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|> Article + Interview: Kraftwerk   [Ralf Huetter]

Computer Liebe
      1991 - Willi Andresen

Calm and reduced movements are the the definitive elements in the performance of Kraftwerk. For 21 years, minimalism has been the highest rule for Ralf Huetter and Florian Schneider. Not only on the concert stage, but also in an interview.

Ralf Huetter, 45, rests on the conference chair in the Cologne office of the EMI/Electrola-Konzerns. Dressed completely in black. A face without great emotional features. Eyes which irradiate a clear spirit. A Kraftwerker does not speak often and seldom extensively with the outside world. So it was in the past. On the occasion of the release of their hit compilation "The Mix" and the approaching concert (26 Oct, Berlin, The Hall [okay so you missed it and it's taken me a while to get around to doing this]) Huetter and company break through their self-imposed professional secrecy and talk.

"The Mix" is the first true data product out of the Duesseldorfer KlingKlang Studio. Ralf Huetter and Florian Schneider developed the collection of hits more as a by-product, when they converted in the past two years their entire technical lab from analog to digital production work. "The Mix" is practically a 'live album', asserts Ralf Huetter, old popular songs like "Autobahn" and "Roboter" achieve with this modernization an up-to-date look. The sound lives from now on simply as calculated data, which can be called up at any time. They are, therefore, immortal and have staying power for eternity.

"We are always concerned with finding a form that is the most reduced as possible," explains Huetter with a quiet voice, which reveals pleasant little vibrations. The man-machine is cool, clear, and to the point.

"We want always to play only the fewest tones. This principle has grown out of our specific background. The employment of computers leads inevitably to minimalism. We play the minimalist sound-track of our era, we don't want a Baroque overkill. Everyone can add the part in his head, which to him seems important."

Minimalism of Tone inevitably implies a reduction of mobility. Kraftwerk(ers) don't operate like dancing bears a la Madonna or MC Hammer on the stage.

"On stage we operate electronic control panels, circuit switches, and keyboards," explains Huetter. "And we turn knobs, switches, regulators, and sound filters. I have singing fingers, speaking fingers, which communicate by technique. It goes along with this most highly sensible technique that one can only perform with minimal mobility. One has to visualize like the captain of a spaceship. Only a few millimeters displaced, and the sound is already away." Ralf Huetter knows about the psychological meaning of this form of performance.

"Whoever has to produce too many notes and tones, he attempts to cover up or overpower his anxieties. You trample on your keyboard, strum ten tones with ten different fingers instead of producing a single calm sound with a single finger. Okay, stagefright belongs to the appearance. Paranoia is for us a quality of life."

In the last ten years, Kraftwerk had to collect intensive experiences. The stars weren't particularly good for the Duesseldorfer music workers in the 80s, who since 1968 have sent out important musical impulses from Germany into the world.

Only two productions in a decade document the creative uncertainty with which Huetter & Co. had to struggle. Indeed at the end of the 80s, yet another Kraftwerk album was announced, but the news turned out to be a rumor. With "Computerwelt" in 1981, the Kraftwerkers succeeded in a still astounding vision of what concerns the technological and human developments of our era. Yet "Electric Cafe" turned out to be a flop in 1986. The buyers went off into the distance and the record company still balks today at revealing the small number of units sold for this work.

In the 70s, Huetter and Co. had stood as a definite motivation for every rising Newcomer and important member of the avant garde from Bowie to Africa Bambataa, from New Order to Depeche Mode and Front 242. Even Donna Summer and the house scene from Chicago take their synthesized music triumph from the Rhein.

"For me there has never since been a group who has given such a unique motivation." emphasized Andy McCluskey of OMD on the importance of the Dueselldorf Computer caravan at one time. "They are a perfect creation."

Creations are transient. And Kraftwerk must prove in the future that they still have a future.
"We are certainly pleased when some musician tells us what meaning our music has added to their development," asserts Huetter.
"Yet we trouble ourselves actually very little about the greater musical development. We concentrate on our work. What the future will bring, that will have to show itself first. We collect just once and will then develop. We will never speak about life at the South Pole, as long as we have not been there. The ability of a thing to be produced is for us very important. We reflect on our everyday experiences and set these into music. That is how we make our electronic folk music."

Kraftwerk have always attested to the position of the technical developments of our time in their work, siezed innovations from communications and technics, and turned these into industrial tones. Pocket calculators, monotony of locomotion on the streets and rails, robots, computers.

Huetter: "It has always interested us to make industrial music. Assembly line music. Production processes, which are all around us in the industrial world. Yet it exists, this odd music world with its historical museum character. There are opera houses financed from tax money in order to produce shows that are over 100 years old. And then the same consumers go to the dentist and want the most up-to-date high tech treatment. What a contradiction! Then demand consequently also the dental technique from 100 years ago--that with the sledgehammer anesthesia."

Ralf Huetter, who since 1968 has worked together with Florian Schneider and has operated since 1970 the Duesseldorfer Music-Kraftwerk, is an original and consequential thinker. For certain productions he hires on only additional musical helpers. That was and remains the work principle of Huetter and Schneider.

In light of that, it was not a typical group split when Karl Bartos and Florian Fluer left the team. Fernando Abrantes and Fritz Hilpert are the new helpers, who are also operating the command posts on the stage in the up-coming appearance. Impulses for the Kraftwerk motor are not planned from these two.

In the early years Huetter received much inspiration from the intellectual scaffolding of the Bauhaus Masters. Thinkers such as the Russian machine artist El Lissitzky. Also the poet Wladimir Majakowski gave an important kick in the head to the practitioners of the esoteric from the Rhein-Ruhr area.

Today the world around them serves alone at the warehouse for new inspiration. The world around us is a complete orchestra to us," says Huetter. "The noises from cars, coffee machines, and vacuum cleaners, we can use for our music. That is like a film. We are the scriptwriters, who with their ears pick up everything and bring in new pictures. I don't listen to music from other people any more. At home I turn on no music. I don't need that. I can think my music."

Kraftwerk has never produced music in the conventional sense. They put this approach up from the beginning as the usual Kraftwerk standard.
"We were very happy that there was no contemporary music in Germany," remembers Ralf Huetter.
"Pop music was and is an import article. We have in contrast to our colleagues in Germany and in other countries a completely different historical background. Country music is for example, an impression of life which belongs to Texas. This music, however, has nothing to do with Duesseldorf. We have always understood our music as specifically industrial music. And therefore, also as ethnic music."

The songs of the Duesseldorfers were never songs that had an existence as notes and words on paper. Kraftwerk songs were and are visions. Acoustic impulses that kindle in the listener a strong visual plane. "Das Model" dances not on a sheet of music, but rather in the head of the listener. The "Trans-Europa-Express" didn't travel from Berlin to Barcelona on a map, but by the wishes and dreams of pop fans through their own imagination. Kraftwerk play, so to say, the soundtrack for our dream and wish world.

"Without a loud speaker no one could ever experience Kraftwerk," recapitulates Ralf Huetter soberly and precisely.
"You can't play our music on a piano. That doesn't work. Notes have no value for our music. A piano is simply old. We have long ago lost from our gaze this archaic musical instrument."

Willi Andresen - 1991
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