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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August, 2003, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
Kraftwerk reveal cycling inspiration
Kraftwerk
Kraftwerk are famous for replacing themselves with robots on stage
Ralf Hutter, the co-founder of German music pioneers Kraftwerk, has broken a longterm media blackout to tell the BBC how the group's first studio album for 17 years was inspired by the Tour de France.

Although they rarely give interviews, Kraftwerk's early 1980s work arguably changed the face of pop music, influencing both electronic bands such as The Human League and Ultravox and then, later, the rave and techno music of the 1990s.

But Kraftwerk's other love - cycling - cost them half of the band, who quit because bikes became more important than music-making. The group's last studio album was released in 1986.

But suddenly after a gap of 17 years, a new album - Tour de France - has been released, inspired by their love of the great cycle race.

"We had the concept of the Tour de France album a little more than 20 years ago," the band's founder Ralf Hutter told BBC World Service's The Music Biz programme.

Tour de France
Kraftwerk have a fascination with the Tour de France
"At that time we were planning to do an album, and it just turned out to be a single.

"Then last year we developed the idea of continuing on the album for the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France and Kraftwerk's 33rd.

"We made a new digital version of Tour de France '83 - which is also included on the album - but all the other tracks are completely new compositions, around the ideas of cycling, of medical tests, of all kinds of aspects."

Hutter said that work on the album had been boosted by an invitation from the Tour's organisers to travel with the event.

"The organisers of the Tour de France in fact called us and they invited us this year to participate and follow it from inside, in the Alps," Hutter said.

Every day they turn up at their Kling Klang studio in Dusseldorf and work...on what? Well, at last we know

"Our driver was a former professional, so he explained to us what it was like inside."

Hutter said that the band's use of cycling as the inspiration for Tour de France reflected the continuing theme of travel as an inspiration for music.

Kraftwerk's breakthrough record was Autobahn - German for motorway.

"It's the droning sound of the synthesisers, oscillators, overtones - for us it's like music," Hutter said.

Because Kraftwerk so rarely give interviews, much of their music has had to be interpreted by critics, who talk about it reflecting technological rhythms of the modern world.

Hutter said he agreed with this, arguing that the band were consciously listening to these sounds and putting them into the music - "transporting them to music levels".

'You're gliding'

"Basically it's improvising on some sound ideas, and developing from there," he told The Music Biz.

"The same with Tour de France, where strangely enough, when cycling is at it's best, when it's really going, it's silent.

"When your bike functions best, you don't hear it - it's silent, there's no crackling, it's just shhhh - you're gliding.

"It's the same when you're in good shape and you're in form and you're riding your bike, you hear nothing - maybe just a little bit of breath."

Sampling the body

Some of the tracks on Tour de France were created by studying Hutter's own body, he added.

"We took my heartbeat, and worked this into a kind of beats per minute, and some kind of drum beat - plus the breath, modulating and filtering - and working from that."

He said that using the body in this way echoed some of the band's early work, when they had experimented with sound from very simple sources.

"We started in 1970 at Kling Klang studio in Dusseldorf with just an old tape recorder and some pick-ups from strings," Hutter said.

"But over the years we got our first synthesisers - and today, with all the programmes available, it's fantastic."

And he added that the more technology grew, the greater the challenge to the band to create the perfect sound.

"Now we can travel, and it's a very intense performance because we control all the levels, the parameters, so the music is very sensitive," Hutter revealed.

"We can achieve big effects with small movements."




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