Tag Archives: Karl Bartos

Off The Record: Andre’s Review Of The 2013 Solo Release From Kraftwerk’s Karl Bartos

During his time as a member of Kraftwerk, Karl Bartos was apparently something of a musical archivist-using a number of tape machines to record different synthesizer ,computer and electric keyboard loops and snippets that were floating around as raw material as Kraftwerk were producing the music that would be so massively influential to future generations. Karl knew they would probably be of some use to him,someday.

But he didn’t know exactly when. Then came a period between 2010 and this release where,in the midst of conceptualizing his next album,he decided it was now appropriate to construct some type of form out of all the unfinished bits and pieces he had taped during Kraftwerk’s fruitful constructivist period. So he added his own new album concept into fleshing out these musical archives,and the result is this new album.

Not surprisingly this album has the flavor of a classic Kraftwerk album in their heyday. But there’s a very strong individual flavor as well. “Atomium” opens the album,a very orchestral and cinematic venture atypical of Kraftwerk’s more stripped down approach. It sounds like the opening of a feature film almost until snippets of vocoderized conversation about the rise and fall of the atomic age kick in,and one realizes it’s something else.

“Nachtfahrt”,”International Velvet” and even the largely instrumental closer “Hausmusik” are all happily melodic,minimal electronic pop firmly in the late 70’s Kraftwerk tradition of the form. “Without A Trace Of Emotion” and “The Tuning Of The World” strike more somber chords,as a longing for a grand creative subculture and,with no irony lost,a sense of humanity even in electronic music making up the lyrical form of these songs.

“The Binary Code” is a nearly two minute embodiment of “the video game sound” synthesizer composition in action,likely a taped loop unmixed from it’s approach. The almost industrial house approach of “Musica Ex Machina” as well as the far more experimental sound abstractions of “Instant Bayreuth”,”Vox Humana” and “Rhythmus”. These songs are a lot more complex rhythmically and melodically. And sound as if they come from the mid 80’s as Kraftwerk were regrouping to record as they reflect the influence of electro-funk/hip-hop to some degree.

There is a flavor to this album of a compilation of unreleased Kraftwerk material. But if one digs a little deeper there’s quite a lot more of Karl Bartos the individual as well. He has a thoughtful and reflective personality,illustrated in the in depth liner notes on this CD,that comes across loud and clear on his musical and lyrical choices. It’s an excellent recording I highly recommend to anyone who has a strong interest in Kraftwerk and the electronic music revolution in general.

Originally written as an Amazon.com customer review on March 22nd,2013

 

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Trans Europe Express Turns 40: Kraftwerk’s Rendezvous With T.E.E

Trans Europe Express

Kraftwerk now represent part of the base value of the electro funk sound as far as I’m concerned. Obviously Stevie Wonder’s 70’s works on TONTO innovated that sound in a major way as well. A large part of Kraftwerk’s sonic additions to the electro/techno music genres come from the album that’s celebrating its 40th anniversary today-1977’s Trans Europe Express. Ralf Hutter,Florian Schneider,Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flur had already been the going lineup of the group for four years by the time this came out. And it not only changed the face of music,but the entire general sound of the group itself.

Since their 1974 album Autobahn, Kraftwerk’s music had been becoming more thoroughly electronic in nature. The interesting thing I didn’t know about Trans Europe Express was that it was conceived and recorded in 1976-releasing the next year. That meant that it all came to be before Donna Summer’s equally game changing electronic dance masterpiece “I Feel Love” with Giorgio Moroder. Karl Bartos once spoke of James Brown in a recent Krautrock documentary as being a huge rhythmic influence on Kraftwerk’s late 70’s and early 80’s sound. And much of that got started on this album.

Much of Trans Europe Express is divided into two musical suites-each divided into separate cuts. Yet each following unifying themes. The “suite” of “Europe Endless” (which begins the album),”Frans Schubert” and the closer “Endless Endless” all surround the use of the Synthanorma sequencer,a customized device which allowed them to electronically orchestrate these pieces-melodically based in European classical music. The first of these numbers develops into a rhythmically grooving uptempo jam that runs for over 9 minutes. The sequenced melody is the glue that binds it all together all the same.

“Trans Europe Express” is all based on a slow,heavily resonating electronic drum/ percussion rhythm. The melodic instrumentation involves a series of up and down scaling orchestral string synthesizers backed up by some thick,funky Moog bass. On its extended shadows “Metal On Metal” and “Abzug”,the spoken word elements and orchestration are replaced by electronic industrial tones and repetitious choral vocals. There are two other separate songs on the album. One is the slow,ominous pulse of “The Hall Of Mirrors” and the percussive,almost melodically Gothic styled “Showroom Dummies”.

It was really two people who got me interested in the Trans Europe Express album. First was Afrika Bambaataa. And the other was my father. He told me a story of how he and his old friend David were driving to the Maine state capitol of Augusta while playing this album on an 8-Track. My dad described a memory of hearing the song “Trans Europe Express”‘s metronomic,train like rhythm as they watched the lines in the middle of the road go by. Considering Kraftwerk’s love of industrial rhythm going back to “Autobahn”,this is a superb aural legacy as to the type of groove Kraftwerk innovated with this album.

Trans Europe Express also innovated the way electronic albums were assembled. With six of its eight tracks being variations of two songs, this could very well be one of the first extended remix albums as well. Its implicit lyrical themes of cultural celebration (in this case a futurist,unified Europe) and celebrity self reflection are likely just some of the reasons this album is so influential on electro hip-hop and techno music genres. In as much as it in turn wrote the book on what has become the EDM genre, Trans Europe Express remains a treasure trove for both explored and unexplored dance music revolutions.

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