Photographer muso Daniel Herrmann delivers a cheeky slice of dark, Kraftwerk-inspired electro-minimalism
The artwork gives it away. A black and white shot of a jet plane high in the sky directly above us, its vapour trails slicing the image down the centre. It’s clearly inspired by the ‘Autobahn’ sleeve. And then there’s the title. ‘Trans Atlantik’. Just add ‘Express’, why don’t you?
Kraftwerk’s grip on the musical imagination of electronic music producers is equal to the hold that The Beatles had on popular culture, so it’s not surprising that some of the endless mutations of their various blueprints veer on homage. But Flug 8 man Daniel Herrmann is a photographer as well as a musician, and photographers tend to have the urgent need to understand the world around them by replicating it and recording it. So while ‘Trans Atlantik’ isn’t an aping of the Düsseldorf Beach Boys by any means, it feels like a photographer’s gaze has settled on the electronic music canon and produced this album as a way of internalising and digesting it.
When the vocoded voice starts to intone “Trans… Atlantik” on the title track, it’s pretty funny. Come on, that’s got to be a gag, right? The gently pulsing rhythm sounds for all the world like an updated version of the beat box Ralf and Florian used on their early albums, and the opener here, ‘Zeitraffer’, with its slightly growling melodic textures and simple riffs that build and start to float over one another, gently lifts from ‘Autobahn’. Its clicking kick drum, however, owes more to the legendarily purist German techno clubs and the humour, if there really is any intended, feels wistful. A special kind of German joke perhaps, loaded with more complex meanings and subtlety, just like Kraftwerk’s own ineffable drollness.
But the scope of ‘Trans Atlantik’ is far broader than all this talk of Kraftwerk suggests. It glides along, several krautrock touchstones stroked as it passes. There’s the unfolding ambience of Klaus Schulze here, the soulful mathematics of Moebius and Roedelius there. At one point, a clean image is extracted from the blurry photocopy of early Cabaret Voltaire. There are other detours from the autobahn in ‘Watch Me Grow’ and ‘On A Spear’, pretty but mournful collaborations with Mono Girl, aka Danish artist Kristina Kristofferson. They’re soggy with mysterious Scandinavian gloom and more earnest than some of the shinier metallic surfaces. They allow a flawed humanity to emerge and keep this from becoming an arid Deutsche Gramafon Produkt, as fabulous as the driving synth workouts of the likes of ’Android’ and ‘Musik Aus Metall’ undoubtedly are. The latter is a collaboration with NU Unruh of Einstürzende Neubauten which showcases his talent for minimalist techno bridling with disciplined energy.
Daniel Herrmann’s own lineage is interesting. His grandfather built organs, so they were a permanent fixture of his childhood, one in every room, and the swell of organ pipes is never far away on ‘Trans Atlantik’, just like on Faust or Can records. His father was an airline pilot and his mother an air steward, and one of his art school projects centred around old Super 8 films his parents had shot on their travels. It’s where the Flug 8 moniker came from.
There’s certainly something of a nostalgia for a bygone era in this collection of electronic pieces. It’s rooted in an early 1970s Germany of kommune electronics and hippy idealism, particularly on ‘Ostsee’, transmuted by the passing of time into a 21st century soundtrack for grainy home movies, underpinning the faded glamour of flickering Kodacolour with modern awareness and sensibility. It’s a hypnotising and invigorating listening experience.