What Michael Mildren Learned From Kraftwerk

With the first release in Michael Mildren’s Process series, Studies In Kraft (CA049A) Michael recreated a selection of classic Kraftwerk tracks using period electronic music gear and painstaking study of the composition, performance and production techniques of the German electronic music masters. When Michael commenced work on the second release in the Process series, Post-Kraft (CA049B), he applied what he had learned from Kraftwerk to his own original tracks.

Here are a selection of Michael’s tips, gleaned from his intensive study of Kraftwerk, with some details on how he implemented this in his own work:

• Pay attention to detail…
• Don’t leave unnecessary notes or unnecessary sound artefacts in the track.
• Less can be better than more, especially where drum tracks are concerned
• Be careful not to make drum patterns too busy.
• Pay attention to frequency ranges across the multi-tracks, making sure bass notes and sounds are clearly heard and avoiding muddy low-mids.
• Use compression sparingly.
• Kraftwerk were good at using timed delay to give the impression of more notes being played eg in ‘Computer World’, where the bass line is more effective because it is an 8th note rhythm with one delay that makes it seem like a 16th. I used this in ‘Find Your Here’ after I’d found that the bass line seemed too busy and aurally tiring after a while with constant 16th notes.
• Finish a song before starting a new one (within reason, and always revisiting)
• The function of mastering a track is for clarity and suitable volume.

How did Michael implement these ideas in his original tracks?

Levels’ was the first piece I made straight after Studies in Kraft. I had amassed a new collection of analogue equipment (still expanding and contracting with purchases and sales). I wanted to make a long piece that traced the concept of music from basic sound (white and pink noise, non-melodic sound fx and spacey filtered feedback) through drone music (two-note drone chord with simple repetitive melody) and finally polyrhythmic music with more complex harmonies and melodies. I used my EHX small stone phaser on the strings in part two. I’d bought this phaser for the organ sound in ‘Autobahn’ on Studies in Kraft.

I’d made a computer software version of ‘GeoEngineering’ some years ago but it was overblown and way too loud. I used a more paired-back approach, guided by what I’d learned from songs like ‘Computer World’ and ‘Europe Endless’.

Satellite in the Sky’ was clearly referencing the structure and style of ‘Radioactivity’. Again, I was adding to my synth collection, so used a Waldorf Rocket as well as my Korg Poly 800.

This is an Emergency’ was made late at night after a session on ‘Levels’, starting as an improv on ELGAM Electric Piano/Harpsichord/Spinnet through Small Stone and Roland analog echo DC30. I wanted to create a traditional French style song with preset clarinet sound from my 1973 Roland SH1000, plus vocals by French sound module on the Texas Instruments Language Tutor which I’d bought on eBay for ‘Computer World’. To balance and counter the preset melody, I used the SH1000 pink noise as another ‘melodic’ part, and finally added a deep bass note from the same synth.

Process 1: Studies in Kraft and Process 2: Post-Kraft are out now from Clan Analogue. Look out for Process 3, to be released shortly.

Michael Mildren’s Journey Into Kraftwerk

When Michael Mildren commenced work on Process 1: Studies in Kraft, out now from Clan Analogue, an epic journey of exploration ensued. A search for the right gear to produce Kraftwerk’s classic tracks spanned continents. The focused critical listening to minutely analyse every aspect of Kraftwerk’s compositions and sound design took months. Practice with synth programming, effects tweaking and performance techniques was another huge undertaking.

Here Michael recounts some of the processes he explored:

“I only had basic analogue gear when I started… the 1973 Roland SH1000, Elgam electric piano/harpsichord, Mattell Synsonics drum machine and a few other bits and bobs. I immediately started to explore eBay and the local Music Swap Shop for anything I could afford that might generate good analogue sounds.

“The lead melody in ‘Neon Lights’ sounded like it might have been an Arp Odyssey. I found the flute sound on an early eighties sound module (EM101) whcih gave a reasonable estimation of it. I used the same sound for the melody in ‘Europe Endless’.

“For all vocoder parts I used my old Roland SVC350 vocoder with the organ or string sound from an old Casio keyboard. I bought an old EHX Small Stone phaser pedal online from Lismore to treat the EM101 organ sound for ‘Autobahn’.

“I found a French Texas Instruments Language Tutor (1978 voice synthesiser) on eBay from Palm Beach, Queensland, and a Spanish one from Canada, to use on ‘Pocket Calculator’ and ‘Computer World’. I found an original stylophone on eBay from an RSPCA op shop in a quaint English village.

“Laying out each original Kraftwerk song on a track in Ableton Live then setting the file to the nearest BPM, I would reference the original and slowly build up my version part by part. This was mostly live real-time playing with occasional sequenced parts on a newly bought Arturia Microbrute.

“I steadily added to my analogue gear setup over the year that I was working on the recordings. I traded some gear for a good drum machine, the Electron Machinedrum Mk1, which made drum programming possible. With some songs I would make a simple pattern and then play snare or other parts live on separate tracks.

“I also played live snare and hi hats parts on a Mattel Synsonics, particularly the ‘Computer World’ flams. Also on ‘Computer World’ I discovered rhythmic lines which I’d thought were 16ths but which were 1/8th notes doubled through a delay, so I learned how to set the delay rate of my Roland DC30 to replicate this effect.

“When I recorded ‘Man Machine’, I still didn’t have a polysynth that had filter sweep, so I put the EM 101 through a Korg Monotron which I had bought years earlier and which has an MS20-like filter, playing and tweaking the part live.”

Process 1: Studies In Kraft from Michael Mildren is available now from Clan Analogue. Look out for the next release in Michael Mildren’s release series: Process 2: Post-Kraft.