Kraftwerk (I Was A Robot) By: Wolfgang Flür…Waiting Over A Decade Pays Off

I have waited to read this book for over a decade. It was one of those books I always wanted to read but was never able to find. A few weeks ago while visiting a local bookstore in Seattle I came across a used copy. My boyish delight was instant. I felt like a kid who had just received a much wanted bicycle on Christmas.

I just couldn’t put this book down. I read it from cover to cover in just a few days. The sign of a good book, for me, is when I just don’t want the story to end. Couldn’t Wolfgang have made this a trilogy, perhaps!? What I would give to spend an afternoon in Dusseldorf talking to Wolfgang about his recollections and his point of view on life in this era. Reading this biography was perhaps one of the most enlightening books I have read from a member of a band.

In the first chapters of the book, Flür points out that he would not be talking about synthesizers, oscillators, LFO’s or things like modulation, etc. Nonetheless, I believe he does a stellar job of describing the electronics used by Kraftwerk during his time in the company of the other robots. He even does a good job of highlighting some details of the Kling Klang studio. From the Bonn (Matten & Wiechers) custom made analog sequencers, EMU Emulators, Synclaviers and the early synthesizers used, you’ll find plenty of this within the pages. He even points out that they didn’t have much more than a Moog Minimoog and an ARP Odyssey for their first albums. They relied more on their creativity to achieve results, not just technology.

I found it particularly fascinating to learn about the custom drum pad he says he created in the early 1970’s. If he is correct, then perhaps he should be cited as a pioneer of circuit bent instruments.

There were moments in the book where he becomes greatly endearing to me. I am fascinated by analog sequencers. Though for Flür it was the start of a change in his value as a drummer. The dawn of machine controlled sound is where I take my early inspirations from. Yet, here he reminds me of what many of the musicians I knew growing up in Las Vegas must’ve experienced when they were replaced by MIDI sequencers and ROM based synthesizers.

In the book he reminds us that he is a romantic. Though, I would argue he is also a sentimentalist. He describes Germany with such a passion, to almost make me envious of his experiences. There is also clever humor throughout the book too. His narrative throughout the book is engaging and entertaining.

I have read reviews where people say he seems bitter of his time with Kraftwerk. However, I never got this impression while reading it. Does he come across as feeling betrayed and disillusioned by some of his former band-mates at times? Of course he does. This is a normal reaction and proves that he is more than just a Man synced with a machine. Still, despite this focus by critics, I never built up any animosity about Ralf Hütter or Florian Schneider. Maybe one day in my lifetime the other robots will disconnect from the machines and share with us their views.

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A Brief History of the Minimoog Monophonic Analog Synthesizer (1970-1981)

It’s like an infomercial, really! Nonetheless, it’s a chance for the Moog and synthesizer fiends to watch some great musicians play the Moog Minimoog and hear once again, why the Moog Minimoog was such an important instrument for Electronic, Jazz, and some long-haired prog-rockers.

The Minimoog (a monophonic analog synthesizer) was invented by Bill Hemsath and Robert Moog. It was orginally released in 1970 by R.A. Moog Inc. (Moog Music after 1972), and production was stopped in 1981. The Moog was re-designed by Robert Moog in 2002 and released as the Minimoog Voyager.

Also, if you want to see Martin L. Gore (Depeche Mode) with his Minimoog go here.

From Youtube:
Follow the life of the Minimoog Synthesizer from its inception through its prolific contributions to popular music throughout the last 4 decades.

In this first installment documenting the journey of the Minimoog synth through the 1970’s, we explore the musicians and the people that were instrumental in bringing the instrument to prominence. We also sit with one of Moog Music’s earliest engineers, Bill Hemsath, who recalls the process of the Minimoog’s birth and sheds some light on what sets the Moog synthesizer apart from other analog synths.

See more Moog history here: http://www.moogmusic.com/legacy

Synthesizer Candy: John Foxx,The Maths Talk Synthesizers @ The Roundhouse (Camden)

John Foxx, Benge & Steve D’ Agostino walk the fine folks at Future Music magazine through their live setup. The video interview takes place at The Roundhouse Camden, UK before one of their live shows.

Here is a list of what you can find in the video…

  • ARP Odyssey synthesizer
    Roland VP-330 Vocoder (used on The Garden)
    Simmons Electronic Drums
    Digitech Vocalist II
    Behringer Composer
    Roland Juno 60 synthesizer
    Moog Minimoog
    Korg 700s synthesizer
    Korg Mono/poly Synthesizer
    Roland Space Echo RE-201
    Yamaha CS1x (CS2x) virtual analog synthesizer
    Roland System 100m modular synthesizer
    Roland SH-2 synthesizer
    EDP Wasp Synthesizer
    MIDI keyboard controller
    Synthesizers.com modular
    Boss Delay
    Ampex 456 (Reel to Reel)
    David Smith Mopho Synthesizer
    Maestro Phase Shifter Pedals
    Spirit Line Mixer
    Analog Flanger
    Roland TR-808 drum machine
    Roland SPDX SDSV Electronic drum pads
    Korg Mono/Poly Synthesizer
    Roland SH-101 monophonic synthesizer

Metamatic Interview: Benge Talks Synthesizers, John Foxx, Interplay LP & More…

Here is a fantastic interview with Benge, aka Ben Edwards, I found on Metamatic.com. In it, he discusses many topics, from his expansive arsenal, studio, recording of Interplay, and much more.

You may know him best for his collaboration with the legendary John Foxx. Their collaboration (Interplay) is set to be released March 21st, 2011. We can’t wait. Or better yet, you might know him as a full-time member and analog tweaker with John Foxx & The Maths. You can see some of his many performances found throughout this site.

He first came to my attention when I read an interview he did for the UK magazine, Future Music. It was one of those “collector series” they were running back then. I became a fan when I purchased his Twenty Systems album which highlighted 20 years of synthesizers with 20 different synthesizers. Twenty Systems is an analog fetishist’s dream come true. Not only does it feature some great synthesizer work, but it also has visuals and many notes to accompany every track. Aural and visual candy all in one. A friend of mine asked me once if he could borrow it. He was shocked when I gave him a scowl and the obligatory school boy response of “get your own, man!” He was lucky I even let him touch it.

John Foxx has called Benge a modern day Conny Plank. Remember, Foxx worked with Plank while he was a member of Ultravox. So, that comment alone is enough to make you want to learn more about Benge, right? Conny Plank was involved with much of the great music coming out of Germany in the late 1960’s-1970’s. It’s the music that has inspired many of us. From Stockhausen to Kraftwerk, the larger than life Plank played a role. Therefore, I couldn’t think of anyone else better to make that comparison to. If you’re making electronic music or even listening to it, it wont be long before Benge becomes a household name.

Interview Excerpt…

Metamatic : What synths do you enjoy using the most, and why?

Benge : My favorite synth has to be the Modular Moog system [3C] that I got about fifteen years ago. It was made in 1967 and to me still sounds bigger and better than anything that has been made since. It is a good example of someone getting the technology right at the beginning, as it was from the first ever generation of commercially available synthesizers [along with the Buchla systems, also made in America in the late 1960’s]. It seems to me that almost every synth since has been a compromise of that original idea, although there have been some other instruments that have introduced some new facilities that the big modulars could not do. For example, the Yamaha CS80 is a massive polyphonic synth from 1976 that implemented playing more than one note on the keyboard in a really good way. Then in the 1980’s some of the digital computer-based systems were pretty amazing, such as the Fairlight and Synclavier. They are all on my Twenty Systems album, and most are on Interplay.

There were a few other synths we kept going back to on the album as well, in particular the Arp Odyssey, because John loves that one and knows it so well. The one that really surprised me was the Crumar Multiman, which is a cheap Italian string and piano synth from the mid 1970’s, but we kept going back to it because it just seemed to fit in and cut through on the tracks. It’s all over the album, nearly as much as the Moog Modular. And there are two drum machines that we used a lot on this record, the Linn LM1, from 1980 and the Roland CR78, which was the machine John used a lot on the Metamatic album.

Metamatic : Can you please run through the equipment that was used on Interplay, expanding on what each item is and does – and why it was chosen?

Benge : All of this stuff is in the studio and is connected up to a big patch bay, the idea being that you can then use short patch cords to make connections between things, and you can combine them together in interesting ways. For example, if you want to play a Minimoog synth through an MXR flanger and then put that sound through a tape delay and then send the result to a compressor and distortion box, then you don’t need to scrabble about round the back of the equipment and change all the leads around, they are all ready connected to the patch bay, so you can just use four short cables and you have a brand new set of sounds. Everything is labeled up on the patch bay using a number code and then there is a sheet with all the relevant instruments and effects units.

Firstly I will tell you about the synths we used and go into a bit of detail about some of them:

Arp Odyssey
Arp Sequencer

The Odyssey is one of John’s favourite synths and he really knows it inside out. I love them too, but he was getting sounds out of it I had never heard before. He likes to torture it! We used it for a lot of the electronic sound effect type things on tracks, like wooshes and squeals. Also for quite a few lead lines and bass lines, using it’s matching sequencer. It sounds great through a phaser and distortion pedal. It’s all over the Metamatic album too.

Arp Omni
Crumar Bit 01
Crumar Multiman

The Multiman is a seriously underrated synth. Actually its a ‘multi-instrument preset synth’ and not a proper synthesiser because you don’t have control over every parameter of the sound. But it still sounds amazing, it really fits in to a mix, and we kept on coming back to it on loads of tracks. I paid £60 for it a few years ago, and you can still find them cheaply out there.

Crumar Roadrunner
Yamaha CS30
Yamaha CS80

The Yamaha CS80 is one of my favourite synths of all time, it’s just totally mad. Inside it is all discrete point to point wiring of all the thousands of connections. It is the synth that Vangelis made famous who reputedly had sixteen of them, and bearing in mind they cost about £8000 each in 1976 gives you some idea of how much he liked them. Listen to Blade Runner to hear it in all its glory.

Fairlight CMI

We used the Fairlight for some of the drum sounds on the record, but unfortunately it broke down half way through recording the album and I’m waiting to get it fixed.

Hohner Pianet T

The Pianet was used on the backing track for Interplay which I recorded at my house where I also have a piano. While recording there was a massive thunderstorm and we decided to leave it on the song along with the instruments.

Korg Monopoly
Korg PS3100
Korg MS20

Mira used the MS20 for the main synth line in Watching a Building on Fire.

Moog Minimoog
Moog Polymoog

When Gary Numan came to the studio to shoot the interview for his his last DVD I got to meet him and show him round the synths. Sadly he sold off all his years ago. He told me that he used to have nine Minimoog’s because when they played live he liked to have the sound set up on the synth and not have to change the settings after each song, because the Minimoog has no memories. He also played the main synth line from Cars on my Polymoog, and he forgot how the top two notes went. So we were like “I think it was these two…” “No, maybe it’s these…” “Wait a minute, it was these two…” etc.

Sequential T8
Sequential VS
Oberheim Xpander
Roland RS202
Roland SH101
Roland VP330

We used the VP330 on the album a few times. It is a vocoder, which is a synth you can sing into and it turns you into a robot-voice. It’s pretty cheesy but good fun, and actually is brilliant if you put other sounds in instead of a voice, for example a drum loop which we did a bit on the record as well. It was used by Laurie Anderson on O Superman and also by Kraftwerk quite a bit.

Formant Modular
Serge Modular
Roland 100M
Moog Modular

Of all my synths I think the Moog Modular is my favourite. Somehow it just sounds bigger and better than anything else, and considering this was pretty much the first synth ever made [in the mid – late 60’s] that’s not bad going. I’ve added some racks of modules from some newer companies [Moog stopped making them in the 80’s] and this is now a really powerful system. It’s on most of the tracks as the central bass line or melodic sequence.

For the rest of this fantastic interview, please make sure you go here.