BBC Four spoiled its audience recently with a collection of brilliant music documentaries that underline the impact technology, namely the synthesizer, had on popular and academic music in Britain. First, a Krautrock documentary investigates the influence German bands like Kraftwerk, Neu and Can had on the British music scene. Interesting to see how the most unpolitical and affirmative bands with enough money to afford outrageously high-prized synthesizers at that time left the biggest marks on the musical landscape. Others just got lost in permanent drug frenzies and dreamed their way out of society in secluded communes in the country side. The label Krautrock was indeed a disparaging name the british music press gave a somehow strange German music scene that was in fact more diverse than it seemed to be. The documentary ends with the story of David Bowie’s Berlin albums that he supposedly wanted to record with a selection of Krautrock musicians.
Another BBC documentary that begins with the outstanding influence Kraftwerk had on the british music scene is “Synth Brittania”. English bands merged the futuristic sounds of Kraftwerk with the raw power and simplicity of Punk and created their own brand of electronic music. I liked Daniel Miller saying that he bought on ebay the original vocoder Kraftwerk used on the their track Autobahn and that it would be the equivalant of owning the same guitar Jimy Hendrix played on Purple Haze.
Finally the influence technology had on music production in relation to radio and more avantgarde techniques is investigated in the documentary “The Alchemists of Sounds” revolving around the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, a studio and sound effects units within the BBC which had over quite some time a great deal of artistic freedom to explore the boundaries of sound production. A lot of technological progress that later played a role in popular electronic music was pioneered in studios such as the Radiophonic Workshop or others like WDR’s Studio for Electronic Music in Cologne and Pierre Schaeffer’s experiments at RDF in Paris.