Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Kraftwerk Retrospective Adds a Savvy Retrofit to Past Performances ; Band That Influenced Wide Range of Music Modernizes Years of Work

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Kraftwerk Retrospective Adds a Savvy Retrofit to Past Performances ; Band That Influenced Wide Range of Music Modernizes Years of Work

Article excerpt

Band that influenced wide range of electronic music is performing updates to eight albums at the Museum of Modern Art for audiences limited to 450 people.

As manifestos go, "The Robots" -- the first song Kraftwerk played Tuesday to start its eight-night series of retrospective concerts at the Museum of Modern Art -- is adroitly misleading. "We're programmed to do/anything you want us to," Ralf Hutter sang.

In fact, Kraftwerk has been far more predictive than obedient. The group can claim to have done some cultural reprogramming of its own. Back in the 1970s, Kraftwerk conceptualized itself as "the man- machine" and started writing songs about what technology might do to -- and with -- the modern mind. It can now claim a direct influence on all sorts of electronic and computer-driven music, while its lyrics clearly envisioned our computer-mediated daily lives.

The concert Tuesday was the beginning of "Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8," with Kraftwerk performing eight consecutive albums on eight nights for just 450 people a show. Only Mr. Hutter remains from Kraftwerk's original lineup; the other members now are Henning Schmitz, Fritz Hilpert and Stefan Pfaffe. Onstage, the quartet stood at keyboards -- playing some of the music's components live -- in front of a very active video screen, with images that sometimes sandwiched the musicians between the planes of eye-popping three- dimensional geometry and typography. Concertgoers were handed 3D glasses on the way in to the museum's atrium.

The featured album Tuesday was "Autobahn," released in 1974. At the time, Kraftwerk was just becoming an electropop band. "Autobahn" was the only song with lyrics, and the version of it that became an international hit single was edited down from a suite-like 22- minute track. But its repeating synthesizer lines, impassive vocals and recursive lyrics were already enmeshed with the technologies of transportation, media and music -- recurring Kraftwerk subjects. Mr. Hutter sang about "driving, driving, driving on the Autobahn" while a song on the radio goes, "We're driving, driving, driving on the Autobahn." The screen showed scenes of a superhighway filled with Volkswagens and Mercedes-Benzes; one had KR 74 as a license plate. …

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