Bourne, Franck Vigroux, Antoine Schmitt - Radioland: Kraftwerk's Radio-Activity Live
The Jazz Cafe,
6 May 2017
Zen-like meditation on the space between the clicks"
Jazz award-winning Matthew Bourne is a pianist and composer in his own
right. But some years ago he teamed up with sound artist and composer
Franck Vigroux and installation artist Antoine Schmitt to interpret
Kraftwerk's seminal (and
my personal favourite) 1971 album Radio-Activity.
This was an evening in minimalism on just about every front. Where less
Less music. Less visuals. Less colour. Less time.
Less music because, even by Kraftwerk's already minimal source
material, Bourne and co distilled the already spartan original
recordings, further reducing them to their constituent parts.
This was immediately apparent on the opening Geiger Counter.
Which, given that Kraftwerk's composition is little more than a
synthsised noise of the clicks of geiger counter, is quite an
achievement! The trick they pull is to extend the original's 1:07
running time out to an astonishing seven
minutes. So, whilst the
pace of the Kraftwerk track quickly builds in a
compressed minute as the
repetition of the geiger clicks increases tempo, the Bourne/Vigroux
version transforms it into a Zen-like meditation on the space between
the clicks, as much as being about the clicks themselves.
Curiously, they choose not to play the tracks in the order in which
they appear on Kraftwerk's album. For some reason, they also don't
perform Ohm Sweet Ohm - which
is a real shame, as not only is it one of the finest compositons on the
album, but I'd have thought would lend itself well to the challenge of
distillation Bourne and Vigroux apply. Every other song is reduced to
the bare minimum elements making some almost
unrecognisable. Surprisingly though, it is the track that this show
takes its name from, Radioland, that is the least tweaked and most
readily recognisable. Are these versions of the originals 'better' than
Kraftwerks? No. But that's not the point. Nor, I suspect, the
It's a genuine use of the phrase 'reinterpretation' - which is often
used in a disingenous way. Whereas here it is entirely appropriate and
Less visuals and less colour compared with what
Kraftwerk have been using for some
years live. I adore the monochrome aesthetic of the original Radio-Activity album.
Therefore, I never did much like the flashing bright red and yellow
graphics when the titular song was performed by Kraftwerk on tour. By
teamng up with
visual artist Antoine Schmitt, what Bourne/Vigroux have cleverly done
is to invite Schmitt to join them in their self-imposed, restricted
palette. And Schmitt has risen to the challenge admirably. His live
mixed visuals restrict themselves to white pixels on a black
canvass - echoing that glorious monochrome of the original album
Thankfully, applying more effort than most, Schmitt uses
software akin to Jeff Minter's groundbreaking VLM (Virtual Light
Machine) engine. It works by responding to the music but can be further
manipulated in real-time by the operator. However, in contrast to
psychedelic VLM pattern bays (where the more colourful the better
basically), for Radioland
Schmitt sticks to creating white pixels only. Though the
psychedelic/trippy feeling is almost as effective.
It's certainly immersive. I found myself staring intently at the white
patterns. Driven by the soundtrack, I was steadily being drawn deeper
and deeper into the screen and into a trance-like state.
Bourne was on the left-hand side of the stage mainly ustilising a
Mini-Moog, MemoryMoog and a Korg MS10. Vigroux was on the right hand
side and had more contemporary gear and controllers, providing most of
the vocodered vocals. Centre stage, directly below the screen was
Schmitt, controlling the visuals via a laptop. There was virtually no
recognition of the audience as each member focused on their role and
The 'less time' aspect of my intro relates to the evening as a whole.
Whereas Bourne/Vigroux/Schmitt's takes on the individual songs on the
album is longer than the originals, there was no suppoort act. The
entire performance lasted just less than 45 minutes. There was no
'encore'. That was it.
The performance, the experience and the night was over in well under an
hour. It made the
whole thing more impacting as a consequence.
I prefer Matthew Bourne and Franck Vigroux's re-interpretation of the
almighty original Kraftwerk recordings? No. But I know which live
version thrills and excites me the most, and it isn't the one performed
these days by the four German gentlemen. A remarkable evening. 8/10