I, TECHNOLOGIST: Kraftwerk’s new app, and how artists are branching out.

This’ll be the first post I’ve actually done in my I, Technologist ‘column’ despite having several good ideas for it.

As readers of this blog have probably established, I’m really into music and although I’ll listen to any song I find audibly pleasing, my preferences do tend towards the electronic. You’ll no doubt have seen in my 30 Day Song Challenge posts and indeed in the music I make myself. Even if you know very little about electronic music, I’m sure if I were to ask you to name a seminal electronic artist most of you would think of that German powerhouse, Kraftwerk (see what I did there?)

Kraftwerk have been around since the start of the 1970s, and while their lineups and sound did change a little over time they have developed a massive legion of fans who really appreciate their work (if the above video is anything to go by.) Fast-forward six years from that performance, and the latest work to come out of the Kling Klang studios is the aptly-named Kling Klang Machine No.1. In keeping with the band’s avant-garde ethos, KKM1 is not a CD, DVD, or even an Mp3 download, Instead it is a fully interactive iOS app.

My first reaction to this is one of feeling connected to the band. I really like the idea of a group releasing an interactive ‘album’ style app. To me it seems like a great way to interact with your fans, and for your fans to interact with your music. The app that got me hooked on iOS in the first place was Brian Eno’s Bloom, an ambient musicbox of sorts which a user could play by tapping on the screen, or just have the app play itself. A great tool for people wanting something other than whitenoise to fall asleep to.

I definitely see the downside of this release being limited to an app, and even more limited to iOS. In the real world, most people still don’t have an iDevice, and even more people don’t have a smartphone at all. That’s why I liked the release of Metallic Spheres  (a collaboration between Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and another founding father or electronic music, The Orb.) It was released in a single CD package, a 2CD package (with the second disc mixed in 3D60) a vinyl record, mp3 downloads at all the reputable digital outlets, and on top of all that, a semi-interactive iOS app.

This model seems like it would cover the widest gamut of fans possible, from audiophiles with bazillion-dollar turntables, to the musically curious high schooler with the first-gen iPod touch they bought on TradeMe with their checkout clerk money, to the Pink Floyd/The Orb fan who still walks around with a Sony discman in his hand. Compared to this, KKM1 appears to be limited to those who can afford Apple’s products (even if it has less stringent system requirements than the Metallic Spheres app)

Overall I highly appreciate artists taking advantage of this new form. I have no doubt that it’s technical limitations will be circumvented by cleverer young people than I, so I see a bright future for the app-as-album. Who knows, maybe at some electronic concert in the future the performing artist will invite a group of punters up on stage with their tablets or smartphones to play one of the artists hit tunes together. Now assuming musical ability, that would be a grand sight (and sound) indeed…

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