Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Kraftwerk Retrospective - The Art of Computers

We are driving on the Autobahn

In front of us is a wide valley
The sun is shining with glittering rays

The driving strip is a grey track
White stripes, green edge

We are switching the radio on
From the speaker it sounds:

We are driving on the Autobahn

Celebrating the works of a unique group of musicians, Kraftwerk, the Museum of Modern Art provided 8 nights of concerts from the German band, whose creations of minimalist techno tunes signaled  the beginnings of our digital age.

I latched onto their album Autobahn as a Christmas gift to myself in 1974 and absolutely loved it and still do. When I shared the music with some friends in my small town back then, they grimaced listening to the vocoders, looped tracks and computerized rhythms as if fingernails were scraping a blackboard and I told them, just like a time-traveling Marty McFly, "Your kids are gonna love this."

As much as I enjoyed the simple, hypnotic sounds (check out a sample from Autobahn or from Trans-Europe Express) I also marveled at what their work implied - music generated by computers and technology offered a glimpse of what was ahead for the world, which would soon be transformed by technology. It was a science-fiction soundtrack for this emerging force. So I'm not surprised, decades later, to see these musicians show off their work at the MOMA. Seems the most appropriate place for them:

"Kraftwerk anticipated the impact of technology on art and everyday life, creating sounds and visuals that capture the human condition in the age of mobility and telecommunication. Their innovative looping techniques and computerized rhythms, which had a major influence on the early development of hip-hop and electronic dance music, remain among the most commonly sampled sounds across a wide range of music genres. Furthermore, the use of robotics and other technical innovations in their live performances illustrates Kraftwerk’s belief in the respective contributions of both people and machines in creating art."

This past week audience members could capture the performance on hand-held devices we all think of as commonplace and ordinary.

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