Landmark Album in Electronic Music
Patrick Harps | Charlottesville, VA | 03/15/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Despite a varied taste in music, before listening to "Computer World" by Kraftwerk I had limited exposure to electronic music and especially electronic music of the last forty years. However, even a basic understanding of electronic music cannot inhibit the glowing brilliance of this music from being readily apparent. Simply, Kraftwerk's "Computer World" clearly stands as a landmark album in the history of electronic music, as the album pushes electronic music to new places while blending human elements of music with computer music technology.
Recorded in 1981, the primary instruments are Moog synthesizers, rhythm machines, vocoders, a Texas Instrument "Speak and Spell", a calculator, and a few other sources of sounds. While Moog synthesizers had been used in recording electronic music for several years, the combination of the synthesizers and other instruments developed a sound that certainly reflected current technology. Technology obviously plays a critical role in the music, but a different, larger role compared to past electronic music. Initially I was struck by the sheer quality of the recording, as electronic music of the past, especially that which puts samples recorded on tapes together, often has noticeable flaws in the basic recording quality. Furthermore, Kraftwerk shows complete mastery of creating music out of a diverse array of electronic sounds. Their somewhat minimalistic approach produces engaging music that is much more accessible and listenable than the electronic music from the past. Since Kraftwerk clearly seems more focused on creating sounds rather than sampling, they are more influenced by the electronische muzik background of electronic music rather than sample emphasizing music concrete. On "Computer World" Kraftwerk makes appealing and interesting music with nothing but up to date technology, but makes this album special is the intersection of that technology with the human elements of music.
Many of my first experiences with electronic music were simply frustrating. The music sounds like a totally random collection of filtered sounds that do not display any talent in the assemblage. Yet, the brilliance of this music results from the balance of the sonic elements of the technology and electronic music and the more traditional, human elements of melody, composition, and themes. The first track, "Computer World", is a well-developed, layered composition with a definitive melody and chord progression while the fifth track "Computer Love" maintains the album wide pattern of artful and thorough compositions but includes deep and serious lyrics that add another dimension to the album. "Home Computer" displays more complexity as the song evolves more over the course of the song relative to other tracks on the album and the song contains several distinct sections. The album as a whole definitely resonated with me and left me appreciating the talent of Kraftwerk and their music. Again the excellence of "Computer World" stems from the combination of technology and the electronic music sound with the more traditional, human elements of melody and composition, and the result is a unique sound that is accessible, interesting, and transcends pre-conceived notions of electronic music.
Beyond the unique and groundbreaking mix of pure technology with principles of music, Kraftwerk continues to take electronic music to new spaces as "Computer World" is music with a message and clear themes. In the past, electronic music was created purely because of advances in technology or simply because it could be. Rarely did electronic music contain themes and messages. However, "Computer World" firmly establishes that electronic music can be larger than the music itself. The title track of the album lists different organizations that will likely gain access to everyone's personal information. Also, the lyrics of "Computer Love" discuss the loss and displacement of human interaction due to the rise of computers and technology. As whole, "Computer World" explores the rise of the computer in everyday life through the lyrics and structure of the album. The music of "Computer World" is as great as it is thought provoking, as Kraftwerk's landmark album pushes electronic music into a more insightful place. No longer is electronic music a concert hall gimmick, but it can have meaning and a message.
As someone who until recently had absolutely no exposure to electronic music at all, I highly recommend Kraftwerk's "Computer World". I particularly enjoy the bright and playful "Pocket Calculator" and also the heavier, introspective "Computer Love". Many of the songs sound very similar given the instrumentation, but given the album's short length it is hardly an issue. The music on the whole album is well constructed, thought provoking, and very accessible for the genre. "Computer World" should not be missed by music enthusiasts as the album showcases an artists pushing their genre in new directions while creating music that has resonated with many in the past, present, and will most certainly in the future."