Ralf und Florian, 1973

Standout tracks: Kristallo, Heimatklange, Tanzmuzik.

Ralf und Florian was the fourth Kraftwerk album. Like Tone Float, Kraftwerk 1 and Kraftwerk 2, it’s not available for listening other than Youtube or a bootleg. Schneider called their first 4 albums “archaeology” and there seems to have been no desire to re-release their early material.

It’s a shame. Before today I’d not knowingly heard any of the tracks from Ralf und Florian. I’ve listened to it through twice and have it on now as I’m writing this. I think it’s great and, in some ways, it’s a stronger overall album to its follow-up, Autobahn. It’s Kraftwerk at their warmest: bright, softer and more melodic.

What strikes me most about this album is how modern many of the tracks sound. There are moments I could imagine Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin listening to the arcadian melodies before turning to their recording equipment. Or even Richard James with a track like Tanzmuzik (I’m thinking Avril 14th but could be reaching there).

It’s the first album where the pair use a synthesiser rather than process sounds made by other instruments. The photo on the back cover of the LP shows Ralf and Florian in their studio and it’s possible to see a Mini Moog synth among the electronic equipment (there’s also flutes and what looks like a guitar). The UK album cover is very different from the German, with a circuit board print design.

Ralf und Florian has 6 tracks. Elecktrisches Roulette is a concoction of tinny Moog keyboards, clattering drums and a variety of electronic sounds. There’s a ghostly melody that reminds me of a Boards of Canada motif. Tongebirge is a slow – almost ambient – delightful piece of echoey flute arpeggios. Kristallo is a tonally anxious track that underpins freeform harpsichord arpeggios with the choppy rhythm of a bass. Is this Kraftwerk’s first completely electronic piece of music. Heimatklange has a simple, almost chamber music melody for piano and flute. It seems to me to be the most ambient of the music on this album (Without looking it up, I wonder when this album was released in relation to Brian Eno’s conception of ambient music. It’s certainly around the same time.)

On the B-side are the two remaining tracks. Tanzmuzik is a charming piece of dance music. Amid the wooden and metallic percussive noises it presents the duo’s first vocals. Of all the tracks on the album this is the most like later Kraftwerk. The final track, Ananas Symphonie, is a 14 minute delightfully lazy piece dominated by a dreamy slide guitar. In the background you can hear the occasional use of a vocoder which would later become a Kraftwerk trademark.

In his biography of Kraftwerk, Pascal Bussy says that while there are distinctive elements of Kraftwerk evident on this album, they’re not yet fully realised as Kraftwerk:

It is true that their ideas had now been boiled down to a more recognisable shape with the inclusion of some vocals and sequenced keyboards, but somehow the LP is still not a conclusive whole despite being more image conscious. The feeling of the music is still of a film soundtrack variety, with only a slight inclination toward a pop music mentality or lyrical structure.