Interview with Kraftwerk’s Ralf Hütter following their shows in NYC
New interview with the remaining original member of Kraftwerk – where Ralf among other things let’s know a new album is in the making and will be released soon:
Last week Ralf Hütter, the singer and founder of the pioneering German electronic band Kraftwerk, recalled the first time the band came to New York City: in 1975, for an American tour to promote “Autobahn,” an unlikely hit sung in German and backed by electronics. The group members were carrying, he said, a few suitcases, some synthesizers in padded boxes they had built themselves and, for visuals, a slide projector.
Things have changed. For Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at the Museum of Modern Art — eight sold-out concerts that conclude Tuesday, with Kraftwerk playing through each of its eight studio albums from 1974 to 2003 — Kraftwerk deploys 3-D video projectors that send images leaping forward from the stage, along with a custom surround-sound installation including overhead speakers and a sleekly concealed wall of woofers at the front of the stage. (A multimedia exhibition at MoMA PS1 continues through May 14.)
Yet after three-and-a-half decades of tech upgrades Kraftwerk probably sounds less futuristic than it did on first exposure. That’s because Kraftwerk’s future became pop’s present. The group’s avant-garde ideas — making music inseparable from new technology, building songs from synthetic sounds and electronic rhythms, using repetition and robotic voices — have taken over much of mainstream pop. Its deadpan lyrics about transportation, media and ubiquitous technology are still tersely prescient. Back when it made its 1981 album “Computer World,” Kraftwerk didn’t own computers. “It was all done on analog sequencers,” Mr. Hütter said.
Kraftwerk, which bills itself as the Man-Machine, doesn’t show its human side very often. Through the years the band has largely shunned pop’s cult of personality. Onstage Kraftwerk’s four members perform standing behind mysterious matching consoles, their faces impassive. The band members call themselves operators, not musicians; one of them, Stefan Pfaffe, actually operates videos, not sounds, from his console. (Mr. Hütter said he provides vocals and keyboard lines onstage, while Henning Schmitz controls bass lines and equalization, and Fritz Hilpert controls rhythms and percussive sounds.)
Offstage Kraftwerk rarely participates in promotion and publicity. But every once in a while Mr. Hütter, the band’s sole remaining original member, grants an interview, as he did on Friday afternoon in an office at MoMA. He was accompanied and occasionally translated by the curator of the museum’s events, Klaus Biesenbach.
Mr. Hütter, 65, is trim and energetic; he’s a dedicated cyclist, regularly making 125-mile excursions. “You have to find your tempo,” he said. He was sometimes affable, sometimes wary. He bristled at the suggestion that Kraftwerk had pop ambitions, although songs like “Autobahn” and “The Model” were international hits.
“We are fine when the idea comes to a clear statement,” he said. “It could be short, it could be long. We also have structure that’s very minimal, so it’s not drama. It’s more modular, minimal. It’s components, it’s conceptual. There’s development, gradual. Whereas in classical music there is drama. That’s not our thing.”
Kraftwerk is usually translated as “power plant,” but Mr. Hütter said the band’s name can also be pulled apart for meanings: “kraft” is energy and dynamics, “werk” is simply work, or labor, and also (as “werke”) an artist’s oeuvre. Kraftwerk records on its own open-ended schedule; it hasn’t released a new studio album since “Tour de France” in 2003. It has, however, been touring and frequently revamping its older songs with newer technology and ideas.
“Kraftwerk is a living organism,” Mr. Hütter added. “Music is never finished. It starts again tomorrow. The record is just a record, but for us it’s nearly boring. We like better the programs that we can operate with. So we are operating, we are upgrading, we are updating continuously. There’s continuous reprogramming going on, and composition and new concepts are also coming.”
Via: The New York Times