Kraftwerk: Man, Machine and Music
Pascal Bussy (SAF Publishing) | Kraftwerk
Given the relative difficulty of obtaining a routine press interview with the reclusive Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, the idea of researching a "definitive account" of their long and fascinating career as, firstly and briefly, Organisation, and then, famously, Kraftwerk, strikes me as being a bit of a tall order. But, piecing together material from cuttings, rare recordings, and interviews with everyone from early collaborators like Emil Schult and recent encountees such as William Orbit to the "Ruhr brothers" themselves, Pascal Bussy traces a lovingly detailed outline.
From the duo's origins in the experimental artistic maelstrom of '60s Germany, when the boldest musicians sought to define an indigenous version of rock and roll, we're taken on a chapter by chapter, album by album history of Kraftwerk's development, calling at all stations (and indeed motorway services) to 1993. The precise nature of early brushes with the likes of the influential German composer Stockhausen is not explored, although the degree to which producer Conny Plank helped Ralf and Florian through the early years is: in other words, not all the most intriguing connections are fully made.
And although the book rightly emphasises how much this development went hand in hand with advances in recording and instrument technology, detail of those advances is sparse. Anyone looking to unearth the esoteric secrets of Kling Klang's equipment will have to continue the search elsewhere.
But you can hardly blame Bussy for that. Hütter and Schneider have made a career out of reticence and mystique. To some extent it's in the book's interest to flatter the Kraftwerk myth, and this is reflected in the unstintingly reverent tone. There's no clear indication as to whether an original draft in Bussy's native French was translated for English and American readers by a third party, or whether the author exercised his own multilingual powers. Either way, the result is a somewhat stilted and expressionless style, which allied to the linear narrative gives the work the character of an extended entry in an encyclopedia. But that's useful enough, and there is no doubting the book's appeal, to both worshippers at the altar of techo and to anyone hungry for insights into one of the most important musical odysseys of the 20th Century.
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