A quarter of a century ago, sometimes while buzzing down a freeway in my Quantum Syncro, I’d punch in Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” and crank up the volume. The miles just melted away. I’m thinking of those drives as I salute Ralf Hütter, on his birthday.
The seed of the German Europop electronica group was planted in 1968. Longtime friends, Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, formed the group “Organisation”. Hütter met Schneider while studying at the conservatory in Düsseldorf. Their first album is called “Tone Float”. Organisation along with such other groups as Tangerine Dream were the first ones performing and recording Krautrock music.
The sound of Organisation was a floating like tone created by synthesisers, electronic organs, with either accoustic or electronic percussion. The effect was hypnotic but minimalistic.
Then, in 1970, the friends dissolved their band and created, Kraftwerk (German for power station). Hütter and Schneider teamed up with Klaus Dinger and Andreas Hokman to record the band’s self-titled album. Much of the sound was extremely minimalist in nature. Sound loops, sampling, and other manipulations were mixed in with electronic organ with flutes intermingling the compositions. The effect being something of an acquired taste. It’s certainly not for folks who prefer conventional or popular music.
The first move away from pure experimentation came with “Ralf & Florian”. The album cuts were more pop oriented and musical. The next major step was taken with the formation of the “Kling Klang” recording studio. Kling Klang was devoted to the complete research and exploitation of advanced electronic music. Kraftwerk invested in new synthesisers like the “Mini Moog”. The first product of the new Kling Klang studio was the album “Autobahn”.
Dinger and Hokman were replaced with Wolfgang Flur and Karl Bartos. The band continued to refine and tweak their sound throughout the next ten years. Kraftwerk took a break after recording “Electric Cafe”. To keep fresh, they appeared at small venues and events. They geared up again for the “Tour de France” soundtrack ten years ago.
To sum up Kraftwerk’s mystique, Hütter said, “We have aspects in our music that refer to space, like ‘Kometenmelodie’, but we also have some very earthly aspects that are very direct and not from outer space but from inner space like from the human being and the body, and very close to everyday life.”
“Tour de France” evolved from Hütter’s immense love of cycling. The song features samples of bicycle chains and gear shifting mechanisms. There’s a counterpoint of a cyclist breathing as he rides through a course. Unfortunately, Hütter suffered a coma as a result of a serious bike accident in 1983. An urban legend claims that the musician asked, “Where is my bicycle?” upon awakening. Hütter disputes that story.
The sole remaining founding member of Kraftwerk, Ralf Hütter was born on August 20, 1946 in Krefeld, Germany. He studied at the Academy of Music and Media Studies at Remscheid, Germany.
Hütter has said that the German entertainment industry was destroyed after World War Two and the nation had been “robbed” of its culture. Hütter has also opined that the people of the first generation after the war were the first to shake off much of the postwar American influence. Their generation was the first to investigate a more European style.
Ralf Hütter now resides in the western portion of Germany near Düsseldorf. He remains reserved about his personal life.
The Blue Jay of Happiness prefers listening to Kraftwerk in the original German rather than English, because the originals are smoother sounding.