On an August night in 1981, the German band Kraftwerk played at the Ritz, on East Eleventh Street in Manhattan, in support of its latest album, “Computer World.” The only instruments onstage were actually machines: reel-to-reel tape recorders, synthesizers, keyboards, and a calculator. All four members of the group had short hair and dressed identically, in black button-down shirts, black pants, and shiny shoes, which made them look more like valets than like musicians. That didn’t bother them, as they didn’t like the idea of being a band—or even musicians—and often referred to themselves as “operators.” For the song “Pocket Calculator,” one member triggered percussion with a drumstick. Another used a Stylophone, a metal keyboard played with a small stylus. Florian Schneider, a founding member, played the calculator, which was wired into the sound system, so that pressing the keys made audible beeps. His partner, Ralf Hütter, who is the only remaining original member of Kraftwerk, sang the lyrics of the song in a monotone—an approach that he calls Sprechgesang, or “spoken singing”—and played a small Mattel keyboard. “By pressing down a special key / it plays a little melody,” he intoned. Schneider responded by playing something sort of like a melody with the calculator. At one point, Hütter bent down and let the audience play the keyboard. Recently, Hütter said, “I wanted to show them that anyone could make electronic music.”
more from Sasha Frere-Jones at The New Yorker here.