“Really this came about because myself and Franck Vigroux have been collaborators for many years,” says Matthew Bourne, the Leeds-based pianist and composer, shortly after reheasals have finished for the day for his new project Radioland.
“We did a duo album in 2007-08, I then played in a project of his, a contemporary classical ensemble, a couple of years ago. We thought, ‘Let’s do something together again’.”
It was Vigroux, a French composer and improviser, who suggested the pair revisit the work of Kraftwerk, the highly influential German pioneers of electronic pop music.
“It’s the 40th anniversary of [Kraftwerk’s album] Radio-Activity so we set about trying to recreate it,” says Bourne. “Then we thought it would be more interesting to put our own spin on it.”
Although Bourne remembers hearing Radio-Activity when he was a teenager, he admits he was “not that familiar” with Kraftwerk’s albums.
“Once we embarked on [this project] and listened to it and made notes on the right structures I thought this is fantastic record. Actually Kraftwerk are great – they were just one of those bands I’d not got round to checking out.”
Bourne, 37, puts the German group’s enduring appeal down to the fact that “they were very head of their time”.
“I’ve been reading a book about them by [the former Kraftwerk percussionist] Wolfgang Flur. He makes the point that at the time when they were getting that music together there was a huge void in German culture at that time. After the War everybody was rebuilding things. What they were doing was being very German about it and being very true to who they were as people.
“They were drawing in materials and influences that were very German, with that honesty that music was born out to be true to their environment – that’s what makes it so unique. There was a blank canvas in German society at the time, it allowed them to start from scratch.”
To add a visual dimension to Radioland, Bourne and Vigroux enlisted the help of Antoine Schmitt, a Paris-based installation artist and programmer who once worked in Silicon Valley with Steve Jobs. “He uses code language to create his own instruments, if you like, that he can use to control and manipulate the visuals he creates,” Bourne explains. “There’s an element of the programme which will alter his visuals based on what frequencies as the music goes along.”
Schmitt’s interactive computer visuals make him “very much a third member of the band – he’s not somebody who stands at the side and taps away at his computer.”
The trio will perform at the Belgrave Music Hall on March 13, as part of the International Festival of Artistic Innovation, organised by Leeds College of Music where Bourne teaches post-graduate courses. They then embark on a national tour produced by sounduk and funded by Arts Council England. For details on the Leeds date visit www.lcm.ac.uk/whats-on/festival