Who are Kraftwerk?

Do you like electronic music? Do you like music that uses electronic or computer generated sounds? Chances are that you do. And chances are that the sounds that are being made are influenced by Kraftwerk, whether you or the artist realizes it.

Kraftwerk is one of the first bands to make music using all electronic or computer generated sounds. They even developed many of their own electronic instruments or modified existing technology so that it was more usable or better suited their purposes. I don’t know this for sure but I would be willing to bet that Kraftwerk was also one of the first artists to use loops in their recording process (although I also would not be surprised if their version of a loop was to play something one-hundred times over which to me appears to be a loop).

I do not pretend to be a Kraftwerk connoisseur; I have only heard three of their albums, but each one is thoroughly unique and innovative and perfectly realizes the sound it is trying to capture.  The three albums I have spent time with are Autobahn, Trans Europe Express, and Tour de France. The first thing you might notice about each of these album titles is that each one refers to some sort of transportation method, a way of getting from here to there.

The first, Autobahn, starts off with an epic twenty-three minute track titled ‘Autobahn’.  If you didn’t take a hint yet the track even starts with what sounds like an engine starting and a horn honking. You are then taken on a twenty-three minute audio trip down the Autobahn. I have never driven in Germany but I have driven on a highway and this song sounds like what traveling down the highway feels like. The only lyric in the song is the word “Autobahn”, so Kraftwerk isn’t telling you how to drive, you know how to drive. They are bringing you on a journey down the highway. I always feel like some parts of the song I am winding through majestic mountain passes and some parts I am cruising through endless prairie; kind of like taking a twenty-three minute trip from Maine to California.

Trans Europe Express is my favourite of the three albums. The first track on this one ‘Europe Endless’ on a not so epic (only ten minutes this time) train ride through Europe to see “Parks, hotels and palaces” and “Promenades and avenues”. I like to think of the next two tracks ‘The Hall of Mirrors’ and ‘Showroom Dummies’ and stops along the way and wonderful stops they are. ‘The Hall of Mirrors’ is about someone who sees who they are and dislikes themselves so they try to change (“Even the greatest start find/dislike/change themselves in the looking glass”). ‘Showroom Dummies’ is about how fame may not be all that it is cracked up to be (“We are standing there, exposing ourselves. We are Showroom Dummies”). Then for ‘Trans Europe Express’ and ‘Metal on Metal’ we are back on the train; we hear the chug of the engine and the click-clack on the tracks and we are off again.

You can probably guess what Tour de France is about. This one doesn’t have any really long epic track (the first track ‘Prologue’ is thirty-two seconds long) but this one actually is more like an hour long journey.  Individual tracks do not stand out as much to me.  We start off with a lot of energy and exuberance but by the time we hit the mountains all we can focus on is the beating of our hearts, our lungs emptying and filling with air and our legs pumping on the pedals. We are alone, man melded with machine, but there is always a sense of time passing, a clock ticking, propelling us forward. And at the end we finish and we are relieved and exhausted and thrilled.

You may have noticed that I talk a lot about how these albums make me feel. I think this is what Kraftwerk does best, they take an event or experience and recreate it in audio form so the when it is listened to we feel like we are involved and part of that experience. But I think we also each create our own experience while listening too.  I may be driving through mountains and prairies but you might be driving through cities and towns or along the coast of the ocean.

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About themusicandtheart

New Hampshire resident with interests in music, literature, films and baseball.
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One Response to Who are Kraftwerk?

  1. Keith says:

    Interesting reading. I remember hearing Autobahn for the first time when I was in high school (70’s) and was intrigued with their sound. Although they didn’t get a lot of airplay they did get a lot of attention. When I was in Munich last fall there was a Kraftwerk multi media event going on at Konig Platz. I missed it because I never seemed to be there when the show was starting. They do still get a lot of attention in Germany. I did drive on the Autobahn and your description (Maine to California) is spot on. I can;t wait to read more of your blogs. These should be interesting…. One more comment. The tape loop dates back to the 50’s or 60’s. It was more of an experimental thing than a real technique. Kraftwerk was one of the first artists to put it to good use. I know the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Soft Machine all experimented with looping at one point or another. Even Queen used looping to create echo effects on their early albums.

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