40 Years of Kraftwerk’s “Computerwelt”: Utopia Turned into Reality?

40 Years of Kraftwerk’s “Computerwelt”: Utopia Turned into Reality?

Hardly any band from Germany is named as a source of inspiration as often as Kraftwerk. No wonder, after all, they already declared utopia a reality 40 years ago with their album “Computerwerlt”. With their songs and sounds, the electro pioneers drew the visionary picture of a computer world that only became real everyday life years later. It was the soundtrack of a new digital lifestyle and the message was clear: this is where the future begins.

Synthetic sound worlds though bits and bytes still in their infancy

On 30th April 1981, Kraftwerk released the album “Computerwelt”. It was the eighth studio album by the electronic pioneers, recorded in their home studio ’’Klingklang’’. At that time computers were making huge leaps towards conquering everyday life but had by no means arrived there yet. The music was recorded with a wide variety of synthetic instruments, from synthesizers and drum machines to pocket calculators and electronic language translators. The New Musical Express named “Computerwelt” the second best album of the year.

As musical visionaries, Kraftwerk provide the blueprint for electro music

Kraftwerk was no longer in the original experimental Krautkunst line-up; instead, Ralf Hütter, Florian SchneiderEssleben, Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür stepped up at the end of the 1970s to make the robot myth see the light of day in the techno world with “Mensch-Maschine”. And the Düsseldorfers did it in an extremely visionary way. It was nothing less than a preview of how music would be made, and everyday life lived, in the 21st century.

Pioneers of electronic music

They worked with sound collages, wove synthetic sounds into complex compositions and

created futuristic sound worlds with eashttps://media.giphy.com/media/10uTjZCI1pGVZS/giphy.gife. Today’s legendary synthesizers such as the Mini-Moog, the ARP Odyssey or the Prophet, designed by Dave Smith in 1978, were a real sensation as the first polyphonic synthesizers with storable sound settings. (Prophet 5 is only the fourth revision of the classic!) Other sources of sound were a wide variety of vocoders such as the 2000, 3000 and 5000 vocoder series from EMS,  that were used to distort the voices to be more ‘’robot-like’’. Florian Schneider has even patented his own vocoder system, the Robovox.

Kraftwerk – Computer World

The themes the album dwells on give an indication of the futuristic and exciting way the train of thought of the musicians of Kraftwerk works. The song “Computerwelt”, for example, deals with the possible misuse of computer data by the police. It’s based on a true story that revolves around an affair at the Federal Criminal Police Office at a time when the RAF was gaining strength in Germany. At the same time, the stage scenario was reminiscent of the CIA or other secret services.

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Kraftwerk – Computer World (1981)

Kraftwerk – Calculator

The second track of the album “Taschenrechner” is light and playful. The legendary detail here is the use of the Bee Gees Rhythm Machine from the Barbie company Matell, a toy mini keyboard that was also handed out to the audience to play along with during live performances. The track was recorded as a German, English, French and Japanese version. They also recorded an Italian version for an Italian tv-show later on!

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Kraftwerk – Pocket Calculator (Discoring 1981)

Kraftwerk – Numbers

The third song on the album also became a classic. Not only techno-musically, but especially as a countdown during the international live performances. With distorted vocals, it counts from one to eight. And in different languages like German, English, French, Spanish, Russian and Japanese. A great opener for a live show!

 

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Kraftwerk – Numbers [Live, 2004]

Immense influence of “computer world” on pop and youth culture from yesterday to tomorrow

At the end of the ’70s, the internet was unknown, e-mails didn’t exist, and there was no sign of social media. Video chats were pure science fiction. Computers & Co. did not determine everyday life at all. Quite the opposite: a mouse was a rodent and a Mac was a burger. When the personal home computer took its first steps into our lives, it was a perfect match for the cyborg ideal that Kraftwerk had been cultivating in their music for years. The album introduced Kraftwerk to a wider audience, especially the increasingly burgeoning DJ culture at the time.

The unanswered question: Did Kraftwerk own a time machine?

In view of the developments that followed, which were and are in line with Kraftwerk’s predictions and allusions, the unanswered question still remains whether Kraftwerk already possessed a time machine or an interstellar glass sphere four decades ago. How else could they have known what the electronic and mechanical symphony of our everyday life would sound like? The never-ending ringing of mobile phones, the signals of incoming messages or e-mails, the microchip concert of the future at that time.

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Joe has been singing since he can remember and started playing guitar when he was 10. He's been using it as a songwriting tool ever since. He is passionate about melody and harmony and admires musicians who create these in unique ways. Check out his alternative / indie projects Best of Feelings and Zef Raček.

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