CD Comments – The Mix



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

Kraftwerk’s The Mix (1991) is (according to the wiki article) a remixed compilation album featuring songs from Autobahn to Electric Cafe. Because this period includes the Radio-Active, Trans-Europe Express, The Man-Machine and Computer World albums, there’s a lot of overlap with the two CD’s I’ve already mentioned. The songs Computer Love, Pocket Calculator and Home Computer come off Computer World, while Trans-Europe Express, Abzug and Metal on Metal are from TEE. For the remaining songs, in chronological order: Autobahn and Radioactivity are from the albums of the same name; The Robots is from Man-Machine; and Musique Non-Stop is from Electric Cafe. What I find fun is that Dentaku is the Japanese lyrics version of Pocket Calculator, which had been performed as part of the Computer World tour in Japan (other versions are in German, French and Italian, but aren’t included on The Mix).

To me, Computer World is a concept album, revolving around computers and programming, while Trans Europe Express, if not a unified concept, is at the least very focused on technology and transportation. Since I don’t have the other albums on my player, I can’t comment on them. But, taken as a whole, The Mix comes across as a great sampler of Kraftwerk’s music from different “eras”, and contains many of the songs that received a lot of airplay on American radio (and hence are ones that I grew up on). The wiki article says that The Mix wasn’t initially received very well in part because there wasn’t any new material on it, and because the remixes didn’t sound all that special compared to what Kraftwerk had done before. In my opinion, this is more like a mix tape, something you put together because it has the songs that you want to listen to repeatedly, without all the “B-side material”.

The Robots contains a lot of “computer sounds”, by which I mean squarewares, fast ADSR envelopes, “boingy” reverbs, LFO’d amplitude modulation, and the use of frequency filter sweeps. This would made a great “Revolt of the Robots” music video. Autobahn starts out with the sound of a car door slamming shut and the vehicle starting up and driving off, then follows with ADSR cutoff filter sweeps, pans and buzzy notes (squarewaves with resonance turned way up, and possibly some white noise added). Radioactivity has a morse-code opening, and a strong disco base line (very danceable). Finally, Musique Non-Stop incorporates the lyrics – “Boing Boom Chuck, Boing Boom Ping” plus “Musique Non-Stop” – into the song in a much more integral way, working with short samples, and shifting the pitch and reverb of the samples as if they were just another instrument. It has a strong “house” genre feel, and I could see it performed as “two turntables and a microphone”.

Taken as excepts from larger works represented by the original albums, each group of songs demonstrate Kraftwerk’s evolution as a synth/electronica band, slowly moving away from “what can we make these instruments do?” to “it’s all about the song”. Then again, in Kraftwerk’s case, the song IS about technology and what the instruments can do, so that may not be such a big jump. My point is that Musique Non-Stop sounds more mature and developed, with the instruments supporting each other, rather than just being bolted together like with Home Computer.

The one common thread throughout the entire album is the use of vocoders. This is the one thing that never changes, regardless of how simple or elaborate the lyrics and singing are – there’s always massive distortion and manipulation of the vocal tracks. Vocoding alone is the one, single reason for getting The Mix, if you’re interested in deconstructing Kraftwerk’s approach as a synth student. It’s also amusing to compare Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk side-by-side and see how two bands from the same country and era have such radically opposing approaches to using synths to make music. (Personally, I find Too Hot For My Chinchilla to be great background while writing this blog entry, and Musique Non-Stop is better when walking to and from work.)

 

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