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Modern composition supergroup Zeitkratzer take on Kraftwerk for latest reworking project

Reinhold Friedl's ensemble to release Performs Songs From The Albums Kraftwerk And Kraftwerk 2

Modern composition supergroup Zeitkratzer are releasing an album of reinterpretations of early Kraftwerk. Reinhold Friedl's ensemble, who in 2007 released a version of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, and in recent years have performed the music of Stockhausen and Cage and collaborated with Carsten Nicolai of Raster Noton, recorded their new album in Marseille. Performs Songs From The Albums Kraftwerk And Kraftwerk 2 is the first of two albums exploring the early recordings of the Dusseldorf group.

Kraftwerk's first two albums feature drums, guitar flute and violin, and are notably more rocking than their later electronic albums, but were ignored by the group in the 2009 reissue of their catalogue. “Kraftwerk promised for almost two decade to rerelease these first two records and never did,” complains Reinhold Friedl. “Zeitkratzer on the other hand were several times misunderstood as doing ‘covers’ although we almost never did. So this coincidence, Kraftwerk kind of hiding their early work, brought up the decision to work as a real cover band, because of historic necessity to make this early part of the Kraftwerk story accessible again!”

Zeitkratzer have become renowned for the reinterpretations of various electronic musics, and taking on Kraftwerk might seem like their stiffest challenge to date. But as Friedl notes, the German group's early works were more krautrock than Kling-Klang. “Beside the electronic keyboard there is not much synthesizer in these early works. And the keyboard sounds are mostly based on a harmonium effect. So we just used a real harmonium and the sound was brilliant! Much more compelling have been other electronic effects, like the acceleration of the master tape in one piece: as a live band you have then to play glissando up and accelerate the tempo at the same time. Very funny unusual exercise and experience."

Despite the disparity between Kraftwerk's early and later albums, Kraftwerk and Kraftwerk 2’s role in the group’s development is often ignored, perhaps in part because of their relative scarcity. "You can already see the later more minimalistic electronic approach,” Friedl argues. “Including their wonderful superficial lightness, combined with Krautrock improvisations (all those alto flute improvisations on looping grooves) with influences of contemporary music (listen to “Atem”, one of the most experimental piece they ever did!)"

Zeitkratzer have adapted the classical ensemble to respond to a wide range of music in recent years, from the extreme rock of Keiji Haino to the conceptual electronics of Terre Thaemlitz. Playing this music, did they start to feel like a krautock band? “Reminds me of the famous question of philosopher Susanne Langer,” responds Friedl. "Does a performer, who performs a Beethoven sonata, need to have exactly the same feelings as Beethoven, in the very moment, when he wrote down the music? For sure not. We started the project exactly the other way round: studying the different versions Kraftwerk themselves did from exactly the same pieces (you can find several live performances of them on YouTube) in very different tempos etc. Then we constructed our version by transcribing as exactly as possible the common content of those different versions. And I hope we found even some aspects in this music, that Kraftwerk themselves did not realize when they played it years ago.

”But for sure our job was to play it as close to the original as possible,” he continues. “And some of us felt like great Düsseldorf kids going Krautrock avant garde.”

Performs Songs From The Albums Kraftwerk And Kraftwerk 2 is released on 24 March on Karlrecords, and coincides with both the 20th anniversary of the ensemble, and the 10th anniversary of the label.