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Kraftwerk - Tour de France Soundtracks

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Artist: Kraftwerk

Album: Tour de France Soundtracks

Label: Astralwerks

Review date: Aug. 25, 2003

Aerobic Machine Music

Electro-pioneers Kraftwerk are, of course, at least partially responsible for some of the sonic shapes and textures of current techno, ambient, rave, trance, and countless other styles and sub-divisions of electronica. But the German duo of Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider have always had a unique utopian vision befitting their roots in the early ’70s cultural revolution: a vision of humans and machines in balance and harmony and creative collaboration. Humor and pathos have often surfaced through Kraftwerk’s sound-world of filtered, flatulent synths and compressed sonic vistas; the trademark treated robotic voices have often seemed warm and human despite their alien strangeness.

Early masterpieces like Autobahn and the incredibly influential (and endlessly sampled) Trans-Europe Express are paens to the idea of motion through space; precision-engineered structures in sound that recreate the feeling of high-speed travel with exhilaration, acceleration, and a sense of surprise.

It makes perfect sense that Kraftwerk should turn their attentions to the man-and-machine culture of Tour de France bicycle racing. This collection of self-described soundtracks has all the hallmarks of classic Kraftwerk: the first few pieces are rife with stark-yet-warm synth textures, mechanized rhythmic pulses, and eerie, yet oddly comforting, repetitions of intoned catch-phrases. The mood changes as the disc unfolds: “Vitamin” is gently mysterious and delightful, a classic of sequenced Klangfarbenmelodie. The aerobics of breath and heartbeat help propel the smooth and stately “Elektro Kardiogramm”; short but spacious, “Regeneration” is alive with billowing ambient textures right out of a vintage Eno-Moebius-Roedelius album.

The resulting sonic assembly is strangely retro in its warm and optimistic juxtaposition of man, machine, and nature, oddly Goethe-esque in its blend of scientific rationality and energetic inspiration. (As if to illustrate this, the CD booklet is full of graphs and charts: mountain elevations of the race course, pulse and lactate threshold level measurements of cyclists, etc.)

Teutonic music has often harbored a certain spirituality: think of Beethoven’s late quartets with their insistence on spirit attempting to break the bounds of gravity, physicality, and diatonic harmony; or think of Stockhausen, with his brave new post-war vision of time and space and sound and society made perfect through the science of sound.

Compared to most modern electronic dance music, with its various celebrations of hedonism or tribalism or sexuality or trance-like altered states, Kraftwerk’s music remains stark and almost monastic in its careful attempt to align human and machine, to re-invent the body electric.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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