Kraftwerk are undoubtedly musical pioneers. Their exploratory and bold approaches have created music of momentum and narrative that has inspired generations of electronic artists. Equally, the British Paraorchestra are pioneers. Fusing electronic and acoustic sound worlds with traditio
nal instruments and new technology, they are a ground-breaking ensemble that champions accessible, creative and diverse music making.
Charles Hazlewood, Artistic Director of the Paraorchestra, approached me earlier in the year with the idea of bringing together these two musical entities in collaboration with the Army of Generals orchestra, in a symphonic ‘rewerking’ of Kraftwerk’s inimitable Trans Europe Express album – ‘taking the essence of Kraftwerk, but filtering it through a fierce contemporary orchestral composer’s prism’. I’ve always had a huge interest in the connections between electronic and acoustic music, and often fuse elements of electronica and pop with contemporary classical influences in my own music, so was incredibly excited to be involved. He then introduced me to the wonderful composer, clarinettist and Associate Music Director for the Paraorchestra, Lloyd Coleman and together we began to envisage how this piece could come to life.
To begin with, we took direct inspiration from the concepts of travel, machinery and momentum, all of which are so intrinsic to the music of Kraftwerk, especially the Trans Europe Express album. We came up with the idea of creating a work that was split into movements that almost shift in gear from one to the next, giving the listener a sense of being taken on a sonic journey. From there, we studied in detail the musical elements of the album, picking out riffs and refrains, timbral textures and beats to use as starting points for our compositions. In some movements we’ve also taken literal references to train travel, with industrial textures and incessant, rattling rhythms mixing with train announcement inspired lyrics (performed through a Kraftwerk-esque vocoder, of course).
The depth of artistry and instrumental diversity in the Paraorchestra meant that we were working with a beautifully eclectic and vibrant sonic palette. Never before have I had the opportunity to write music for bass oboes mixed with an electro-harp, or a drum pad blending with a bass clarinet! Charles also put forward the idea of manipulating the orchestra live, essentially turning the whole ensemble into a giant synth – a fascinating reflection of Kraftwerk’s original orchestral synth approaches.
Over the summer we were lucky enough to have some research days, which included an electronics session in Bristol (I’ve never seen so many synths in one room!) as well as a meeting with the extraordinary Paraorchestra member Clarence Adoo at Sage Gateshead. After hearing about Clarence’s jazz background, I knew instantly that I wanted to write a movement that features him, as I hear so many parallels to modal jazz in the sparse textures and improvisatory melodic lines of Kraftwerk’s music. For me, Clarence also completely personifies a pioneering, hybrid approach to music with his instrument Headspace, which in itself has endless musical and tonal possibilities.
I feel extremely honoured to have had the opportunity to write for these extraordinary musicians and delve deeper into Kraftwerk’s iconic sound world. I really can’t wait for Saturday’s performance at the Simple Things Festival in Bristol, the final destination in this Trans Europe Express symphonic trip. What an incredible journey it has been.
kraftwerk re:werk is a new commission by The Paraorchestra and Friends and Simple Things
Produced by The Paraorchestra and Friends
Supported by Arts Council England
kraftwerk re:werk premiered on Saturday 21 October 2017 at Simple Things Festival 2017, Colston Hall, Bristol