Kraftwerk "Home computer" synth sounds

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Kraftwerk "Home computer" synth sounds

Post by logix » Mon Dec 19, 2016 11:29 pm

I've always been intrigued as to how some of the sounds from Kraftwerk's 1981 album "Computer world" were made.
More specifically the sounds heard here in this live concert performing "Home computer", like here (at around 17:58) where this "dreamy" sequence plays:


And here's another repeated sound effect (the "zap" kind of sounds) from the same song (starting at around 4:21) and also the "watery" sound effect sequence starting at around 4:28:


They seem rather complex. My guess is several modular synths combined. What do you reckon? Anything which could be recreated on more commonly gear than their custom stuff?

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Re: Kraftwerk "Home computer" synth sounds

Post by tim gueguen » Mon Dec 19, 2016 11:44 pm

Actually most of the synth sounds were apparently from rather prosaic synth equipment, including a Minimoog, Prophet 5, and Polymoog. The liner notes to the 2009 remaster list Ralf Hutter as playing a Vako Orchestron, which they'd been using since Radioactivity. Presumably they also used their old whiteface ARP Odyssey as well.
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Re: Kraftwerk "Home computer" synth sounds

Post by ppg_wavecomputer » Tue Dec 20, 2016 1:48 am

That's Florian tweaking the frequency shifter section of the EMS 5000 Vocoder. Most of the sequencing was done using Mini Moog and Synthanorma Sequencer or Roland MC-8 respectively. Karl Bartos is playing some bass riffs on the Korg PS-3100.

The studio version is slightly different in terms of instrumentation. They used multiple Oberheim SEMs, Korg PS series (3100, 3200, and 3300, according to Martin Thewes in an old issue of AME Magazine), several Mini Moogs, ARP 2600 and Odyssey, Friendchip Mr. Lab Rhythm and Sequence Controller, and at some stage they seem to have been using a rather comprehensive Roland 100m, along with an ARP 2500 that Florian Schneider used to have for some time. Lots of Eventide Harmonizer, and Ralf Hütter was one of the few users of the Barth Audios (a kind of Publison DHM89B2 on steroids). For drum sounds they used Simmons SDS V modules, controlled by the custom-made Triggersumme that Wolfgang Flür was operating, plus Mattel Synsonics. The trademark "zap!" sound is a Mini Moog.

The Orchestron was even used during the first half of the 1981 tour (and is audible in some contemporary bootleg recordings) but it was replaced with a second Polymoog later on.

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Re: Kraftwerk "Home computer" synth sounds

Post by logix » Mon Feb 27, 2017 1:28 am

ppg_wavecomputer wrote:That's Florian tweaking the frequency shifter section of the EMS 5000 Vocoder. Most of the sequencing was done using Mini Moog and Synthanorma Sequencer or Roland MC-8 respectively. Karl Bartos is playing some bass riffs on the Korg PS-3100.
Please tell more about the EMS Vocoder 5000 and how that frequency shifting works. I take it this is something which isn't possible to do with regular analog vocoders (Roland SVC-350, VP-330 etc. or even the other EMS vocoders such as the 3000 and 2000 models)?

I came across an interesting online article from Keyboard magazine which explains how a couple of their signature sounds were made with an Arp Odyssey. I don't have one, but I hopefully won't be too far off with my Studio Electronics SE-1. The "Thwap" as they call it should be easy enough (I've created several variations throughout the years), but I'm not sure about the "The rise", what kind of sound that is and if most other analog synths can create it.

The trademark "zap!" sound is a Mini Moog.
You're referring to the "laser" sound or "Hi-q" which is used as the snare in "Home computer", right? A cool sound in its own right, but I was more thinking of the strange sound effect which starts at around 4.21:


Upon closer listening it appears to be two sounds, one in each stereo channel. One is the "laser zap" but the other one seems to be made up of two oscillators detuned, slightly reminiscent of a steam-train whistle:


The steam whistle type sound, layered with a synth generated open hihat and of course that laser zap. What do you reckon?

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Re: Kraftwerk "Home computer" synth sounds

Post by AnalogKid » Mon Feb 27, 2017 2:27 am

If you're interested in Kraftwerk, you should definitely pick up this book. It's a good read:

https://www.amazon.com/Kraftwerk-Publik ... ublikation

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Re: Kraftwerk "Home computer" synth sounds

Post by ppg_wavecomputer » Mon Feb 27, 2017 11:37 am

logix wrote:[...] Please tell more about the EMS Vocoder 5000 and how that frequency shifting works. I take it this is something which isn't possible to do with regular analog vocoders (Roland SVC-350, VP-330 etc. or even the other EMS vocoders such as the 3000 and 2000 models)? [...]
The frequency shifter section is, to my knowledge, unique to the EMS Vocoder 5000. I suppose it was the same device that was available as a stand-alone 19" rackmount for a short time, called the Synthi Phase Frequency Shifter. Here is what a frequency shifter can do:



Here's a friend's EMS with my old Linn LM-1:



The other vocoders mentioned above were more or less gimmickry for some fancy sound effects -- the only other vocoder that could hold a candle to the EMS 5000 would have been the Sennheiser VSM-201 (which Kraftwerk also used). There is quite a bit of stuff on YouTube (the demo tape should also be available in -- fairly bad -- Teutonic English). The VSM can do some quite unusual stuff like resonating bandpass filters which, when fed back into themselves, can create some rising (or falling) pitch patterns (as featured at the beginning of "Spacelab").

Try this for starters (incomplete):



Yes, they used the ARP Odyssey quite a bit between Autobahn and Man Machine. Not sure whether it was used much after that, and I'm not sure whether it could be called their "signature sound", either.

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Re: Kraftwerk "Home computer" synth sounds

Post by logix » Mon Feb 27, 2017 5:44 pm

Interesting, ppg_wavecomputer.
Seems similar to a pitch shifter but with a metallic ring modulator type ring to it.
I'm sure these types of effect processors weren't common at the time and as always, Kraftwerk were way ahead of themselves.

I hope to get a DIY 14-band analog rack vocoder finished in a few months time (the ETI/Powertran vocoder, and from what I hear it's been designed by the same guy who designed the EMS vocoder 2000, in 1980). I suppose it takes some very flexible routing to get some of the voices which are heard on the EMS vocoder 5000 promotional tape (below) which can't be done with regular vocoders (also heard in the Sennheiser VSM201 demo you posted above).
For instance the human voice in parts of that demo which doesn't seem to be controlled in the traditional way of using a synth or whatever, but rather has a more normal articulation but with an electronic effect type twist to it nevertheless. Until I get my ETI vocoder done I won't have a chance to try it out myself, but can something like that be achieved by feeding a human voice into both speech and excitation inputs simultaneously?


AnalogKid: thanks for that book suggestion. Turns out the library had it, so I'll have it in a day or two. I'm of course hoping there will be some gear related stuff in there as well ;)

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