Kraftwerk - Hall of Mirrors, Critical Analysis
I have chosen to analyse Kraftwerk because they paved the way for the music of the future, they were pioneers in electronic music and have had a massive influence on countless artists, Using drum pads and sequencers built by the band members along with early synths such as The Mini-Moog, The ARP Odyssey and the Farfisa Electric Piano Kraftwerk created music with a machine-like quality that created science fiction like images in the minds of fans worldwide. However, the reason I have chosen “Hall of Mirrors” is because it is one of the few Kraftwerk songs with a more human feel and theme to it, this human/machine aesthetic would really pave the way for the electronic music that would flow into the early 80’s such as Ultravox, Gary Numan and the Human League etc... Kraftwerk Equipment 1977
Song: Kraftwerk - Hall of Mirrors Genre: Electro Pop, Synth Pop. Year: 1977
Key - E
Bpm - 94 Time Signature 4/4
Song Structure Intro Hook, Verse, Chorus, Hook, Verse, Chorus, Hook Verse, Chorus, Hook Verse, Chorus, Hook Solo, Hook Verse, Chorus, Hook Chorus/Fade
Personel Ralf Hütter – voice, synthesiser, orchestron, synthanorma-sequenzer, electronics Florian Schneider – voice, vocoder, votrax, synthesizer, electronics Karl Bartos – electronic percussion Wolfgang Flür – electronic percussion
Technical Ralf Hütter - Producer Florian Schneider - Producer Peter Bollig – engineer Bill Haverson – engineer (The Record Plant, Hollywood) Thomas Kuckuck – engineer (Rüssl Studio, Hamburg)
The lyrics deal with themes of self reflection and idealism. The way we idolize stars and try to change ourselves to meet the ideals that are presented to us. It deals with the irony that even though our reflection may never satisfy our desires on how we wish to view ourselves this may also be the same for the very stars that we try so hard to emulate. The song does not offer solutions for this predicament, it is suggestive but allows the listener to complete the message on their own. Hall of Mirrors Lyrics
The frequency spectrum in this song is really well balanced, The snare comes in at about 500-550hz while modulating sound dissipates in amplitude as it increases in pitch, sweeping from 200hz all the way up to 16 kHz although as the pitch rises, the volume drops so these higher frequencies are almost inaudible. The bass line comes in thick and strong at 80-200 Hz and makes the song sound full. The main melody or the hook of the song comes in at 1khz cutting straight through the rest of the mix and really stands out. The Vocals also cut through the mix just slightly lower than the main hook mostly sitting around 500-800hz with the word “stars” spiking up to 1khz.
The song is very minimal with only 4 main elements making up the sound and a very minimal vocal which is not typical of a recording from 1977 with all the big rock, funk and disco but Kraftwerk were treading their own path and changing the way that people perceived music. Minimalism was being used more in progressive music but usually in contrast to a bigger build up. This type of minimalism would really catch on over the next few years would become an established aesthetic in the emerging electronic acts of the early 80’s. Audio Spectrum Explained
Panning: The space created in this song is quite open and quite interesting, like a lot of early electronic music the panning is less than predictable and not completely balanced the way we would balance a track today although in this case it is used to really good effect. The snare panned to the left while the changing, sweeping sound is panned more to the right. The bass comes in dead centre glueing everything together. The song feels unbalanced with all those moving sounds on the left until the main melody comes in on the right speaker evening things up. The vocals are front and centre, making for an awkward balance until the hook comes back in. the unbalance during the vocal section just makes you want to hear the hook again. It’s quite interesting that the song structure repeats the hook so much but it’s not in your face like a pop song because of the elusive nature of the lyrics and the minimal effect of the instrumentation it feels weird and surreal even though at its core it is a pop song. This would become a massively influential approach to music over the next decade and is still an approach adopted today.
Reverb: The snare is tightly compressed and with a decent amount of reverb, to me it actually sounds like compressed reverb, like they have added reverb first and then compressed the reverb, sitting right at the back of the mix. The Sweeping sound is positioned quite far back but moves forward and intensifies during the chorus but fades back more considerably during the main hook of the song. The main hook is quite bold and at the front of the mix even if off to the left. The vocals are front and centre. The space created with the use of reverb is quite big, even though there are only 4-5 main elements, it sounds like it’s happening in a big warehouse. Everything sounds open and somewhat metallic. Even though it’s minimal it still sounds massive the drum sound makes me picture walking into a large shed where someone is working with a hammer right down the back.
This was very early in the days of reverb, here is a short history of delay and reverb to put this recording in context. History of Delay and Reverberation
The use of volume also adds to the space. The snare is the lowest in the mix creating that feeling of distance while the Hook is the loudest, demanding you pay attention to it. The modulating sound as we have discussed uses frequency and volume together to create a sense of dissipation and uses random algorithms and a careful use of reverb to allow the song to keep moving and to keep the listener interested.
So like I mentioned earlier the snare sounds like it has reverb added and is then compressed, Kraftwerk had their own custom built drum pad which most likely would have been used on this song. After much experimentation on a synth, I believe the bass line is a triangle wave and that it was run through a low pass filter. Based on the tone I think it is most likely a Mini-Moog as during this time the Mini Moog and the Odyssey were the main synthesisers Kraftwerk used and this sounds more like a Moog than an Odyssey. I think the main hook is a saw wave, possibly with a low and high pass filter isolating the frequency that is let through, due to the signal coming in so strong around 1k. It is extremely hard to figure out what is going on with the modulating sound, I imagine this was achieved by moving knobs on the LFO settings in real time as the tape was rolling.
In conclusion, everything in this song has its own space, the instrumentation is all very separate there is no muddiness caused by overlapping frequencies. The panning and reverb separate everything nicely and the placement of the performances allow each element space to breath. A great song, by a great band and a dissection of a nice little piece of history.