A term held in disdain by German musicians in the early 1970’s, krautrock signified artists associated with the early progressive rock era. It was a time that redefined German music culture. As founding member of the band Harmonia, Michael Rother, put it in a recent interview with the Newyorker, “I had left behind the idea of being a guitar hero… I kept my respect for the Beatles, for Jimi Hendrix, and the blues. I loved that culture. But I knew that it was not my music, not my culture.” Prior to the progressive era, German bands primarily covered American music, but on the eve of the new era artists were picking up sequencers and synthesizers in place of Stratocasters and Rickenbackers. In addition, these krautrockers also began to experiment with tape loops and drum machines creating a sound that birthed much of the modern sound that’s prevalent in genres such as electronica, pop, and hiphop. Not only did this new sound revolutionize Euro music culture, it also became the soundtrack of the Information Age.
The Moog Synthesizer, Popol Vuh, And The Ushering In of A New Age
Dr. Robert Moog created his synthesizer in the 1960’s by using a transistor, which enabled him to a make a smaller, cheaper version of the device. Moog’s version stood out from all the rest at the time, because his synthesizer simplified the process of producing electronically generated sounds by enabling users to modify sounds through voltage controlled oscillators (don’t worry, the Electrophysics ends here). When the 60’s came to a close German musician Florian Fricke was one of two musicians in Germany who owned a Moog synthesizer. Fricke incorporated the device into the music on his first two albums with his band, Popul Vuh. Fricke was somewhat of a self proclaimed philosopher and spiritualist. He did extensive travel around the world studying various cultures, and their spiritual philosophies. Fricke believed that the synthesizer was the best instrument to express his inner most spiritual feelings, and that the instrument had the capability to express every human emotion. The band’s debut album and the album that followed are not what a typical music fan would consider music. Sounds of water trickling, a train traveling along a train track, and ethnic drums scattered throughout are some of the takeaways for an average listener. Other bands began to emerge such as Kraftwert, Harmonia, and Ashra. These bands introduced a less crude sound, and made the use of synthesizers more appealing to the public. Not only was the sound more appealing, but it also introduced a futuristic sound, a sound that would eventually become associated with the public’s perception of the Computer Age.
Doomsday, The Future, and Synthwave
The 80’s were a decade when ideas regarding the limitless possibilities of technology began to reach pop culture along with the fear of a nuclear war. These ideas and anxieties were evident with the release of blockbuster films such as the Terminator, and the inception of the video game era. The sound of this decade was heavy with synthesizers, and drum machines. Remember the Beverley Hills Cop theme? Even Sega and Nintendo game soundtracks utilized this style of music. A reemergence of the genre is happening now with producers such as Kavinsky, and Mitch murder gaining mainstream popularity. The sound is rich and maintains it’s vintage status while still tapping into mankind’s imagination with regards to the future.