From legendary collaborations with Kraftwerk to his current Transhuman Art Critics project, renowned German artist and futurist Emil Schult is still beaming himself forwards through space and time

“Are you familiar with Open AI and ChatGPT?” asks Emil Schult, Kraftwerk’s one-time creative advisor, lyricist, artist and futurist.

Everyone’s been talking about the online AI text creator ChatGPT since its launch in November 2022. It’s all the rage. You ask it to write something for you, give it a couple of prompts, and out pops an AI-generated paragraph or two. In 60 days it clocked up 100 million users. Instagram took over two years to get that kind of traction.

Emil, now with his own music/art project trio, Transhuman Art Critics, is still thinking about the future, pondering what the real Man-Machine is going to be like. It’s no surprise he’s been investigating ChatGPT.

“Listen to what it says about Transhuman Art Critics,” he says. “Transhuman Art Critics are individuals who specialise in analysing and interpreting art from a transhumanist perspective. They focus on understanding how technology, biology, philosophy and other forces shape our ideas about creativity, aesthetics and the changing nature of art.’”

He pauses and laughs.

“Interesting, huh?”

Well! And does it sound accurate?

“It is astonishing,” he muses. “But when you do more, you will notice this artificial intelligence is neither intelligent nor artificial. It’s pulling things together in a very smart way, which surprises you, and you think, ‘Oh wow, what is this?’.”

The reaction to ChatGPT has been mixed. Nick Cave called it a “grotesque mockery of what it is to be human”, and some researchers have dismissed it as a “stochastic parrot”. Seems we can’t rely on AI just yet.

“No, we humans are much smarter,” smiles Emil.

While Emil Schult was never a member of Kraftwerk, his lyrical, conceptual and aesthetic collaborations with the band helped shape their groundbreaking work. He had a hand in every album from 1973’s ‘Ralf Und Florian’ to 1986’s ‘Electric Café’, contributing artwork on all of them and lyrics on most. Their 1981 album, ‘Computer World’, was remarkably prescient. I mean, how did they know? We’ll come back to yesterday’s electronic tomorrow later. Let’s start with the backstory of Emil’s current futurist endeavour, Transhuman Art Critics.

Since his time at the venerable Kunstakademie Düsseldorf at the tumultuous end of the 1960s, he’s continued practising his art, travelling, learning and teaching.

“In 2014, I was working with students at the Institute for Electronic Arts at Alfred University in upstate New York,” he explains. “We did synaesthetic projects in art and music, like extracting sounds from paintings and vice versa. The result was a museum show in Buffalo and a few live performances.

“Back in Deutschland, I teamed up with art specialist Emma Nilsson, and that culminated in an art music project for a museum opening in Zhangzhou, China, in 2017. We did one gig, and then suddenly we’d played five or six. We had the notion that people liked what we were doing and were interested. And that’s how it came about.”

A trio since 2019 with the addition of Lothar Manteuffel – Emil’s friend since childhood and the founder of German new wave band Rheingold, and Elektric Music (with Karl Bartos) – the band are currently finishing their debut album, ‘Transitions’.

But first, what’s in a name? Why Transhuman Art Critics?

“I like the name because it has ‘Art’ in it, and ‘Critics’, which means you put deeper thought into, and take responsibility for, what you say and do,” he explains. “And this other thing, ‘Transhuman’, is a flashy word. People talk a lot about transhumanism now. It’s basically where we are heading. People are getting artificial limbs, and we’re trying to link ourselves to computers – for me, it’s just a way to encapsulate all these things. I’m not in a transhuman church or anything like that. You understand what I mean?”

Indeed. When you research transhumanism, some aspects come across as decidedly cultish, Netflix sci-fi mini-series territory, yet Emil is keen to stress his intention is the opposite.

“For me, it’s an optimistic, clean and happy future for people,” he says. “But we need to pay a lot of attention to what we do in art, what we do in culture, how we plan our future.”

In Emil Schult’s vision, transhumanism is more a poetic abstract, a catch-all for ideas about how mankind might, or perhaps should, progress. He’s interested in updating human consciousness rather than uploading humans to computers to achieve immortality, although he has a song about that too, titled ‘I Am Digitized – I Will Not Die’.

“It’s not my belief. It’s just like holding a mirror in front of our faces so we recognise what we’re doing,” he says reassuringly.

One of the many ideas he’s more positive about is hyperconnectivity, a concept discussed back in 1985 by a couple of his old friends, the radical artist and his former Kunstakademie professor, Joseph Beuys, and the visionary Korean-American video artist, Nam June Paik.

“Nam June Paik used to say that if we do not get the tools of creation in our own hands, it will be ‘1984’, under total surveillance. Big Brother will rule our lives. And now, because of the mobile phone, people can do their own little videos and music – this is the big change in our culture at the moment.”

AI, art directed by Mark Hall

Alongside these cultural futurists, Emil was also moving among the architects of the impending computer world.

“My life was a little different from other people’s because I was always travelling,” he smiles.

“At the time of ‘Computer World’, I visited Stanford in California and briefly met Steve Jobs, who was a member of the Homebrew Computer Club [a hobbyist group for early PC enthusiasts].

“In Germany, people thought IBM was maybe going to produce three computers and that would be enough. But I had inside knowledge of how people were doing electronics so I understood that this was going to be part of our lives – it would not stop. Nobody could have foreseen that computers would develop on such a scale and have such an impact on all human activity, even on art and music culture. But in the lyrics, we talked about ‘Computer für das Eigenheim’ [home computers].”

Kraftwerk’s ‘Computer World’, then, was an artistic snapshot of how human life might look and sound lived alongside computers, a progress report from the cutting edge of technological and cultural thought. The computer would, Kraftwerk told us, impact everything from crime to business. It would enter our homes and our love lives, and everyone would be able to make music with devices we would carry around in our pockets. Bullseye.

While Transhuman Art Critics are an artistic vehicle explicitly exploring ideas about the future, they are also a benign hand on the shoulder, encouraging warmth, positivity and caution as we move into the unknown.

“Basically, I believe humanity is going to grow together,” says Emil. “We have to learn to think planetary, and I believe a phrase like ‘planetary health’ helps. Everybody needs to understand that whatever they do is in the context of the whole planet. Of climate, of water, of other humans and so on. When we learn this, we have a good road ahead in the future. If we keep on being greedy, denying our culture, or being superficial about culture and music, it’s going to be more difficult.”

His optimism extends to a vision of a world where humans and animals are in psychic cahoots.

“We have a track on the album called ‘Eau Télépathique’ – ‘Telepathic Water’ – where we think about the possibility of a secret network of communication between animals and humans and everything alive,” he enthuses. “Water is definitely one of the things we have to watch out for. When I wash myself, traces of me go into the ocean, the endless cycle, and share with everything… songs and music waves are the meta language of sharing.”

To drive the point home, he has created some actual Eau Télépathique, contained in two bottles connected with one cap, in a limited edition of 50.

Another of the group’s new pieces deals with the concept of superintelligence.

“We are just learning about ourselves, what intelligence is, and how volatile we are,” he says. “Superintelligence is the next step beyond artificial intelligence – it’s understanding when AI will separate from humans and do its own thing. It’s an interesting thought.”

And a frightening one, I venture.

“That depends on how you feel about the future. In one line in the song, we ask AI, ‘Do you care when you succeed?’. What are you going to be doing for the planet if you are going to be successful? People are succeeding everywhere, becoming richer and richer, but how do they care? Greed is really getting out of hand. I don’t know why people do not want to share.”

Some agitation may be required here, some revolutionary muscle-flexing by ordinary folk, he says.

“I have this piece, ‘Dancing In The Hyperloop’, which refers to Martha And The Vandellas’ ‘Dancing In The Street’ – the first song that was saying, ‘People get ready, get into the streets, fight for your rights, dancing in the streets’. I think it’s the same thing again – we need to find a new attitude to make ourselves heard. What’s happening with plastics? What’s happening with big companies? Why is nobody able to get a grip on that?”

Transhuman Art Critics examine the contradictions of our technological advances. On the one hand, technology is creating marvellous potential for humanity. On the other hand, there’s the ‘Terminator’ scenario, where we have to send killer robots from the future to give technology a proper Luddite kicking. Although they don’t put it quite like that, instead gently encouraging reflection and personal enlightenment.

“It’s up to each individual to become the change they want to see,” explains Emil. “If you want to change the world, change yourself to what you think is right. If you have the strength to do that, it will help. Music needs to lead the way. The content of music is very important. It’s like a mantra for the future, and that’s where I’m trying to look with my work. I don’t know how good I am, but I’m trying. That’s my frontier.”

Harmony and technology have always been at the heart of Kraftwerk’s imagery and ideas, particularly on ‘Autobahn’ – a very technical record, an electronic work that sounded super-futuristic and modern, and yet both the original artwork and the lyrics had a pastoral feel, a deep connection to nature.

“Yeah, the interesting thing is that you’re in a position to be creative, to be abundant, to use as many different influences as you have,” says Emil. “If you look at the ‘Autobahn’ cover, it has everything from classical historical to very modern. It has the silver electricity pylon, the little aeroplane, two cars… but it also has a very beautiful landscape, like a green gate in the distance, and on the right side a reference to the romantic landscape paintings of Caspar David Friedrich.

“I’m amazed myself at how successful this image is, and how much people like it. I just had a show in Luxembourg where I showed ‘Autobahn’, and people were amazed to see it. Art is good when it’s timeless. Like little golden figures from the pyramids – timeless treasure. This is what ‘Autobahn’ is about – it’s a frozen time image.”

With our conversation drawing to a close, I ask Emil for his predictions.

“One thing is the further development in communication,” he responds. “Another will be the quantum computer – that’ll have a big impact. We’ll have to rethink AI and blueprints of conduct on a planetary scale, so hopefully the quantum computer tech can work in parallel with us. On the other hand, people need to understand alternative energies, climate and taking care of the planet. We are not here to rob it. The big national civilisations should cooperate as guardians of peace and of the natural world. Don’t ask what the planet can do for you – ask what you can do for the planet.”

He rails against gold stocks locked up in Fort Knox and at companies who sell oil and would flog us air if they could. He remains, I suggest, as counterculture and revolutionary as ever, a product of the German underground of the 1960s and 70s.

“They’re not quite the right words,” he laughs. “I’m optimistic for a healthy planet!”
And the album?

“Later this year… ” he says. “The title will be ‘Transitions’, analogous to the fact that time is transitory. Every moment of now touches the future. This we can regard as the foundation of our consciousness. And the constantly changing reality requires us to constantly update our responsibility.”

For more about Transhuman Art Critics, visit

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