April 10, 2012
4:45 a.m. wake up call.
5:30 a.m. taxi from Neukölln to Berlin Tegel airport.
7:00 a.m. flight BA 0981 to London Heathrow (Int’l Terminal 5).
9:55 a.m. flight BA 0175 to John F. Kennedy (Terminal 7).
12:21 p.m. arrival at John F. Kennedy (Terminal 7).
12:52 p.m. US border control.
Mr. Schneider, the primary purpose of this trip is business? No.
Are you bringing fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, food or insects to the US? No.
Are you bringing meats, animals or animal/wildlife products to the US? No.
Are you bringing disease agents, cell cultures or snails to the US? No.
Are you bringing soil or have you been on a farm, ranch or pasture? No.
Have you been in close proximity of (such as touching or handling) livestock? No.
Are you carrying currency or monetary instruments over $10,000 U.S. or foreign equivalent? No.
Well, then enjoy your stay in New York, Mr. Schneider.
Outside JFK Terminal 7, V2 Schneider hopped in a Gypsy cab to Chinatown. It was a warm and sunny spring afternoon. Jumping out on Grand and Essex, he deeply inhaled the exotic smells and embraced the omnipresent bass drone of the Lower East Side.
What was intended as a power nap ended six hours later, and Schneider took a cab to arrive at 7:45 p.m. sharp at the Museum of Modern Art on West 53rd Street, where an atmosphere of excited anticipation permeated the first of eight Kraftwerk shows for their Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8. In light of the massive global buzz that went along with the announcement that Kraftwerk would be playing their entire official catalogue at the MoMA, there were surprisingly few people cued up for the event in front of the main entrance. A beautiful young woman wearing a black two-piece business suit noticed the disorientated Schneider and escorted him to the reception desk. Minutes later, he entered the irritatingly small performance space on the museum’s second floor. Unlike any other concert Schneider had previously attended, not a single member of the strangely reserved audience dared move to the front of the stage. Instead, they all politely hovered in the back of the dimly lit white cube. A large, white cloth curtain projected with pixelated black and white images of four musicians standing behind keyboard consoles hid the stage from the audience. Then, at 8:26 p.m., the curtain fell, while Schneider stood in the front row, slowly sipping from a bottle of Stella he bought at the museum’s bar.
As Kraftwerk started into “The Robots”, V2 Schneider noticed just how close he was standing to Ralf Hütter, the quartet’s only remaining original member. Schneider looked into the eyes of a man who has aged with dignity. Poker-faced and in full control of his emotions, Hütter led the band through an impressive set-list that included the album Autobahn in its entirety, as well as “The Model”, “Computerworld”, “Trans Europa Express”, “Boing Bumm Tschak” and other classics. But Schneider was especially moved by “Kometenmelodie 1”, “Kometenmelodie 2”, “Mitternacht” and “Morgenspaziergang”—tracks that Kraftwerk hadn’t played live in decades. Originally composed and recorded analogue, Hütter and Co. brilliantly improvised upon these songs from the four digital consoles. Schneider closed his eyes and listened to the three musicians (the fourth is said to be the VJ). The music was cosmic. And important.
The MoMA is considered the temple of Western modernism and contemporary art. That Kraftwerk chose to play there is, of course, part of a larger strategy of the canonization of their music as fine art. The first step taken in that direction was Kraftwerk’s collaboration with the German painter Thomas Scheibitz for the Venice Biennial in 2005. The next was their performance as part of Andreas Gursky’s exhibition Rhine on the Dnipro in Kiew in 2008, and subsequent debut of their Kraftwerk 3D stage show at Munich’s Lenbachhaus in 2011. These days, the band are represented by Berlin-based gallery Sprüth-Magers, whose roster also includes Jenny Holzer, Ed Ruscha, Joseph Kosuth, Thea Djordjadze, Thomas Demand, Andreas Gursky and Cindy Sherman.
“I guess you should judge people by the company they keep,” said Schneider to himself, as he he jumped back in a cab towards Grand Street for a late supper.