The Power Station
By the mid-1970s, Kraftwerk had achieved international recognition for its revolutionary experimentation with sound and imagery. Its compositions, which feature distant melodies, multilingual vocals, robotic Beats, custom-made vocoders, and computer speech, anticipated the impact technology would have on art and everyday life, capturing the human condition in an age of mobility and telecommunication. Kraftwerk’s innovative looping techniques and mechanized rhythms, which had a major influence on the early development of hip-hop and electronic dance music, remain among the most commonly sampled sounds across a wide range of musical genres.
Kraftwerk uses robotics and other technical innovations in its live performances, illustrating the belief that humans and machines make equal contributions in the creation of art.
The Robots, Kraftwerk -2005
In this particular song, it references the then revolutionary techniques of robotics. The Russian lines “Я твой слуга” (Ya tvoi sluga, I’m your servant) and “Я твой работник” (Ya tvoi rabotnik, I’m your worker) come across particularly clearly. Where the robot is seen as a tool to the human race. This has to be taken literally, as kraftwerk is fundamentally a german group.
In live performances, the recurrent theme of the substitution of robots resembling group members, has become symbolic of the group itself. This is a portrayal of ongoing commentary of the division between man and machine since its conception. It’s kinda hard to analyze this into something concrete but I shall do my best.
On one hand, i liken this the acceptance of robotic entities as surrogates to the human race, from a standpoint where the group is purposely replaced by idealized robotic replicas of themselves and also to a point where is viewers of the performance accepts this replacement as a live performance piece.An interesting observation is that over time the robots become more abstract and less human-like, possibly in line with the changing acceptance and idea of robotics.
The Pre-Robot Condition
I would like to say that this is one of the pioneer pieces in popular culture that redefines the human form- the post human condition, another one of them phrases with the post-suffix that hold overgeneralises everything. An evolution that changes the traits of of what defines us as man, be it through cybernetic replacement or proxy. Where the human mind supercedes the the body as a conceptualization what it means to become human.
In this case specifically, the music becomes an extension of the human psyche. Be it how the viewer experiences the piece or through the composition/composing of the music, whether or not expressed through an actual human entity. Even the aforementioned acceptance itself is a step towards this post-human condition thing.
Also the use of custom made devices and tech in their music has some ode towards the acceptance of “robots” and its relationship with man. The metaphor that a musical instrument becomes an extension of our body is to how these “new tech” becomes an augmentation of the band. This is to say that the band essentially is a form of cybernetic organism is not that much of a stretch. I hope.
Through the performance of the piece this becomes more evident though the lyrics where the performers proclaim themselves to be robotic entities. Going even further, in a concert setting, the viewers take part in the song itself through the echoing of the lyrics which further cements the acceptance of this evolution through the denial of difference (chanting- we are the robots)and the acknowledgement of the corporate and industrialised age.
In some ways perhaps, this is a nod towards Baudrillard’s hyper-reality where the boundaries between the real and the symbolism is dulled, be it through the performance aspect of the piece or because of the timeframe in which the piece was released- Where people created their own impressions of robotics through snippets of pop culture and documentation of its conception. Find out more after the jump.
Viva La Skynet.