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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

Reworking Kraftwerk (again)

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Kraftwerk (1970); Kraftwerk 2 (1972). Design by Ralf Hütter.

Recent posts about Kraftwerk’s design history had me wondering how the group might present the first three albums if these repudiated works were allowed back into the catalogue. Kraftwerk, Kraftwerk 2, and Ralf and Florian haven’t been officially reissued for decades now, and I remain sceptical that Ralf Hütter (or the recently departed Florian Schneider) are willing to taint their carefully cultivated discography with those awkward, experimental albums. This is highly unusual in the music world where everything by a commercially successful group tends to be reissued on a regular basis.

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Ralf and Florian (1973). Design by Ralf Hütter & Florian Schneider. Photo by Robert Franck.

Kraftwerk are unique in this, and also in subjecting their approved releases to incremental adjustments. This was mostly strikingly seen in 2009 when the 8 albums were reissued in a box as The Catalogue. Not only had further changes been made to the cover art but two of the albums had amended titles: Electric Café was now Techno Pop (as it would have been titled if released earlier in the 1980s), and Tour De France Soundtracks had become Tour De France. The cover art changes had already been previewed in the version of The Catalogue that briefly appeared as a promo set in 2004 only now it was evident that more human traces were being removed from the albums, notably on the cover of The Man-Machine which swapped the band photo for the El Lissitzky-derived graphics. All of this needed to be taken into account when I had the idea last week of roughing out designs for how the first three albums might be reissued in a box set today.

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First the title: there’s no way of knowing what Ralf Hütter might call a collected set but mundane choices like Three Albums or Kraftwerk 70–73 seem unlikely. I decided on Klingklang, the name of the first piece of music on the second album, and also the name of Kraftwerk’s studio and publishing company. This would no doubt cause endless (endless) confusion but it still seems apt. The cover design uses Futura, a German typeface that’s been a feature of many Kraftwerk graphics over the years. The oscilloscope wave is taken from the front and back cover of the double-album reissue of Kraftwerk and Kraftwerk 2 on the Vertigo label in 1972. I always liked that cover, and the graphic suits the often raw electronic sound of those albums as well as the minimal nature of the current design.

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This would be the back of the proposed box, showing the albums within as The Catalogue does.

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All German traffic cones still follow this standard, apparently, so the design hasn’t dated at all. (See this post for Kraftwerk’s cone obsession.) Using negative space for the white bands works well.

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The disc design shows the same cone from above. I’ve only done these for a CD repackage. Today there’d be a vinyl set as well, of course, but resizing everything for vinyl was an effort too far.

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Same format for the second album.

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Ralf and Florian presented the main challenge since the current dispensation wouldn’t allow those smiling faces. I decided to concentrate on the neon name signs which appear for the first time in the photo on the back cover. Copying the letterforms from each sign gave a very graceless result so I resorted to a neon-style font called Neon Stream. There are many neon-like fonts so this isn’t necessarily the ideal choice but it worked well. Following the title adjustments of 2009 the album is now Ralf Florian although that was partly a dodge to avoid having to use an ampersand.

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So much for the fantasy. If you want to hear these albums today you’ll have to buy an original vinyl copy or one of the bootleg CDs from a dealer at Discogs. YouTube also has them in part or whole if you hunt around. I don’t think we’ll be seeing an official release any time soon.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Leitkegel
German gear
Autobahnen
Ralf and Florian
Reworking Kraftwerk
Autobahn animated
Sleeve craft
Who designed Vertigo #6360 620?
Old music and old technology
Aerodynamik by Kraftwerk

 


 

Posted in {design}, {electronica}, {music}, {typography}, {work}.

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5 comments or trackbacks

  1. #1 posted by Strange Flowers

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    These are fantastic – the top-down view of the traffic cone is particularly inspired. Who knows, maybe these albums will be released into the wild again. Meanwhile it’s sad to see such a staggeringly innovative group become its own tribute band. I couldn’t even be roused to see the Gesamtkraftwerk experience in Berlin last month. At least they could come up with some *new* old stuff. Free the Düsseldorf Three!

  2. #2 posted by John

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    Thanks! I’ve never seen them live, never had much opportunity as their tours seldom reached here, and I missed the 2003 gig in Manchester which featured real cyclists riding round the stadium during Tour De France. I do regret missing that even though I dislike events that reduce the performers to ants; and the current shows have involved 3D projections which my faulty eyes can’t see. I’ve got the 2004 live DVD so I satisfy myself with that.

    Most interesting thing about the news shows is that they’ve had to compose updated versions of the pieces you never used to hear played live like Mitternacht. I keep searching for some decent bootlegs but I’ve yet to find anything outstanding. They could yet record another studio album since Florian didn’t contribute much to the writing of Tour De France Soundtracks. Whether Ralf can be bothered any more is another matter; cultivating the history is no doubt easier than writing the future.

  3. #3 posted by Paul

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    The futura oscilloscope wave cover is really beautiful and the top-down view of the traffic cone is an amazing design. Thanks for putting me in an early Kraftwerk mood. These really capture their design aesthetic while being wholly original at the same time.

    I actually really enjoyed seeing their 3D show in Vienna last year. I can understand the tribute band criticism, but I enjoyed the gesamtkunst.

  4. #4 posted by John

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    Thanks, Paul. I try not to be too critical of people in their late careers, it’s always a tricky terrain to navigate, even more so if people have great expectations. I still see what they’re doing at the moment as unprecedented, the concentration on the catalogue as a series of artistic statements that become ever more refined. And there’s still an evolution at work, as the 3D shows demonstrate. No one in their league has considered music production in this way, not even David Bowie. In that respect they’re still ahead of the game.

  5. #5 posted by Strange Flowers

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    Yes, tribute band was a bit harsh. I do realise how difficult it is for even established acts to get paid for their work these days, and sure there’s a qualitative difference between seeing Kraftwerk doing a 3D show in a gallery and, say, watching Sonia play fourth on the bill on an 80s revival tour. I saw Kraftwerk play back when Tour de France Soundtracks was still relatively fresh – and I still think it stands up. They have nothing left to prove, but it would be nice if they could surprise us with something new anyway.

 




 

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