by Wolfgang Flür. Electronic violin on “Mitternacht” was played by Klaus Roeder. For their first US-Tour Kraftwerk engaged Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos as electronic drummers and introduced the term “Die Mensch Maschine” for the tour poster. The “Autobahn” album was the worldwide breakthrough for Kraftwerk and is considered today as the birth of “Electro-Pop”.|
|This electronic concept album marked a step forward for Kraftwerk in terms of artistic and musical direction with the exclusive use of totally electronic sounds. The electronic voices and the speech-synthesis were programmed by Florian Schneider, while Ralf Hütter developed his typical speech-singing-style (Sprechgesang).|
|The concept for “Radioactivity” referred to the ambiguity of the term "radioactivity", contrasting the more immediate meaning (radioactive waves) to the implicit meaning of the album's lyrics (radio waves). The cover artwork by Emil Schult showed the stylized image of a 1930's radio, and inside was an image of a broadcast antenna with the lyrics and radioactive stickers. It is interesting to emphasize that "Radioactivity" was released with bilingual lyrics of the songs, in german and english. The lyrics were again co-written by Ralf Hütter, Florian Schneider and Emil Schult.|
|Trans Europe Express|
|The next Kling Klang Produkt was released in 1977. "Trans Europe Express" ("Trans Europa Express" in german version) is an impressive composition that describes a continental trip inside the famous European railway-system. The melodies and the rhythms were strongly marked by the pioneering use of a custom built sequencer programmed by Ralf Hütter and the machine like vocoder voices by Florian Schneider. “Metal on Metal” was a pure “industrial” music track. The album could be considered as a kind of spiritual tribute to european culture.|
|At the same time the hypnotic quality of “Trans Europe Express” fascinated the early hip-hop community in America and the new DJ-culture, inspiring Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force to record “Planet Rock” five years later in 1982. The cover photo of the group was a retro-futuristic statement. Other prominent songs were "The Hall of Mirrors" and "Showroom Dummies", where Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider introduced a new artistic concept, that was to be used more frequently in Kraftwerk's future shows, the presentation of mannequins on fotos and in videos and later on stage, the famous "dummies".|
|The Man Machine|
|The following year 1978 marked the release of the album "The Man Machine" ("Die Mensch Maschine") the next audio-visual concept by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider. "The Man Machine” defined the industrial existence of Kraftwerk as semi-human beings (halb Wesen und halb Ding). “The Robots” personalize all these ideas with the lyrics: “we are programmed just to do, anything you want us to”. In interviews they stated: “Sometimes we play the machines and sometimes they play us”.|
|The mechanical appearance with red shirts and black ties, featured on the cover, was clearly related to the characteristics of the group's automated electronic music and totally sequenzed rhythm tracks. "Metropolis" was a clear allusion to the Fritz Lang classic, the German forerunner of science fiction films, while “Spacelab” had a more scientific approach. "Neon Lights" was a romantic and lonely walk through the streets of Düsseldorf at night, while “The Model” reflects the fast consumer mechanisms of the fashion world. The compositions "The Robots" and "The Man Machine" became a worldwide trademark and a synonym for Kraftwerk.|
|Between 1978 and 1981 the album "Computer World" ("Computer Welt") was produced. The sound quality and the visionary lyrics of the released material reached a level that few electronic works managed to equal until today. After a series of conceptual albums about highways, radioactivity, trains, science fiction and robots, nothing was more natural for Hütter and Schneider to choose the computer universe as the next theme for Kraftwerk. Emil Schult again contributed to the lyrics and the artwork. "Computer World" showed that they had reached full command of the technology for optimum sound, and it was clearly a new step from the previous albums. The Computer World album was a 100% Kling Klang Produkt, composed, recorded and mixed at Kling Klang Studio. The recording-process was done with multichannel analog-sequencing, synchronized to multichannel tape-recorder. "Computer World" and "Home Computer" both illustrate the art of Kraftwerk to create complex and visionary music for the society of today and tomorrow.|
|During this period Kraftwerk also reconstructed their Kling Klang Studio, making it modular with racks, ready to be transported for their next tour. The idea was to play “Live Electronic Studio Music”. For five years since 1976, it had been technically impossible for Kraftwerk to play their music live in concerts. They only did videos and TV shows.|
|After the release of "Computer World" 1981, Kraftwerk undertook their first world tour, playing in Europe, United States, Japan, Australia and even an unexpected concert in India and for the first time shows in Hungary and Poland. Kraftwerk transported tons of equipment. The stage now containing the modular Kling Klang Studio, arranged in an impressive "V" structure behind the musicians. Florian Schneider also using multitrack tapes to reproduce the sequenced rhythms and the drum tracks. Four screens showed films and animations that were controlled by the video-operator Günter Spachtholz. "Pocket Calculator" became another highlight, especially when played live in their shows. Kraftwerk operated mini-keyboards, toy instruments, pocket calculators and stepped closer to the stage-front, so that the audience also got a chance to play these instruments.|
|Tour de France|
|In 1982 Kraftwerk started working on the next Kling Klang Produkt called “Tour de France”. The lyrics were written in french language by cycling-enthusiast Ralf Hütter and his friend Maxime Schmitt ("... camarades et amitié"). The concept for the album was about the mental and the physical aspects of cycling, about men and their machines. Other ideas like health, medicine, training, nutricion and regeneration were also included in the script .|
|Simultaneously Florian Schneider experimented with his first digital sampling unit. Cycling noises, human breath and other sound sources were used to create the dynamic sequencer rhythm tracks. The title track was recorded and mixed at Kling Klang Studio and released as maxi single with the start of the Tour de France in July 1983. Later in the same year a remix was done by Francois Kevorkian in New York and this remix was featured in the soundtrack of the movie “Breakin’” (european title: “Breakdance”). At the same time work was done for the album "Technopop". Therefore the "Tour de France" album remained an unfinished project until 2003.|
|Technopop / Electric Cafe|
|The "Technopop" album was produced between 1982 and 1986. The original title "Technopop" was changed to "Electric Cafe". This was a spontaneous decision during the final mixing sessions in 1986, as it was the last title they had been working on. This was the period of transition. The music was generated, recorded and mixed on analog and digital equipement and tranferred to the digital master. It was the first Kraftwerk album in CD format. The tracks "Boing Boom Tschak", "Technopop" and "Musique Non Stop" formed a sequence of tracks, an idea that would be used a lot in the DJ culture mixing technique. The use of samplers made the treatment of voices more sophisticated, incorporating them into the rhythm and melody at the same time. “Boing Boom Tschak” is in fact pure sound-poetry and electronic-funk, followed by the synthetic voices and sound-collages of "Music Non Stop". The mix of this album was done by Francois Kevorkian in New York.|
|The changes did not only occur in terms of digital sound, Kraftwerk also digitized their own images. The cover of "Technopop" showed the digitized faces in computer graphics, developed at the New York Institute of Technology. The video of "Music Non Stop"is a tremendous example of virtual modeling and was created by Rebecca Allen and the team of NYIT Computer Graphics Laboratory. The pioneering work of develloping these 3-D computer animations took more than two years to be completed.|
|Analog to Digital|
|At the end of the year 1986 and after the release of the “Technopop” album Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider made a decicision for the next digital phase of Kraftwerk. This was started with the experience of sound-engineer Fritz Hilpert. The first step was the total redesign of the Kling Klang Studio regarding all the technical and acoustical setups. The next step was to transfer the analog sounds of all the previous recordings to digital standard to make them available as Kling Klang Music Data Files for the future. This enormous work of studio construction and converting the original sounds from the old analog Kling Klang Studio multitrack-tapes to digital format was a very time-consuming process in those days.|
|"The Mix" is a new Kling Klang Studio studio live album which was released 1991. With the new tapeless studio Kraftwerk worked on this product. An album where they used the original Musik Data Files remixed with new sound material on all the tracks such as "The Robots", "Radioactivity" or "Homecomputer". New beats and electronic sounds were created, without losing the spirit of the compositions.|
|Kraftwerk updated their material with new mixing techniques, ("The studio is our instrument"). The way in which they used these techniques in the studio and on stage, mixing sampled elements and sequenced synthesizers in real time with human and synthetic voices, was in fact very similar to what is known today as "Live-PA" in the DJ culture.|
|Kraftwerk launched a big tour in 1991 with a series of very successful concerts all across Europe. They brought their new digital Kling Klang Studio setup on stage. All these sound machines were operated by Ralf Hütter, Florian Schneider, Fritz Hilpert and Henning Schmitz, who had already been working wih Kraftwerk as sound engineer on "The Man Machine" and "Technopop" albums. One of the highlights of the shows were the four remote-controlled robots, who replaced the musicians. They were Kraftwerk lookalikes moving to the rhythm of the music in a kind of mechanical ballet with impressive light effects. Synchronized video images and midi controlled computer graphics were projected on four screens. With this new multimedia performance Kraftwerk had placed their feet in the Nineties.|
|During the following years they supported Greenpeace at the "Stop Sellafield" concert, and participated in the "Ars Electronica" festival with the Balanescu Quartet and appeared at the "KlangArt" festival. In 1992 Kraftwerk composed the title track for the “MTV - Music Non Stop" show. Kraftwerk made a surprise live appearance at the legendary Tribal Gathering 1997 in Luton Hoo, England. They were wearing synthetic wireframe suits using ultraviolet lights. With this futuristic look and the spectacular visuals they were welcomed back by the worldwide techno music scene.|
|In 1998 they went to Japan, United States, Europe, and for the first time in their history, played in South America, with concerts in Brazil and Argentina. The concerts in Brazil took place in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, as part of the Free Jazz Festival. These were the last shows that had the impressive structure of the Kling Klang Studio on stage, a trademark of the group's shows since 1981, the technology being constantly upgraded and modified. The producer Pena Schmidt, who brought the group to Brazil in 1998, gave his impressions of the structure: "Their stage, after it was set up, looked like a NASA laboratory. I'm sure that, as the years pass, this stage will be considered a form of 20th century art".|
1999 Kraftwerk created the audio branding for the World Exhibition in Germany.
The single "Expo 2000"
followed in december, with four variations of the theme, produced with
new editing software technology. In November of 2000 the Kling Klang Produkt
"Expo 2000 Remix"
was released. This remix album was a cooperation of Kraftwerk with artists
such as Francois Kevorkian, Orbital, Underground Resistance and DJ Rolando.
The computer animated video shows Kraftwerk in a futuristic landscape
on the "Planet of Visions". Ryuichi Sakamoto asked Kraftwerk
in 2001 to compose a sound poem for the "Zero Landmine" charity
album that was released the same year.
|The 21st century saw the Kraftwerk Robots presented at the "Haus der Geschichte" ( House of History) in Bonn, the former capital of the Bundesrepublik Germany. At the beginning of 2002 they were also in the "ex machina" exhibition at the Museum of Arts in Cologne. In october 2002 the Robots were part of the "Electric Body" exhibition at the Musée de la Musique in Paris.|
|September 2002 was the start of the world tour "Minimum-Maximum". Kraftwerk introduced the new digital and mobile format of the show with 4 laptops and the 16-meter wide screen. Three spectacular concerts at the auditorium of the "Cité de la Musique" in Paris were the world premiere with more shows in Belgium and Luxemburg. The new Kling Klang Studio had four small consoles for Hütter, Schneider, Hilpert and Schmitz with the new virtual studio technology. Now the musicians were generating and modulating all the music data using special designed, custom built control boards and 4 vaio notebooks. The films and computergraphics on the giant screen were in perfect sync with the music, the new PA system creating a dense and crystal-clear sound, studio quality live on stage. With this new minimized mobile stage equipment, transportation was no longer a problem. In december Kraftwerk performed at the "Electraglide" Festival in Tokyo and Osaka. In January 2003, they played eight shows in Australia and New Zealand at the famous "Big Day Out" Festival. The heat of the Australian summer contrasted to the ice cold winter in Japan. Kraftwerk and the new mobile equipment proved to be resistant against climatic extremes.|
Tour de France Soundtracks
the performances in Australia, Ralf Hutter did a radio interview, where
he confirmed that the group was working on a new album, which was already
In July 2003, as the famous race was completing its 100th anniversary, the moment was perfect for the release of the single "Tour de France 2003". Kraftwerk were invited by the directors of the "Tour de France" to follow the legendary stage in the alps to "Alpe d'Huez" as guests by car and helicopter. With these impressions they returned to the Kling Klang Studio.They finished the final mix of the album at the same time when the race ended on the Champs-Elysées in Paris.
|"Tour de France Soundtracks" was a totally conceptual album with mostly french lyrics, The themes of the new tracks were inspired by the world of cycling such as "Prologue", "Chrono", "Vitamin", "Aero Dynamik" and "Elektro Kardiogramm". For that last song, they recorded the sounds of heartbeats and used them as a base for the rhythm. All tracks are minimalistic in their rhythmic structure with continuous movement and a fantastic flow of melodies. An electronic work produced with impeccable sound quality. "Tour de France Soundtracks" was well received by critics and the public, and repositioned Kraftwerk in the headlines of the planetary media, with various reports and analyses. After 33 years of the Kraftwerk history they had their first Number One album in Germany, this was like the Yellow Jersey.|
|In November 2003, Kraftwerk did a live performance on television, as part of the MTV Europe Music Awards. Transmitted throughout the world, the TV audience was mesmerized. Kraftwerk presented their total music concept, that went beyond the mere presence of the musicians on stage. The focus was on the synchronicity of the sound and images and not on the cult of personality. They performed a track from the new album, "Aero Dynamik", that was also released as a single in March of 2004. Kraftwerk announced the next phase of the world tour, with 69 concerts covering Europe, Japan, North America, Central America and South America. For the first time, the group performed in such countries as Portugal, Iceland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Russia, Chile and Mexico.|
|The world tour was recorded on audio and video for documentation. In June 2005 the live double CD "Minimum Maximum" was released. After the summer tour of the USA, Kraftwerk participated at the contemporary art exhibition "Biennale di Venezia" with a concert at the Lido. Concerts in Belgrade, Sofia , Skopje Thessaloniki, Athens and Istanbul were followed the"Rock Werchter", "Eurockéenes de Belfort" and the famous Montreux Jazz Festival. The world tour ended with three shows in Milano, Ferrara and Napoli and the "Electric Picnic" Festival near Dublin. The first Kling Klang Musik Film "Minimum Maximum" of the world tour was relased in december 2005 as double DVD with DTS 5.1 surround sound. A special designed "Notebook" includes the double CD, double DVD and 88 page book with photographs from the world tour 2002 - 2005.|
|During the tour, more news were announced about the remastering of all the albums. "Autobahn", "Radioactivity", "Trans Europe Express", "The Man Machine", "Computer World", "Electric Cafe" (now with the original title "Technopop"), "The Mix" and "Tour de France Soundtracks". They will be released as a special box set, that will to be named "The Catalogue" (Der Katalog). The remastered albums also will be made available separately.in CD and vinyl formats, in English and German versions, all with the original extended artwork inside. The first three albums ("Kraftwerk," "Kraftwerk 2," and "Ralf and Florian") also will be released, though in a separate package. Those three albums were never officially released in CD format.|
have already found a place on the front line of innovation for more than
30 years. They have been guaranteed a place in a select group of artists
who have revolutionized their genre. They are constantly active, and their
new creations promise to establish the coordinates of the paths that electronic
music will follow in the coming years.
For a group that helped to write the history of modern electronic music, elevating it to the category of art, that was both sophisticated and popular, the 21st century has enormous possibilities.
to be continued...
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|Updated: January 28, 2011|