4/30/12

Kraftwerk and sci-fi soundtracking

“We were very much influenced by the futuristic silent films of Fritz Lang; Metropolis and Dr Mabuse […] We feel that we are the sons of that type of science fiction cinema. We are the band of Metropolis. Back in the 20’s, people were thinking technologically about the future in physics, film, radio, chemistry, mass transport…everything but music. We feel that our music is a continuation of this early futurism. When you go and see Star Wars, with all its science fiction gadgets, we feel embarrassed to listen to the music…19th century strings! That music for that film!? Historically, we feel that if there ever was a music group in Metropolis, maybe Kraftwerk would have been that band”.
-Ralf Hütter quoted in Tim Barr: "Kraftwerk": From Dusseldorf to the Future (With Love) (1998)

These sentiments (uttered some time in the late 70's) come to mind whenever I listen to my 2nd hand copy of The Electric Moog Orchestra's LP Music From Star Wars (1977). I wonder if Hütter would have had an easier time digesting the synthesized timbres of the Moog synthesizers?

While the synths do add a futuristic dash to the mood and while it's a lot of fun to listen to in comparison to the original, it must be said that the Moogs don't really pull of the dynamics we're accustomed to via the orchestral version. Probably since John Williams wrote the music with an orchestra in mind. So it's not just a timbral issue but also a question of form and structural content.

Hütter expresses his dislike of the "19th century strings" of Star Wars while underlining his admiration for Metropolis. The funny thing is that Hütter makes no mention of the Metropolis score: an original score by German composer Gottfried Huppertz that's very much of the "19th century strings" variety. Drawing mainly from romantic composers Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss the score also throws in some "Dies Irae" (an oft quoted 13th century hymn) for scenes of apocalyptic imagery.

(Danish director Carl Th. Dreyers 1943 masterpiece Vredens Dag also takes both its title and theme music from "Dies Irae").

Though the Huppertz score played a big role in the making of the movie - apparently Huppertz was on set playing excerpts on piano for emotional effect - Hütter can be forgiven for not mentioning it since to my knowledge the score wasn't actually recorded and released along with the movie until 2001. So when Hütter made his remarks in the late 70's he may not have been aware of the score.

Add to that the fact that Metropolis is from 1927 and any big advancements in electronic instruments and music where yet to be seen. The Theremin - among the earliest electronic instruments - was patented in 1928, the year after Metropolis, and didn't see notable sci-fi soundtrack use until 50's b-movie classics like The Day The Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet and the Star Trek tv-series. Forbidden Planet was released twenty years before the first Star Wars, yet it features a soundtrack of radically abstract synthscapes that leave the musical conservatism of Star Wars dead in the water.

According to documentary Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution the music of Forbidden Planet was in fact one of the many sources of inspiration for the German rock scene in the late 60's and early 70's. Which brings us back to Kraftwerk:

While searching through relevant clips for this blog post I came across this video where someone has set the Kraftwerk track "Metropolis" (The Man-Machine, 1978) to the opening sequences of Metropolis.
It's quite eerie how well the visuals and the music sync together! I don't know whether Kraftwerk intended this - whether they recorded the track to go along with the movie or not - but I do get the feeling that Hütter was on to something. Kraftwerk could have been that band...

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