AUD210 Week 6: Synthesis
This week, I have chosen to discuss Kraftwerk, the German four-piece electronic outfit largely considered to be the forefathers of the genre. When it comes to the use of synthesizers, Kraftwerk is undoubtedly the most renown in the industry, at least from the viewpoint of ingenuity. Because synthesizers are such a large part of the band’s sound, a sound spanning such a long period of time, I will concentrate on one album in particular, the sixth release from the band, The Man-Machine, 1978. Although the sixth album overall, The Man-Machine was the third album since the band adopted their new sound, consisting of almost completely electronic, machine-made music. Prior to the first of these three, Autobahn, the band had more of an experimental, free-form rock style.
Throughout most of the 1970’s, one of Kraftwerk’s favoured synthesizers was the Moog Minimoog. Built in 1970, the Minimoog was, and still is to this day the most popular synth of all time. Kraftwerk used the unit on the majority of their early electronic records. It is definitely a part of the signature sound for the band in those early days, circa 1970-1980. The other piece of equipment that became a signature sound for Kraftwerk, was The Synthanorma Sequenzer, which was custom made for them in 1976 by synth studio Matten & Wiechers. Kraftwerk used two of these at the same time, first on Trans Europa Express, 1977, but most noticeably on The Man-Machine, where they used clipped, high resonant frequencies to enhance the rhythm of the drum track (below). This is when the Synthanorma Sequenzer became a truly recognisable part of the band’s sound. During the composition period, they also made use of an EMS Synthi AKS, a portable modular analogue synthesiser released in 1972, and an ARP Odessey, another portable analogue synthesizer released the same year. These, along with the very earliest vocoder technology, made up the the band’s synthesizer usage during the 70’s.
1. Moog Minimoog; 2. EMS Synthi AKS; 3. ARP Odessey; 4. Synthanorma Sequencer.
Kraftwerk used synthesizers to create catchy, pop melodies that sat on top of their strict, rigid, repetitive rhythmic patterns, a style they called ‘Robot-Pop’. A lot of sequencing was used, with short stabs and dotted (not in terms of time signature) notes sparkling all over the drum machine's beat, also using the sequencing to enhance the rhythm part in many cases. For timing their synths, they seem to have favoured 18th notes I've noticed, to create the 'clicking', pulsating sound they are known for. This sequencing was then often run through a delay processor, most likely a Roland Space-Echo. There is also a lot of frequency sweeping happening with the pad sections in the backgrounds. This gives those catchy hooks a nice wide bed to lay on. They used the Minimoog to create simple, long bass lines too, leaving plenty of room for the lows in the vocoder to play out and to add to the overall sparseness of their mixes. The vocoder technology at the time was brand new, and Kraftwerk used on most of the content throughout this period and beyond. The majority of their hooks were made with delayed, gated synth sounds with plenty high-frequency content, repeated over and over.
Without synths, there is no Kraftwerk as we know it. The synthesizer sound makes up the entirety of the band’s creations. They were innovators and truly ahead of their time. Their use of synthesizers has inspired countless artists since, so much so, that in 2014, Kraftwerk was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for their contribution to the music.