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As is well known, it was the Germans who invented methamphetamine, which of all accessible tools has brought human beings within the dosest twitch of machinehood, and without methamphetamine we would never have had such high plasma marks of the counterculture as Lenny Bruce, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," Blue Cheer, Cream, and Creem [T]he Reich never died, it just reincarnated in American archetypes ground out by hollow-eyed, jerky-fingered mannikins locked into their typewriters and guitars like rhinoceroses copulating....
But there is more to the Cybernetic Inevitable than this sont of methanasia. There are, in the words of the Poet, "machines of loving grace." There is, hovering dean far from the bumt metal reek of exploded stars, the intricate balm of Kraftwerk....
In the beginning there was feedback: the machines speaking on their own, answering their supposed masters with shrieks ot misalliance. Gradually, the humans learned to control the feedback, or thought they did, and the next step was the introduction of more highly refined forms of distortion and antificial sound, in the form of the synthesizer, which the human beings also sought to control.
Kraftwerk, whose name means power plant, have a word for this ecstatic congress: Menschmaschine, which translates as "man-machine." I am conversing with Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, coleaders of Kraftwerk....
"I think the synthesizer is very responsive to a person," says Ralf, whose boyish visage is somewhat less severe than that of Florian, who looks, as a friend put it, "like he could build a computer or push a button and blow up half the world with the same amount of emotion." "lt's referred to as cold machinery," Ralf continues, "but as soon as you put a different person in the synthesizer, it's very responsive to the different vibrations. l think it's much more sensitive than a traditional instrument like a guitar.
I asked Hütter if a synthesizer could tell what kind of person you are and he replied: "Yes. lt's like an acoustic mirror." I remarked that the next logical step would be for the machines to play you. He nodded: "Yes. We do this. lt's like a robot thing, when it gets up to a certain stage. lt starts playing...it's no longer you and I, it's lt. Not all machines have this consciousness, however. Some machines are just limited to onepiece of work, but complex machines...
I told them that I considered their music rather anti-emotional, and Florian quietly and patiently explained that ",emotion' is a strange word. There is a cold emotion and other emotion, both equally valid. lt's not body emotion, it's mental emotion. We like to ignore the audience while we play, and take all our concentration into the music. We are very much interested in origin of music. the source of music. The pure sound is something we would very much like to achieve."
They have been chasing the p.s.'s tail tor quite a while. Setting out to be electronic classical composers in the Stockhausen tradition, they grew up listening on the one hand to late-night broadcasts of electronic music, on the other to the American Pop music imported via radio and TV-especially the Beach Boys who were a heavy influence, as 5 obvious from 'Autobahn', although "we are not aiming so much for the music, it's the psychological structure of someone like the Beach Boys." They met at a musical academy, began in 1970 to set up their own studio, "and started working on the music, building equipment," for the eventual rearmament of their fatherland.
"After the war," explains Ralf, "German entertainment was destroyed. The German people were robbed of their culture, putting an American head on it. I think we are the first generation born after the war to shake this off, and know where to feel American music and where to feel ourselves. We are the first German group to record in our own language, use our electronic background, and create a Central European identity for ourselves.
So you see another group like Tangerine Dream, although they are German they have an English name, so they create onstage an Anglo-American identity, which we completely deny.
As tor the machines taking over, all the better. "We use tapes, prerecorded. and we play tapes also in our performance. When we recorded on TV we were not allowed to play the tape as a part of the performance, because the musicians union felt that they would be put out of work. But I think just the opposite: With better machines, you will be able to do better work, and you will be able to spend your time on energies on a higher level.
Lester Bangs - 1975