Monday, April 10, 2017

Kraftwerk - 1970 - Kraftwerk


01. Retreat (Ruckzuck) (7:47)
02. Stratovarius (12:10)
03. Megaherz (9:30)
04. From the High Skies (Von Himmel Hoch) (10:12)

- Florian Schneider / flute, violin, electric percussion
- Ralf Hütter / organ, Tubon synth
- Andreas Hohmann / drums (1,2)
- Klaus Dinger / drums (4)

- Konrad "Conny" Plank / co-producer, engineer

Remaining one of the most influential bands in the history of popular music, we mustn't forget that KRAFTWERK typical sound is the result of many years and decades of experimentations, continuous works and researches in the possibilities offered by the acoustic, electronic and rock instruments.

In 1968, the two original members (Florian Schneider and Ralf Hutter, two longstanding friends) formed ORGANISATION. The famous German producer Conny Plank helped them to record their first album "Tone Float". Historically this album figures among the first albums released in the Krautrock genre, next to recordings from CAN, AMON DUUL, TANGERINE DREAM. The tone is floating but above all largely dominated by long, free improvisations, mixing organs, electronic experimentations with acoustic percussions.

During the year 1970, R. Hutter and F. Schneider dissolved the band to form KRAFTWERK whose name means power station (in German). Klaus Dinger and Andreas Hokman join the band and record an album called "Kraftwerk". Very minimalist, the record's cover is a perfect illustration of a repetitive music made of sound manipulations, punctuated by the flute and the electronic organ parts. The atmosphere is slightly "garage", a bit noisy, sometimes ethereal and spacey (Megahertz). At this time, the band's reputation remains discreet, despite a certain success. One year later in 1971, Klaus Dinger leaves the band to form NEU! with Michael Rother. "Kraftwerk 2" is released the same year and pursues on the way defined by the previous album (a lot of experimental guitar parts, distorted sounds, repetitive rhythms, gradual process.).

In 1973, Florian Schneider decides to put the stress on electronic percussions and contemporary sound researches. "Ralf & Florian" marks a turning point in the band's career. The melodies and the sound used begins more and more pop orientated despite that the recordings strive to bring to the fore the talent of Schneider and Hutter as musicians. In 1974, a new start announces the creation of the "Kling Klang" studio; a small laboratory entirely devoted to advanced electronic researches and investments in new synthesisers. In the album "Autobahn" the Mini Moog and others synthesisers supplant definitely the improvisations and the aleatoric experimentations.

With captivated and very efficient melodies this album is the first of a long commercial success for the band. The band's members settle down, Wolgang Flur, Karl Bartos, Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider constitute the quartet of the classic period to come. The Kraftwerk's computer world is in work and in progress with great classic and successful electronic albums as "Radio Aktivitat", "Trans Europe Express" and "The Man Machine". The band's musical creativity is now highly recognised world wide. These albums reach the band to the summit of its career. With one accord the media and the public considered that KRAFTWERK created a new musical genre, the electro pop music. After this impressive commercial period, KRAFTWERK pursues a total immersion in technological musical theories. In 1981 is released "Computer World" which devotes a cult to the machines, computers and the numerical society. The sound of the album is one more time very cold, repetitive, rhythmically surgical and electronic. After the release of "Electric Café" in 1986, the musical team stops during a short moment. The band occasionaly appears in many festivals before to re-launch a commercial career with the album "Tour de France Soundtrack" in 2003.

The frequent comparisons to Can are about the closest you're going to get to any similar sounding music. Kraftwerk define their own space with every album - and yet, with the debut, there is something deeply rooted in 1970s rock, despite the apparent synth overload.
This is not full-blown electronica, as in actual fact, there are no synths - but the mix of organ and electronically effected acoustic/electric instruments makes for a very pleasing and retrospective texture.

"Ruckzuck" takes a minimalistic approach, and grows small textural ideas - this is not the type of Progressive Rock that blares "I'm Brilliant - Stand In AWE", but the type that draws you into a very intimate zone - a personal, unfolding voyage into inner and outer space simultaneously.

The trick is to try to follow all of the individual lines at once - it's nearly impossible. Following individual lines defeats the objectives of the music, and would fool the casual listener into believing that this is somehow simple or even nonsensical. It is actually a band that is tightly integrated with a common vision of the direction of the music - bordering slightly on the insane.

This is clearly evidenced in "Stratovarius", which begins with a sequence of ever- straining dischords, reminiscent of an orchestra tuning up. Eastern flavours creep in, and then someone walks off... once that oddity has passed, pizzicato madness starts to set in, but settles into a groove quite quickly, underpinned by detuned bass and a really cool drum beat that twists and turns, assisting the music in its build-up in a section that clearly has its roots in Krautrock/psychedelia.

The pizzicato returns around 7:30, marking out what appears to be a 3rd section to the piece. Indeed, this feels more like a new piece in the same style rather than the continuation of the existing piece - but that doesn't matter too much, as the style is given some continuity with violin flavours in the texture - I'm assuming that this is what "Stratovarius" is referring to; the use of violin and doctored violin sounds as textural leitmotif that goes beyond the original sound of the instrument.

A 4th section begins unmistakably with the use of a mournful bowed violin sound - whether it's acoustic or electronic is somewhat obfuscated by the clever overlays, but it's a great build-up that superficially may seem repetitive, but Kraftwerk have a great handle on minimalism and understand where to tweak the sounds to provide maximum dramatic growth.

"Megaherz" follows, and again, the dry Kraftwerk humour shows through, beginning with deep, throbbing bass sounds (in the herz arena, but lots in terms of ambient quantity...). This is gradually layered with dissonant washes of what appear to be synth in a wonderfully atmospheric way, that makes me feel as if I'm staring down some kind of electronic hole in the space-time continuum... This drops away to a gentle and pastoral flavoured section, beautifully floaty, with the occasional dischord to counterbalance any saccharine in the sweetness of the surrounding textures. Shimmering metallic sounds indicate the gentle growth of the piece, providing a kind of alarm to new possibilities. Time seems to stand still.

This piece is a perfect example of how ambient music can be written, with attention paid to the character of the music, and instrumental decoration kept to a minimum - virtuosity is provided in the treatment of the instrumental textures, some of which are processed through various effects, others of which are effects produced by different methods of playing the instruments.

"Vom Himmel Hoch" rounds off the album nicely - another near-perfect composition for what it is. There are moments in here that remind me very strongly of the more "floaty" parts of "Dark Side of the Moon" - almost as if Pink Floyd lifted the sections from around 3:00...

The Krautrock "freakout" that follows shows a fabulously creative set of imaginations at work, with sounds that are disturbing and edgy, and reminiscent of the tape collages of Karlheinz Stockhausen, and the easy yet disturbed groove that brings the piece to a close is strongly predictive of the Ozric Tentacles.

It's quite apparent that the engineering and effects processing is just as important to the success of this album as a coherent and very progressive work of art as the playing of the band itself, which is another thing that this album has in common with "DSOTM".

As a summary, an absolutely fabulous work of art - I would say stunning for a debut, but that wouldn't be strictly true, as Hutter and Schnieder released an album called "Tone Float" under the name of Organisation. This is a decidedly more exploratory affair, with none of the hallmarks of a band having mastered its sound that "Kraftwerk" shows. A real Power Station of ideas and highly recommended.

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