Their first album to fully embrace the electronic sound.
Electronic music has changed a lot since the mid ’70s. Nowadays anyone can jump onto a DAW and have a world full of possibilities in front of them. There has been over 45 years of technological expansion since Kraftwerk released this album, and back then it wasn’t so easy. In the mid ’70s, synthesisers were few and far between, and with the exception of a couple, you couldn’t just head to a music store and buy one.
Autobahn marked a change for Kraftwerk. This album showcases their experimentation with electronic instruments, drum machines and custom made pieces, diving deeper into that world than ever before. In retrospect you could see this as them finding their sound, and from this point, opting to use an almost exclusively electronic sound.
Today we take a look back at the equipment Kraftwerk used to create their inspiring sound on Autobahn, which still holds true as an incredible album.
- Moog Minimoog
- ARP Odyssey
- Farfisa Rhythm Unit 10 & Vox Percussion King (customised)
- Farfisa Professional Piano
- Schulte Compact Phasing A
- Mutron Biphase
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The Minimoog represents Moog’s first non-modular outing into the synthesiser world. This synth is actually the first synthesiser to sell in retail music stores, probably because it didn’t require the intense care and patience of a modular synth and one could quite easily turn it on and play it.
This subtractive, monophonic beast has three oscillators, filter and volume envelopes. Being monophonic, this synth was mainly used for lead and bass lines where only one note is required to be played at a time.
You can hear it in use on the title track from this album as one of the plucky melody lines and as a bass.
ARP Odyssey Mk 1
Utilising this first edition of the ARP Odyssey, Kraftwerk were able to create leads, FX and sweeping sounds found across the Autobahn album.
A direct competitor to the Minimoog, the ARP Odyssey which arrived in 1972 had some notable features that made it different. Firstly it could play two notes at once (duophony) and it also featured a high pass filter, nice for not muddying up the low end.
This synth was used for a bass line in the live performance of ‘Autobahn’.
Farfisa Rhythm Unit 10 & Vox Percussion King (customised)
On this album Kraftwerk utilised the Farfisa Rhythm Unit 10 and Vox Percussion King which were extremely customised. Creating unique electronic pads, their drummers would play the drum machines in real time on these pads.
Both drum machines featured pre recorded patterns and small, relatively unplayable buttons which Kraftwerk circumvented by creating these custom machines.
Quite common now, but almost completely unheard of back then. This was just one of many innovative things Kraftwerk did during their electrifying embrace of new electronic gear.
Farfisa Professional Piano
Dubbed the “Krautrock Piano” by many, the Farfisa Professional is capable of full polyphony, but sounds not much like an actual piano.
The keyboard can be split so that the lower register can be voiced separately from the upper register. Essentially making two different sounds available from the one keyboard.
Utilising the flick switches on the keyboard, Kraftwerk created an otherworldly sound, especially when paired with the phasing units they used to create depth and movement on this album.
Schulte Compact Phasing ‘A’
This phaser was created in Germany in the early ’70s and was a Krautrock favourite.
Utilised on their synths and keyboards, the Schulte Compact Phasing ‘A’ is a depth machine! With very simple controls and layout, the ‘A’ can create wild tones when cranked up to full, something Kraftwerk used on this record.
A more complex synth with defining qualities is the Mu-tron Bi-phase. Notably, there are two inputs with separate controls for feedback and depth and there are 6-stage phaser circuits, for both flexibility and functionality.
Also used over their synthesisers, this phasing beast is capable of running two separate synths at once!
Now that you are across some of the gear they used, check out Kraftwerk performing ‘Autobahn’ with the aforementioned synths and effects below.
This article was originally published June 14, 2021.
Check out a long-form interview with Kraftwerk here.