Kraftwerk – Minimum-Maximum – EMI (UK) ******* MULTICHANNEL DISC OF THE MONTH ********
Kraftwerk – Minimum-Maximum – EMI (UK) Multichannel SACD 334 996 2, (2 discs) 54:53, 65:54 *****:
The Über-lords of electronic and synthesized pop music, still promulgating their undeniably catchy but limited vocabulary of sounds and robot-like lyrics, have selected 22 tracks recorded live in surround sound during their world tour in 2004. The album is probably unique in having been released in four different formats simultaneously: this double SACD, a double CD, a double video DVD with 5.1 surround, and a 4-LP boxed set. The venues include halls in Warsaw, Ljubljana, Moscow, Berlin, Paris, London, Budapest, San Francisco, Tokyo, Tallinn and Riga. The most human-sounding and realistic surround effects come from the cheers of the thousands at the various locations.
Most of the tracks are live versions of hits from Kraftwerk’s 34 previous years of existence, during which they have been a major influence on much of the world of pop music. The first years after founding of the group by Florian Schneider-Esleben and Ralf Hütter they played many different instruments, including flute, guitar and violin, and were part of the Kraut rock genre similar to the German band Can. They eventually moved into their patented sound of drum machines and electronic sounds exclusively, with many tunes featuring a minimal vocal lyric sung and spoken thru a vocoder or using various speech synthesis software. Any normal instruments used are highly-processed electronically. From 1975 onward Kraftwerk has been recording separate albums with German vocals for sale in Germany and English vocals for international sale. With Tour de France in 2003 they did French lyrics, and Dentaku on Disc 2 was recorded at a Tokyo appearance and has Japanese lyrics (or at least sounds like it).
The quartet now do their live shows with laptops and make much use of sequencers. Not only most of the music but also video projections of images behind the performers are all programmed directly from their onstage computers. There is so much spatial dancing of the sounds from one speaker to another in the surround version that I found both of the two-channel options rather boring to listen to in comparison. The listener’s involvement in the sounds is so much greater than their previous albums which were only mixed for stereo. Kraftwerk (their name means “power station’) returns to music from their Tour de France album three times on Disc 1. The Model, and Autobahn convey in their simple, mostly spoken lyrics a fascination with and acceptance of everything hi-tech and up-to-the-minute, yet the robot-like delivery seems to suggest a rather creepy aspect to the whole thing – almost a sort of warning. While harmonically also simple, some of the chordal progressions are truly beautiful and satisfying even when strung out to some length. It’s sort of Philip Glass with extra bounce! There’s seldom any dissonance – everything is rock-solid diatonic. The natural breathing sounds brought into Elektro Kardiogramm are almost shocking after all the synthesized sounds. The early tune Pocket Calculator adds a much-needed humorous relief to the work of these robotic earnest Germans. This album has not been distributed in any of its forms in the U.S. by EMI and has to be special-ordered. With the sizeable fan base for Kraftwerk in North America, this is idiocy. Tracks, Disc 1: The Man-Machine, Planet of Vision, Tour de France 1, Chrono, Tour de France 2, Vitamin, Tour de France, Autobahn, The Model, Neon Lights Tracks, Disc 2: Radioactivity, Trans-Europe Express, Metal on Metal, Numbers, Computer World, Home Computer, Pocket Calculator, Dentaku, The Robots, Elektro Kariogramm, Aero Dynamik, Music Non-Stop
– John Henry