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Florian Schneider: The Man Behind the Machines

Drew Schlesinger

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Kraftwerk cofounder Florian Schneider died in April after a brief bout with cancer.

You’ve likely heard that Florian Schneider, one of the founding members of Kraftwerk, has passed away. Responses have universally acknowledged his brilliant contributions and Kraftwerk’s status as electronic music visionaries. No one can overstate their impact on contemporary music.

From Kraftwerk’s onset, Florian and his musical partner Ralf Hütter were the band’s main composers. Their combination of catchy songs and superlative synthesizer work made them unique. Ralf called Florian a “sound fetishist,” hinting at his contributions to their music. While Ralf sang and played the melodies, Florian was apparently the electronic sonic wizard. He created the unique textures and amazing vocoding vocals on all the albums up to Tour De France in 2003.

Die Mensch-Maschine

Florian Schneider played flute, guitar, and EMS Synthi on their 1973 album Ralf and Florian and employed the ARP Odyssey on the groundbreaking Autobahn the following year. When I saw them play live in 1975, he played a pair of Odysseys, creating sounds and textures, while Ralf played his Farfisa piano and Minimoog. Seeing them again in ’81 during the amazing Computer World tour (their most impactful album in my opinion), I caught a glimpse of him cycling through patches on a Prophet-5, making noises and again manning the vocoder.

While the band carefully honed their machine-like social distance, Florian was known for his sly grin and broad smile, adding a human element to the robotic façade. He was a klangchemiker, a sound chemist and electronic pioneer. He transformed the art of synthesis and the electronic music landscape forever.

So here’s to Florian Schneider, the man behind the machines who’s hopefully driving the eternal Autobahn in the skies…Fahren-Fahren-Fahren! R.I.P. 1947 – 2020.

Recommended Albums

Autobahn (1974), Trans Europe Express (1977), Computer World (1981), The Mix (compilation, 1991), Tour De France Soundtracks (2003)

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