Kraftweek at MoMA
Kraftweek at MoMA: Kraftwerk – Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Kraftwerk – Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Museum of Modern Art, New York
April 10–17, 2012
he Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium, second floor
For what is now dubbed as “Kraftweek” in New York, the Museum of Modern Art has offered live performances by Kraftwerk in the program Kraftwerk – Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8. Spanning over eight consecutive evenings — all of which sold out in advance — an intimate audience of 450 are having a rare opportunity to experience the band perform live versions of eight studio recordings beginning with Autobahn (1974) and concluding with Tour de France (2003).
Autobahn, when it debuted on Novemeber 1, 1974 – coincidentally, the same day as another West German band The Scorpions’ heavy metal release Fly to the Rainbow — it was Kraftwerk’s fourth studio recording. In a direction that was hinted at in their previous recording Ralf und Florian, Kraftwerk moved more towards electronics, synthesizers and the use of the vocoder, and a departure from conventional instruments. Autobahn also expressed more of a musical focus and discipline, in part, owed to producer Conny Plank who had helped shape a maturing style over their first three full-length recordings and away from the rougher experimental rock style the band had pioneered.
Their subsequent musical output focused on technology and communications and the dynamic offers of each in the modern world. Radio-Aktivität (released as Radio-Activity in the United States), produced after Autobahn, unveils the band’s greater confidence in building their musical expression and identity around synthesized music with a concept album exploring the pun of nuclear exposure (“Radioactivity”) with broadcast media “radio-activity”. Ralf Hütter intones on the song “Radioaktivität” that “radioactivity is in the air for you and me” intended for the listener to reflect upon.
New York’s live performances at the Museum of Modern Art have been esteemed for its exclusivity among its fortunate patronage, but it’s also been a sore-point for those who couldn’t get a ticket. The series sold out instantly in late February in advance of the April series, and scalpers were reportedly selling individual tickets for $1,000. As for the live series itself, Kraftwerk fans have been enjoying the rare spectacle on view at MoMA, but Rolling Stone notes that the performances are getting shorter with each passing night and noted that Sunday evening’s Computerwelt (“Computer World”) from 1981 was shaved from the recording’s original 35 minutes down to 18 minutes (“Kraftwerk Diary Day Five: 1981’s ‘Computer World’ Invents Electronic Funk” by Mike Rubin, Rolling Stone, April 16, 2012).
Unlike a nostalgic arrangement of works by one artist or from a collection, Kraftwerk’s honed electronic focus and music output has a freshness that seems to defy kitsch. Their music and lyrics anticipated if not expressed the contemporary zeitgeist. Kraftwerk’s 1981 release Computerwelt may have sounded like science-fiction for its listeners at the time, for example. Now, in a world where we have “smart” mobile devices and iPhones, the lyrical engineer fantasy from that album’s song “Pocket Calculator” ebbs forward into the future: “I’m the operator with my pocket calculator / I am adding and subtracting I’m controlling and composing / By pressing down a special key, it plays a little melody.” Rewind and press play.