Covering Kraftwerk: the process (part 2)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the first steps in my process of recording an EP of Kraftwerk covers using solely the Pocket Operator series of micro synthesizers.

This weekend I returned to the project. I am not yet recording anything with the Pocket Operators themselves, but I am continuing the process of recording rough versions of these covers using software instruments in Logic Pro X. There are three reasons behind doing this:

1. Learning the basic structure of each instrumental part in the songs.

2. Building my overall arrangement of each piece, so I have a framework to work from as I record the Pocket Operator parts.

3. Determining which keys to transpose the songs into (since the Pocket Operators only have a 2-octave diatonic scale and can’t play chromatic notes), and having recorded versions of the parts in the new key to work from on the Pocket Operators.

As of today I have the rough mixes from Logic Pro X of all 4 tracks, so my next step is to actually get the Pocket Operators going and start recording the real parts.

The links below are rough MP3 versions of these Logic Pro X arrangements. None of the sounds you hear will be on the final versions; these are simply guide tracks for me to use in recording the real parts. Also, there are a few “open” sections in the middle of the songs (especially “Ruckzuck” and “Tour de France”) where I’ve left room for additional improvisations or manipulations.

I did not try to perfectly reproduce every part, or exactly follow the structure of each song. These are my interpretations and I’ve taken some liberties — especially with “Ruckzuck”, since I’ve never been a huge fan of the aimless noodling of the improv section in it, nor of its ever-increasing tempo.

1. Ruckzuck

2. The Man-Machine

3. Pocket Calculator

4. Tour de France, Étape 1

I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to try to record any vocals. But I think if there’s anyone whose singing I can handle imitating, it’s Ralf Hütter’s.

Covering Kraftwerk: the process (part 1)

As my Twitter followers know, I’ve concocted a harebrained scheme to record an EP of Kraftwerk covers, using solely the Pocket Operator calculator-esque synthesizers from Teenage Engineering. This project was inspired by my love of Kraftwerk and my assumption that Teenage Engineering was directly influenced by Kraftwerk (especially the song “Pocket Calculator”) in creating the Pocket Operators.

I’m taking a, let’s say, judiciously-paced approach to this project. Partly because I don’t have a lot of free time at the moment, and partly because I need to let this thing fully gestate in my brain. Also because I’m still learning how the Pocket Operators work. They’re ingeniously designed, but not exactly intuitive. (Then again, I don’t find any electronic devices besides computers intuitive. Let’s not even get started on fax machines.)

I’ve identified the four Kraftwerk songs I want to cover:

  1. Ruckzuck (1970)
  2. The Man-Machine (1978)
  3. Pocket Calculator (1981)
  4. Tour de France, Étape 1 (2003)

My first baby steps into the project were in the form of some brief tinkering with the Pocket Operators themselves to lay down the basic foundation of “Ruckzuck”, which I did from memory. (It was easy to do this one from memory; after all, I watched a lot of Newton’s Apple as a kid.) I commemorated this with a brief video posted to Instagram:

A video posted by Scott Anderson (@room34) on

This past weekend I took my second step, which went a bit further. I have decided that part of what is challenging to me with playing these Kraftwerk songs (as simple as they are) on the Pocket Operators is that I don’t have any written music to work from. So I’m introducing a second step in the process, but one that will not at all make its way into the final product. I’m creating versions of the songs entirely with software instruments in Logic Pro X, just so I have my own transcriptions (really, adaptations, because I’m not trying to get it perfect) to work from when I program the Operators.

Here we have the beginnings of my rough Logic Pro X interpretation of “The Man-Machine.”

I am excited about this project! Just hoping I can find some time in the near future to keep pushing it forward.

What will the end results be? I’m not sure. While I’ve dabbled with recording covers before, I’ve never taken them through to completion and released them into the world. I’m not even sure how I want to go about that. But so far it’s still a long way off.

The Bee Gees/Kraftwerk connection… courtesy of Mattel

This is certainly old news, but it’s still news to me.

I’ve been on a big Kraftwerk kick lately, having recently purchased all of their old albums and featured them frequently on my Hall of Prog blog.

I noticed, in the video for “Pocket Calculator” (below), that Ralf is playing a humorously tiny keyboard instrument. But what I didn’t know until I was reading about the album on Wikipedia was the exact identity of the keyboard.

The keyboard is, in fact, a “Bee Gees” branded toy made by Mattel:

Mattel Bee Gees Rhythm Machine

Sweet. You can read more about it here. And, just in case you were doubting that it’s really the instrument used by Kraftwerk, here’s a video of someone playing the melody from “Pocket Calculator” on one. Any Kraftwerk fan will instantly recognize the sound.