Dein iPhone ruiniert deine Körperhaltung — und deine Laune.
von Amy Cuddy
14. Dezember 2015 — There are plenty of reasons to put our cellphones down now and then, not least the fact that incessantly checking them takes us out of the present moment and disrupts family dinners around the globe. But here’s one you might not have considered: Smartphones are ruining our posture. And bad posture doesn’t just mean a stiff neck. It can hurt us in insidious psychological ways.
If you’re in a public place, look around: How many people are hunching over a phone? Technology is transforming how we hold ourselves, contorting our bodies into what the New Zealand physiotherapist Steve August calls the iHunch. I’ve also heard people call it text neck, and in my work I sometimes refer to it as iPosture.
The average head weighs about 4.5 to 5.5 kg. When we bend our necks forward 60 degrees, as we do to use our phones, the effective stress on our neck increases to 27 kilo. When Mr. August started treating patients more than 30 years ago, he says he saw plenty of dowagers humps, where the upper back had frozen into a forward curve, in grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Now he says he’s seeing the same stoop in teenagers.
When we’re sad, we slouch. We also slouch when we feel scared or powerless. Studies have shown that people with clinical depression adopt a posture that eerily resembles the iHunch. One, published in 2010 in the official journal of the Brazilian Psychiatric Association, found that depressed patients were more likely to stand with their necks bent forward, shoulders collapsed and arms drawn in toward the body.
Posture doesn’t just reflect our emotional states; it can also cause them. In a study published in Health Psychology earlier this year, Shwetha Nair and her colleagues assigned non-depressed participants to sit in an upright or slouched posture and then had them answer a mock job-interview question, a well-established experimental stress inducer, followed by a series of questionnaires. Compared with upright sitters, the slouchers reported significantly lower self-esteem and mood, and much greater fear. Posture affected even the contents of their interview answers: Linguistic analyses revealed that slouchers were much more negative in what they had to say. The researchers concluded, “Sitting upright may be a simple behavioral strategy to help build resilience to stress.”
Ironically, while many of us spend hours every day using small mobile devices to increase our productivity and efficiency, interacting with these objects, even for short periods of time, might do just the opposite, reducing our assertiveness and undermining our productivity. Despite all this, we rely on our mobile devices far too much to give them up, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Fortunately, there are ways to fight the iHunch.
Keep your head up and shoulders back when looking at your phone, even if that means holding it at eye level. You can also try stretching and massaging the two muscle groups that are involved in the iHunch — those between the shoulder blades and the ones along the sides of the neck. This helps reduce scarring and restores elasticity.
The next time you reach for your phone, remember that it induces slouching, and slouching changes your mood, your memory and even your behavior. Your physical posture sculpts your psychological posture, and could be the key to a happier mood and greater self-confidence.
> Full article in the NY Times
Hardbound for hard copy: Karo Agenda 2016.
17 November 2015 — The brand new Karo Diary features photos of the St. Johann neighborhood and our beautiful building, Sant Christoffel. The Karo Diary is hardbound with a sewn binding so it lays flat on your desk, with it’s usual smart, user-friendly design. No cables required.
> more details
Weingart Exhibition: Opening soon at the Hong Kong Design Institute.
Hong Kong Design Institute Gallery · d-mark · Experience Centre, 3 King Ling Road, Tseung Kwan, Hong Kong
30 October 2015 – In collaboration with the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, Wolfgang Weingart’s exhibition Typography is travelling to Hong Kong and will be shown at the Hong Kong Design Institute from 6 November 2015 until 30 March 2016. Weingart revolutionized the traditional rules of typography and with his unique style of teaching and philosophy and has shaped generations of graphic designers all over the world. We are very pleased that our book Weingart: The Man and the Machine will be included at the HKDI during the duration of the exhibition.
> Hong Kong Design Institute
> Weingart: The Man and the Machine
Adrian Frutiger: A Lifetime of Letterforms.
Adrian Frutiger reading from one of his books to the Advanced Class for Graphic Design (WBK) in Basel, ca. 1990.
17 September 2015 – The internationally renowned Swiss type designer who created the famous Univers and Frutiger typefaces passed away on 10 September in Bern at the age of 87. He was one of the few typographers who had worked with hot metal, photographic and digital typesetting during his long career. Adrian Frutiger designed over 50 other fonts including Roissy, Avenir, Centennial, Egyptienne, Glyphia, Serifa and Versailles. He was also responsible for OCR-B, a follow-up to the American OCR-A monospace font that arose in the early days of computer optical character recognition. These fonts were designed to be recognized not only by humans, but also by computers.
ASTRA Frutiger Autobahn is based on Frutiger’s 1975 font Frutiger. ASTRA means ‘Schweizer Fachbehörde für die Strasseninfrastruktur und den individuellen Strassenverkehr’, or in English simply the Federal Roads Office.
In Switzerland, he is best known for his ASTRA Frutiger Autobahn and ASTRA Frutiger Standard fonts, which have been used for Swiss road signs since 2003. ASTRA Frutiger was designed to help keep the eye sharp in focus and it is highly legible at a distance. Frutiger’s skills were not just limited to letterforms for the Autobahn, but also air and rail travellers benefitted from his ingenius solutions of legibility and style. The Frutiger typeface welcomes visitors to the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and the city’s metro uses his Métro alphabet on its signs.
Adrian Frutiger was born on 24 May 1928 in Unterseen in the Bernese Highlands (Berner Oberland), right across the Aare river from Interlaken. He made an apprenticeship for typesetting in Interlaken at an arts printing house and went on to study at the Kunstgewerbeschule Zürich (today known as the University of the Arts). His path in life was crystal clear, with his thesis work titled The Development of European Type from the Greek Alphabets in Stone to Renaissance Type. After finishing his studies, he was employed in Zurich as a graphic designer and in 1952, was hired by French type foundry Deberny & Peignot. He soon achieved recognition with his Méridien font and went on to design his most acclaimed and recognized typeface: Univers.
Univers, a sans-serif typeface designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1954. It is classified as a neo-grotesque typeface, based on the model of the 1898 typeface Akzidenz-Grotesk. It was notable on its launch for its availability in a comprehensive but consistent range of weights and styles.
Univers was one of the first breakthroughs of the new system of phototypesetting that soon overtook the old and expensive method of casting leterforms in lead. It offered a whole set of variations in weight and italics (which are referred to as the print equivalent of underlining). The blossoming advertising industry helped make Univers popular.
In 1960 — midst in the advertising boom — Frutiger opened a design studio in Arcueil, in the southern suburbs of Paris, with fellow Swiss type designer André Gürtler and typographer Bruno Pfäffli at his side. They worked on logotypes, signage systems and maps for clients such as Air France, IBM and the Swiss Post Office.
Mr. Frutiger has written many books including Signs and Symbols, Nachdenken über Zeichen und Schrift, (Thinking about Signs and Type), Der Mensch und seine Zeichen (Man and His Signs), and in 2003, he published an autobiography called Ein Leben für die Schrift (A Life of Type). And most recently, a 460-page anthology of his work entitled Adrian Frutiger – Typefaces. The Complete Works was published in 2008 by Birkhäuser.
He received many prestigious awards such as the French Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres, the Gutenburg Prize of the city of Mainz, and the Medal of the Type Directors Club of New York. In 2009, he was inducted into the European Design Hall of Fame.
Adrian Frutiger and Eduardo Nieto, a Mexican student in Basel, 1993.
Spending most of his professional career working in Paris and living in France, in 1992 Adrian Frutiger returned to Bremgarten near Bern, Switzerland. He had been working on a new book, Der Schriften-Atlas (Type Atlas), which unfortunately has not been completed.
Thank you, Mr. Frutiger, for your soft-spoken poise, your eloquence in words and pictures, your dedication to design and your greater services to mankind.
> Interview with Adrian Frutiger, 1999
> Er macht die Welt lesbar, 14. September 2015
> Adrian Frutiger – Typefaces. The Complete Works (extract)
Typografie Erasmus: A new typeface is born.
The new typeface is a fusion of Italian heritage and Erasmus’ personal handwriting.
20 August 2015 – In celebration of the 500th anniversary of Erasmus of Rotterdam’s translation of the Greek New Testament, Katharina Wolff has designed a neo-humanistic typeface. The uppercase letters are influenced by Roman capitalis monumentalis or square capitals — an ancient Roman form of writing which is the basis for modern capital letters. The lowercase letters are inspired by the calligraphic structure which Johann Froben, a printer and publisher from Basel, used for his type during the late fifteenth, early sixteenth centuries.
Not only was Froben a friend of Erasmus, he employed Hans Holbein the Younger to illustrate his texts and became an intregal player in Basel’s development as a leading center for the Swiss book trade. The italic cut is derived from Chancery Cursive of the sixteenth century, which further developed into printing type, superseding Roman faces that were used in contemporary book production.
Cursive handwriting and the use of italic type for printing became a visual idiom for humanistic scholars, a style which Erasmus also preferred. Katharina Wolff’s letterform design has captured Erasmus’ rhythm by interpretting the scholar’s own cursive handwriting.
The Basel Historical Museum will be offering the new font online in May 2016. Congratulations, Kate!
Katharina Wolff has been working as a graphic designer and lettering artist since 1984.
She teaches letterform design at the Basel School of Design and the Zurich University of the Arts.
> Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus
> Johann Froben
> Hans Holbein the Younger
John Holcroft: I Like.
As Einstürzende Neubauten would have said, “Fütter mein Ego”.
15 August 2015 – John Holcroft is an illustrator based in Yorkshire. He studied graphic design in the early 1990s at Sheffield and after working in the field for several years, he decided to follow his heart and began to concentrate on illustration. He has been influenced by the work of David Cutter, Edward Hopper and Ian Pollock and more recently, 1950s silkscreen posters have been inspirational to his style. He uses a conceptual, quirky approach, not to mention a large dose of humour.
> John Holcroft, Illustrator
Droning on: The Swiss Post jumps on the quadcopter bandwagon.
by Bill Carey
The Matternet One quadcopter carrying a Swiss Post parcel. Photo: Swiss Post.
13. Juli 2015 – Switzerland’s mail service Swiss Post, cargo carrier Swiss WorldCargo and drone manufacturer Matternet have started testing small quadcopters for commercial use this month. The trials will focus on using drones for transporting emergency deliveries to remote areas or for speeding up the transfer of high-priority goods such as time-sensitive laboratory test samples.
Swiss Post delivers letters, newspapers and other materials as well as parcel delivery and express mail services. Swiss WorldCargo is an air freight division of Swiss International Airlines. California-based Matternet has developed the Matternet One quadcopter, which is capable of transporting parcels weighing up to 1 kilo over distances of 10 kilometers on a single battery charge.
> Original article: AIN Online
David Shrigley’s new mascot: Representing the anxiety of being a football fan.
by Patrick Barkham
Partick Thistle’s new mascot Kingsley in The Star and Garter pub in Glasgow. Photo: Paul Chappells.
24. Juni 2015 – Is it Lisa Simpson on meth? An evil Pokémon made real? The turbulent reaction to Kingsley, the monobrowed new mascot designed by artist David Shrigley for Scottish football team Partick Thistle, has seen it branded as the mascot nobody loves.
It doesn’t bother Glasgow-based Shrigley. “He represents the angst of being a football fan – which anyone who has supported Partick Thistle over the last few decades understands,” says Shrigley. “People are saying: ‘He’s terrible, he’s a disgrace to the good name of mascots.’ Do mascots have a good name? Do they have a union? If you look on the internet, you can find a far scarier mascot.”
Cuddly, child-friendly icon or not, the new mascot has rivals quaking in their boots. Like most good art, Kingsley is wide open to interpretation.
> Original article: The Guardian
> David Shrigley
Final Impressions: Art Basel, Unlimited and Design Miami.
‘The Original Dwelling’ by Atelier van Lieshout, 2015.
‘Double Bind’ by Leigh Ledare, 2010/2012.
‘Scapegoated’ by Gilbert & George, 2013.
‘Food for Thought Almuallaqat’ by Maha Malluh, 2014.
‘Untitled’ by Shilpa Gupta, 2012/2013.
‘Life Model’ by David Shrigley, 2012.
Kunstmessen à gogo — Bist du in Basel, tu das, was die Basler tun.
Neon and organic still-life aquarium, spotted at the Liste 2015.
Neon and organic still-life aquarium, spotted at the Liste 2015.
Robert Rauschenberg’s modern classic, Untitled, from 1984.
Kulturbeiz 113, one of Kleinbasel’s best kept secrets.
Rock and roll at ‘Ping Pong’ opening.
16 June 2015 – If you are in Basel this week, be sure to visit the Liste Art Fair, at the former Warteck beer brewery. Focusing on new galleries with young, emerging artists, the strict selection policy by a jury of professionals, as well as the limited exhibition space, guarantees a high quality show. The Liste is not only a must for collectors and curators, but also for lovers of contemporary art. An added plus: entry is free to the public. Do have a drink or some excellent food upstairs at the Kulturbeiz 113, one of the best kept secrets of Kleinbasel with a fabulous view of town.
Also in Kleinbasel, Ping Pong is an exhibition at Projektraum M54 featuring artists from Basel, Miami and Los Angeles. Since 2007, Ping Pong is an independent project for contemporary art which cultivates artistic exchange between the three cities.
> Liste 2015
> Ping Pong
> Lombego Surfers
> Kulturbeiz 113
> My Art Guide 2015
Liebesschlösser: Massentauglicher Vandalismus.
2. Juni 2015 – The padlocks that weigh heavily on the railing of the Pont des Arts in Paris will finally be removed, as city officials try to preserve the bridge. Using a crane and wheeled dollies, city workers are now dismantling the wire mesh panels on which hundreds of thousands of tourists have expressed their affections by attaching a metal lock to the bridge and thoughtlessly tossing the key into the Seine below.
For months, city officials have been discussing to remove the locks and to protect the bridge, which was first built in the early 1800s and reconstructed in the 1980s. The locks still affixed to the bridge weigh an estimated 41,000 kilos and will be kept in a city warehouse after they are removed, until officials decide what to do with them. Some are likely to be melted down, but there is no plan yet to fish out the more than 700,000 keys at the bottom of the river.
Bishop Henry II, holding a model of the new bridge he designed, doesn’t seem too impressed by the new padlocks that clutter his chapel on the Middle Bridge in Basel.
As a tourist, the most important thing is to be respectful of a place’s culture. A group called No Love Locks has set up a website to educate the public about the negative effects of placing locks on public spaces and fragile historic structures. They encourage less destructive (and more original!) ways for people to commemorate special events and support the efforts of city administrators – in Paris and elsewhere – in finding solutions for the removal and prevention of the locks, and promote legislation that would ban or restrict this act of vandalism.
> Original article: NY Times
> Love lock, an international virus
> No Love Locks
Je t’aime Vélib’: Cutting edge self-service bike system in Paris.
17. Mai 2015 – Take a bike, return it where you like, Vélib’ is available 24 hours a day, all year round. To access the service, buy a one day for €1.70 or a seven day ticket for €8 online or at any Vélib’ station or sign-up for a long-term subscription, starting at just €29. The service consists of a network of 1,800 stations, distributed every 300 meters in Paris and in 30 surrounding cities. Each station has a central terminal and bike posts. More than 20,000 bikes are available in Paris, with 160 employees working to ensure customer satisfaction through rigorous maintenance. The system is used by all walks of life in Paris – young and old, businesspeople and students, locals and tourists. C’est fantastique!
>Vélib’ in Paris
Was sind die Unterschiede zwischen Homepage, Website, Webseite und einem Blog?
Von Thorsten Faltings
Bild: Internet Mapping Project, Bell Labs/Lumeta Corp.
19. April 2015 – Für einen Internetauftritt werden die unterschiedlichsten Begriffe synonym verwendet: Manchmal spricht man von einer Homepage, andere verwenden die Begriffe Webseite oder Website und vielerorts stolpert man auch über einen Blog. Doch meistens meinen alle das Gleiche! Wie kommt das und was ist nun richtig?
Homepage vs. Website — Umgangssprachlich verwendet man in deutschsprachigen Ländern für eine Webpräsenz überwiegend den Begriff Homepage. Nimmt man das englische Wort Homepage wörtlich (Home = Heim, Zuhause, Ausgangsposition; Page = Seite), kann man es am besten mit Einstiegsseite oder kurz Startseite übersetzen, also einer zentralen Komponente eines Internetauftritts. Wieso Homepage nun synonym für den gesamten Auftritt verwendet wird, kann man nur mutmassen. Das ebenfalls englische Wort Website setzt sich zusammen aus Web – die Kurzform für World Wide Web (weltweites Netz) und Site (Stätte, Standort, Stelle u.a.), also einem Ort oder Platz im Web.
Website vs. Webseite — Warum nennen wir die Website denn nicht auf Deutsch Webseite? Weil das eine falsche Übersetzung ist! Eine einzelne Webseite wäre im Englischen eine Web page (Page = Seite) und beschreibt ein einzelnes Dokument oder einzelne Internetseite (kurz Seite) innerhalb der Website. Bliebe man einheitlich bei englischen Begriffen, müsste man nun auch von Web pages sprechen. Anders als Homepage und Website hat sich Web page aber nicht im deutschen Sprachgebrauch (und im Duden) durchsetzen können.
Website vs. Blog — Das Wort Blog ist die Kurzform für Web-Log, eine Kombination aus Web und Log für Logbuch. Ein Blog ist eine Art Tagebuch, bei dem der Blogger in chronologischer Reihenfolge aktuelle Beiträge schreibt. Was ursprünglich tatsächlich überwiegend persönliche Tagebucheinträge waren, hat sich mittlerweile häufig zu einem Journal weiterentwickelt, in dem auch viele Unternehmer und Unternehmen Aktuelles oder News verbreiten. In den letzten Jahren haben Blogs einen sehr grossen Einfluss auf die Entwicklung des Internets gehabt. Durch sie ist das Web viel aktueller und agiler geworden.
Website: ein virtueller Platz im Internet, an dem sich meist mehrere Webseiten befinden.
Homepage: Einstiegsseite oder Startseite einer Website.
Webseite: einzelne Seite einer Website.
Blog: öffentliches Tagebuch im Internet.
> mehr über Thorsten Faltings
Liebe Freunde! Bitte unterstützt unsere Freunde.
Foto: New York Daily News
6. April 2015 – Am Donnerstag, den 26. März 2015, ereignet sich eine massive Gasexplosion in New Yorks East Village. Der daraus resultierenden Brand zerstörte drei Wohnhäuser an der Second Avenue und Seventh Street. Unser Künstlerfreund Matthew Brooks lebte seit 1992 dort, und im Laufe der Jahre war es immer eine willkommene Unterkunft während unsere Besuche in NYC.
Glücklicherweise waren Matthew und seine Frau Nora nicht in der Wohnung, als die Explosion passiert ist. Sie haben aber alles, inklusive die Werkzeuge, die sie professionell nutzen, sowie ihre Katze verloren. Eine Crowdfunding-Website wurde eingerichtet, um ihnen zu helfen, ihr Leben wieder auf die richtige Spur zu bekommen. Keine Spende ist zu klein und es gibt keine Fristen oder Ziel-Anforderungen.
> Unterstütze Matthew und Nora.
> Unterstütze Laura, Musikerin und ihre Mitbewohnerin.
> Bericht aus der New York Times.
Ausstellung: “When you think about it,
are kind of like museums.” (Andrew Warhola)
Patrick Lindon, Crystallized Tower, anodised aluminum, black MDF, 2015
17 March 2015 — We are pleased to announce an upcoming exhibition in our small gallery space at St. Johanns-Vorstadt 15. When you think about it,
The duration of the exhibition will be from 8 May until 8 September 2015. A magnificent and highly informative catalog from Karo Publishing will accompany the exhibition. Opening hours are by appointment only.
> Gregori Bezzola
> Patrick Lindon
> Susan Knapp
> Ulrich Muchenberger
> Marco Pittori
> Ralph Schraivogel
> Judith Stadler
> Martin Stollenwerk
That time of year again: Basel Fasnacht.
22 February 2015 — The Fasnacht (carnival) in Basel is recognized as the largest popular festival in Switzerland, with up to 20,000 masked participants taking part. It is recommended to visit the countless clique cellars which will be open this week. In the 1960s, the cliques (Fasnacht groups or clubs) slowly moved away from their regular restaurants and bars and started to celebrate in their own practice spaces in the center of town. The basements were originally in pretty bad shape and had to be painstakingly renovated. The food and drink is usually very good – some are also open throughout the year – and the prices are more reasonable than in restaurants.
Here are a few cellars worth visiting for a drink or a bowl of traditional Basler Mehlsuppe (flour soup):
• Alti Richtig (The Old Real One), Bäumleingasse 11 — with beautiful lanterns and vaulted ceilings.
• Schnurebegge Pensiönli (Talkative Baker Pension), Rheingasse 29 — founded in 1926 in Kleinbasel, named after the last official city drummer (Stadtdambuur). This is not really a cellar, but it’s a beautiful restaurant with excellent cuisine in the back courtyard.
• Die Aagfrässene (literally chewed on, means The Fanatics), Nadelberg 20 — was probably a wine cellar from the Middle Ages.
• Privé Waggis (Waggis’ Private Cellar), Steinenvorstadt 53 — Waggis are an affectionate spoof on the Alsatian farmers from just over the border in France who used to sell produce from their carts at the local market (see photo below). The cellar is decorated by Basel artist Daege (Sword) and is always a fun place to visit.
• Rumpel (Rumble), Pfeffergässlein 11 — more than a clique cellar, the whole building is owned by the clique, with various rooms on different levels. The subtle, but elegant furnishings make it worth a visit all year round.
• Primidoofe (roughly The Primarily Dumb), Martinsgasse 13 — their cellar is a well-kept secret near the lantern exhibition on Münsterplatz.
• Luscht-Melch (The Excited Amphibian), Steinenvorstadt 69 — always packed and worth visiting.
Alsatian women on Voltaplatz around 1900 (Photo: Basel City Archive)
According to the experts on Basel Fasnacht, there are almost no rules, just these:
1.) Do not use a flash when taking photos.
2.) Everyone should be wearing a carnival badge (Blaggedde).
3.) Do not cross through performing groups.
4.) Do not get inebriated.
5.) Do not paint your face, no clown noses or silly caps. No Lederhosen. No naked dancing ladies.
6.) No swaying to the music, no rude yelling or yodelling.
7.) Participants have priority over spectators in restaurants.
8.) Do not pick up confetti (Räppli) from the ground. Do not steal anything.
9.) Spectators do not throw confetti onto the participants.
10.) Do not throw anything back to the participants (e.g. oranges) or to other spectators.
Some rules for Morgestraich (Monday morning kick-off):
11.) Be on time, it’s best to get there at 3:30 am.
12.) Turn off all lights.
13.) Do not form human chains.
14.) Do not bring an umbrella.
For your own safety:
15.) Do not bring handbags or valuables.
16.) Do not wear contact lenses. (??)
17.) Do wear warm clothing and comfortable shoes.
18.) The event in German is called Basler Fasnacht or in dialect Baasler Faasnacht and not Basle Fastnacht. (For those of you who don’t know, the official spelling of Basel in English is Basel, not Basle, Bâle or Bale.)
19.) For spectators, there is the ever-present danger of being attacked from behind by a confetti-throwing/confetti-stuffing Waggis. The best is not to resist and let them have their fun.
20.) Since 2008, the Fasnachts-Comité (official organizing committee) has been welcoming foreigners living in Basel to integrate and join in on the Basel Fasnacht tradition.
Considering there are almost no rules, that’s a lot of rules.
> Basler Insider (all links in German)
> Alti Richtig
> Schnurebegge Pensiönli
> Die Aagfrässene
> Privé Waggis
> Free Willy Riot: A punk rock Fasnacht
Guest Essay #1/2015: Why I want to offer a university course on Kraftwerk.
by Uwe Schütte
11. Februar 2015 — If there is one band in the world that deserves intellectual exploration, it has to be Kraftwerk. Founded in 1970 in Düsseldorf, the two founding members, Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, forever changed the course of popular music with their concept of an industrielle Volksmusik (industrial folk music) made by machines.
Their electronic future music – for example, albums such as Die Mensch-Maschine (The Man-Machine, 1978) or Computerwelt (Computer World, 1981) – provided the blueprint for today’s music in all its glory, from chart’s pop via rap to dance music. Kraftwerk’s future music has indeed become the sound of the present.
Because I’m so convinced by this, I would like to develop a university course on Kraftwerk. It would captivate students to learn about German 20th-century history and culture by studying a band many may not have heard of. Here’s how I would set this out – and why I think it is so worth studying.
History by Kraftwerk — The first sessions would lay the historical and socio-political foundations. German society, after the defeat of the Nazis, carried on as if nothing had happened. But a new generation emerged, looking for a new definition of what it means to be German. They wanted to develop a new national identity, not tainted by the fascist crimes. Entwined with this is the need for a new kind of music that does not just copy Anglo-American models. And so Krautrock emerges – a new type of spaced-out music, beyond the parameters of Anglo-American rock.
Kraftwerk, here, is a perfect case to study the process in which cultural change occurs in direct reaction to social shifts.
For their first three albums, published between 1970 and 1973, Kraftwerk sounded not unlike their Krautrock peers. But then, in 1974, the shift happens: with Autobahn, Kraftwerk truly give birth to a new kind of music which they dub techno pop. Students in my Kraftwerk course would be invited to undertake a close hearing of the 22-minute epic, analyzing its structure and sound components. They would look at the adaptation of avant-garde strategies such as found sounds or the postmodernist mis-en-abyme (meaning literally placed into abyss) that occurs when – within the track which simulates a car journey – a car radio is switched on, playing Autobahn.
The 1974 cover image, too, is worth investigating. Why is the Autobahn so eerily devoid of cars? And is there any symbolism involved in the fact that the grey Volkswagen Beetle – identical with the model owned by the band at the time – is travelling ahead, towards the future, while the black Mercedes, favoured car model of the ruling elite of West Germany, drives towards the viewer, and hence into the direction of the past?
Back to the future — Over the next few sessions, we would look at the four concept albums from the second half of the 1970s. These constitute the core of their output. They also reflect and represent a chronicle of West German post-war history and politics – the rise of environmentalism as encapsulated in Radio-Aktivität (Radio-Activity, 1975), Germany’s role at the forefront of European unification (Trans-Europe Express, 1977), the confrontation of technology and tradition as explored in Mensch-Maschine (1978) or the digitisation of society as uncannily predicted already in 1981 by Computerwelt.
Computerwelt in particular is a prime example for the prophetic quality that haunts much of Kraftwerk’s music. After all, they anticipated the future in a type of music that was truly futuristic itself. At the same time, their visual representation – album covers and videos, website – is in a clear retro-style.
The original cover of Radio-Aktivität, for example, features the 1930s Volksempfänger radio, used by Hitler for propaganda purposes – and the band website is a feast of 1980s pixillated glory. Students on my course would compare it with one of the cutting-edge design websites of current popstars. Why Kraftwerk create that tension between the nostalgic, technologically outdated and the futuristic so often is a puzzling question, and there are so many answers.
Modern meanings — The themes of Kraftwerk’s music are clearly not limited to Germany but increasingly reflect key questions of Western civilisation. Accordingly, their last two albums Techno Pop (1986) and Tour de France Soundtracks (2003) feature multi-lingual lyrics in many major European languages. And here we have a topic for another session: what it means to be European. Ralf Hütter, for example, has repeatedly pointed out that Kraftwerk is a European band from Germany.
Germany was initially at the forefront of European integration as the country had learnt its lesson from the destruction wrecked by nationalism. After reunification, this morally motivated attitude changed. Now, under the seemingly never-ending regime of Angela Merkel, the conservative government reverts to Realpolitik, using Germany’s economic strength to impose austerity measures on already impoverished Eurozone countries.
Something to discuss: Can Kraftwerk’s music, which emphasizes its European dimension, be understood as a comment on current developments? Does popular music, if studied attentively, contribute to our understanding of the world? I would of course plead for a resounding yes – but am eager to find out what others think. And which bands they deem to be important. And in that respect, I can only learn from students.
Which leaves me to find a suitable activity for the last session: Anyone up for a Kraftwerk party?
Uwe Schütte, Dr. phil., born in 1967 in Menden/Germany, is literary critic, arts writer and music journalist.
Since 1999 he has lectured on German arts and history at Aston University in Birmingham/UK.
> Originally published on ‘The Conversation’, 4 February 2015
> Kraftwerk live, 1978
> Kraftwerk performing ‘Pocket Calculator’ in Italian, 1981
Prost Neujahr: Mimosas on the Beach.
5. Januar 2015 — “Have a little faith, and if that doesn't work, have a lot of mimosas.”