Florian Schneider, the co-founder of Kraftwerk, died today. He was 73. The cause of his death is not yet known.
Schneider was a towering figure in electronic music. He was intimately involved in the genre from its nascent days in the 1960s through his departure from the iconic German group in November 2008. During his tenure in Kraftwerk, he was involved in the recording of ten albums that influenced hip-hop, electro, techno and countless other musical genres.
Before the pandemic, Kraftwerk was scheduled to embark on a summer tour of North America to commemorate the group’s 50th anniversary with a show including 3-D visuals. The tour was subsequently canceled.
Talking to legendary rock journalist Lester Bangs in a 1975 interview in Creem magazine, he explained to the scribe how they used technology to make music: “We don’t need a choir. We just turn this key, and there’s the choir.”
Buenos Aires fans of electronic music legends Kraftwerk were beside themselves last week when it was announced that an upcoming 3-D show was cancelled as a result of a city-wide ban on electronic music events that “use synthesizers or samplers as their primary instrument.”
Mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta brought the edict into effect after six drug-related deaths at the Argentinian edition of Time Warp earlier held in April.
Not willing to take the cancelation lying down, the show’s promoters, Move Concerts, successfully demonstrated to a local court the group’s historical importance in the canon of popular music and that the show was a concert, not a party. The show will take place as scheduled on November 23.
No, it’s not some sort of musical fairytale or geeky daydream, it actually happened just a couple of days ago. German synth sultans Kraftwerk, had a face-to-face encounter with the holy trinity of Detroit techno, Kevin Saunderson, Derrick May and Juan Atkins, popularly known as The Belleville Three. Kraftwerk, who are on tour in America, had come to the Motor City to perform at the Masonic Temple Theatre. But apparently, after they rearranged the heads of many Detroit fans with their performance, there was still more excitement to come.
An after-party took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, and Saunderson, Atkins and May mixed it up with Ralf Hütter and others, making for a historic moment in electronic music. It’s the sort of what-if moment that’s probably been imagined by fans millions of times, but there it was real as life. Now if only it were possible to convince the two crews to make a record together!
The recent story about an academic contest at Dartmouth College seems like the sort of thing that probably fills Kraftwerk‘s dreams at night. The aim is to determine whether computers can create art as convincingly as humans. And in addition to portions of the challenge devoted to the literary and visual arts, there will be one dedicated to pursuing the possibility of a computer putting together its own DJ set. In the words of Dan Rockmore, director of the school’s Neukom Institute for Computational Science, “Historically, often when we have advances in artificial intelligence, people will always say, ‘Well, a computer couldn’t paint a sunset,’ or ‘a computer couldn’t write a beautiful love sonnet,’ but could they? That’s the question.”
Actually the question is not whether computers are capable of being DJs, but whether the difference between a human DJ and a computerized one is discernible to human ears. That’s what will really be judged over the course of the contest, as people are challenged to identify which is which. The process will take place over the course of the next school year, and prizes will be given out in April. For the music portion of the contest, there will be six computerized finalists featured in a showdown with flesh-and-blood DJs in a real-time dance party. The winner walks out with $3,000. (And maybe a contract with Kompakt Records?)