CD Comments – Computer World



(Image from Amazon.com, used for review purposes only.)

When you talk about electronic music from Germany, it’s impossible to ignore Kraftwerk and the entire concept of Krautrock. While I’d mentioned Krautrock in the entry on Tangerine Dream, it’s use is primarily as a label to identify bands coming on the music scene from Germany from the late 60’s to the 70’s. There’s nothing that specifically says that these bands are solely playing in the techno, synth or synthpop genres, but due to media coverage in music magazines, that’s the impression that we got in the U.S. In fact, many of the bands at that time were unaware of each other, and weren’t actively trying to create a new genre.

Kraftwerk: Computer World (Kling Klang Studio, 1981)
Kraftwerk first formed in 1970, with co-founding members Florian Schneider and Ralf Hutter, joined by Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger, among various other performers backing on the first three albums. Their real breakthrough came with Autobahn in 1974, and the incorporation of the Minimoog and EMS Synthi AKS in the line-up. This was followed by Radio-Activity (1975), Trans-Europa Express (1977), The Man-Machine (1978) and then Computer World.

With Computer World, we get a very polished, very slick synth-oriented concept album that falls smack in the middle of my third category of synth innovation – “how can we build a song around the sounds we can make on these machines?” The track credits do not include any acoustic instruments; it’s all synths, vocoders, electronic drums and mixers. The lyrics are generally very simple (“I am the operator of my pocket calculator”, “It’s more fun to compute”) and when they’re not heavily processed through vocoders, they have very crisp, precise German accents. In fact, Pocket Calculator works as a spoken word song specifically because of the accents.

There’s still a lot of fun to be had in trying to deconstruct the sounds in order to replicate them. There’s not a lot in the way of frequency filtering; most of the sounds fall into the category of squarewave “beeps” and “boops” (especially for the pocket calculator effects), and amplitude ADSR envelopes. The lead vocals are usually run through vocoders with multiple settings to get harmonies, or the feeling that the singers are being driven by keyboard keys. Various trills also show up in places, probably from an LFO driving the oscillator pitch.

As mentioned above, I consider CW to be a concept album. If it isn’t, it does have a very obvious theme, with tracks like: Computer World, Pocket Calculator, Numbers, Computer World 2, Computer Love, Home Computer and It’s More Fun to Compute. The music is designed to sound like machines and/or robots – hard-edged and mechanical. Again, the idea is to take the output from the electronics and figure out how to craft the songs around it. In a way, though, this has a big influence on the overall “color” of the album. There’s a kind of celebration of programming, elevating programmers in a positive sense. CW is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Tangerine Dream’s Private Music, and highly recommended.

 

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