Florian Schneider, co-founder of Kraftwerk, RIP

Florian Schneider, the co-founder of Kraftwerk, has died at age 73. Schneider's influence on all forms of electronic music, from disco to new wave, hip hop to techno, is his legacy. He moved culture. From The Guardian:

Born in 1947, Schneider was the son of Paul Schneider-Esbelen, a noted architect who designed Cologne’s airport. Schneider first played music in various groups while studying in Düsseldorf, beginning in a band called Pissoff. Operating in the experimental, open-minded rock scene dubbed “krautrock” in the British press, he formed the group Organisation with Ralf Hutter, the pair later forming Kraftwerk in 1970.

Schneider played the flute, violin and guitar, though often filtered through electronic processing. His interest in electronic music grew. “I found that the flute was too limiting,” he later said. “Soon I bought a microphone, then loudspeakers, then an echo, then a synthesiser. Much later I threw the flute away; it was a sort of process.”

After three albums with Hütter in the mid-70s, Kraftwerk released Autobahn and expanded to a quartet. The album was composed primarily on synthesisers, and its highly original sound and witty lyrics made it a hit, with the title track reaching No 11 in the UK and No 25 in the US.

top image: Daniele Dalledonne (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Listen to a rare Kraftwerk live concert from 1975

In the latest edition of High Weirdness author Erik Davis's essential e-newseltter The Burning Shore, he points us to this wonderfully rare live recording of a complete Kraftwerk concert from a 1975 performance in Canada. It's charging my battery and now I'm definitely full of energy. Erik writes:

...It captures the newly-christened touring quartet of Schneider, Hütter, Flür, and Bartos stretching their electronic wings on their first full international tour. Delicate, playful, and unpretentious, having fun with their goofy machines and modest vocal chops, the group enters a low earth orbit with a “robot pop” sound that remains organic, improvisatory, and still friendly toward the flute. We open with the diaphanous cascades of “Kling Klang”, pass through the galactic drift of “Komentenmelodie 1”, and close with a 25-minute “Autobahn” that manages to both ride the groove and break down in all the right ways. The home-cooked rhythm rigs are particularly charming, constantly shifting timbres and patterns while forging the revolutionary conjunctio of electronics and The Beat. At a time when most prog bands were sludgy with cleverness, this music enacts a genuinely progressive marriage of kosmiche slop and electronic futurism, deployed with the lightest of radioactive touches.

image: "Kraftwerk concert in Zürich, 1976" by Ueli Frey (CC BY-SA 3.0) Read the rest

What Google Assistant calls will actually be like

Perhaps you were slightly unnerved by Silicon Valley cheering Google's startlingly convincing and conversant simulation of a human voice! You know they don't really give a damn about online fakery and abuse, so you know they won't give a damn what ends this tech is put to.

Thankfully, it probably won't work quite so well as the demo. Mr. Bandwagon's edit of Google's presentation is great, an artifact popping in perfect form from the near future's mercifullly unequal distribution.

The thing is this: if humans don't know they're talking to robots, they won't talk in a way robots will understand, which is what we tend to do with Siri and other voice assistants. It'll take a lot of machine learning to grasp the complexities and vagaries of truly natural human speech, a point so obvious that everyone assumes it will obviously be overcome.

Maybe we'll find ourselves talking robotically for the benefit of machines we believe are human. But it's more likely we'll become swiftly inoculated against The Voice, attuned to its little shibboleths and flaws--no Voight-Kampff test necessary--at least for now. We'll just be angrier than ever at our phones, hanging up at the first sign of Robocall 2.0, until it becomes so pervasive we have no choice. Read the rest

The FCC will not disregard anti-Net Neutrality comments left by identity-stealing bots

Before the FCC stopped taking comments on its plans to destroy Net Neutrality (but after so many people rallied to tell it not to that its site crashed and the agency manufactured a fake denial of service attack to avoid admitting how much America hated its plans), the FCC's comment form was flooded with 128,000 identical comments sent by bots that used an alphabetical series of stolen names and addresses, possibly taken from an old voter registration data breach. Read the rest

German court hands Kraftwerk its ass, rules sampling is legal

Today, Kraftwerk lost its vindictive, 19-year-long copyright suit against Sabrina Setlur, whose 1997 song "Nur mir" looped a drum sequence from Kraftwerk's 1977 "Metall auf Metall." Read the rest