I have new vinyl. It’s old but completely intact. It sounds fantastic. It’s an album that has been with me in some form for a long time. Now I can finally play Computer World. And I do.
Why are these futuristic Germans still so fascinating, even though their vision of a digital, fundamentally technological world is now being surpassed by reality? Why, when our minds are slowly but surely actually becoming part of the machine, do we still find pleasure in such a naive, even optimistic interpretation of possible futures?
First, of course, we have to consider Kraftwerk, the group, as a work of art. Art can present us with perceptions of things to come. Art can clear the way for new ideas, shatter taboos and prepare the mind for changes. It can confront us with our incapacity to cope with reality and help us to become more able, more complete.
Kraftwerk, to my mind, paints an ideal picture of the marriage between man and machine. Autobahn, Radioaktivität, Die Mensch-Maschine, Trans-Europe Express: humans created technology, and in the world of Kraftwerk, humans live in complete harmony with what they created. Clean, safe and fast. No borders, no misunderstandings. Kraftwerk is the celebration of a technologically enhanced human existence, highly advanced, perfect and whole. No critique, just a clear picture of the collaboration between consciousness and technology.
But is this the kind of art that seeks to prepare us for a new truth? Yes, but not by way of mere acceptance. There is something else going on.
We know now that this marriage, this Mensch-Maschine, will never be flawless, and that many problems arise with each ‘improvement’. In a sense, I believe, there is a warning in the art of Kraftwerk, although this warning will never be manifest. It will always be hidden under the layers of aestheticially organized smoke screens the group has produced. A critique that will never acknowledge itself as critical.
‘Wir sind die Roboter’ – not yet! Not if we can help it.