The early death of Florian Schneider at 73 years of age made me reflect on the genius of Kraftwerk, the band he formed in 1970 with Ralf Hütter. The band started producing avant-garde music using traditional instruments but quickly gravitated to electronica under the influence of Schneider and Hütter.
Originally a flute player, Schneider became interested in transforming the instrument using whatever effects units were available at the time, tape echo, ring modulator and crude synthesis techniques. This plays to one of the definitions of creativity:
“Seeing something different in the ordinary”
An insight into his transition from flute to full synthesis of man and machine may be seen in this film:
I spent my teenage years trying to transform the sound of my violin and guitar using whatever rudimentary processors that were available. I also used two reel to reel tape recorders, were set up on the landing of our house to produce very large loops, delays and backwards recording effects, much to my mum’s annoyance. Later on, I took to the habit of writing books late at night to Kraftwerk songs, which provide the perfect focus and rhythm to engage with creative tasks. Karl Bartos pointed out that the early Kraftwerk songs were produced with fairly limited options to production. I resonate completely with this point in so far as constraints produce ingenuity. We have so many choices in electronic music these days and sometimes less is more in so many fields. See also Constraints and Creativity.
The other interesting thing about Kraftwerk was their innovation in terms of building Kling Klang studios as a spiritual home for their music. Environment is a key ingredient in producing the climate needed for most creative endeavours. This principle affects our personal lives as much as it matters in all creative endeavours. A sense of place is really important in providing the setting for creativity. David Bowie’s time in Berlin where he produced the trilogy of Low, Heroes and Lodger spawned one of his ground-breaking pieces, which he named after Schneider. Bowie was a big admirer of Kraftwerk.
I was also minded to quote Kraftwerk in my latest book, where I discuss the fusion of machines, intelligence and technology with man and woman. In the next 10 years I foresee that we may finally get to a point where we begin to harness the benefits of this 50 year old love / hate affair with the 4th industrial age.
Rest in peace and thank you for the inspiration.