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פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: V2 Schneider

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Yet another instrumental from the Berlin period, but this one feels different from the rest. If we listen to Low and "Heroes" back-to-back then the first instrumental we hear is 'Speed of Life', a frenzied number that gives the feeling that our hero's life is spinning out of control. Next we encounter 'A New Career in a New Town', which brings it down to mid-tempo and gives the impression of starting a new life on a saner pace. After that, all the instrumentals are slow ambient pieces that represent a passive existence in that new town, except 'V2 Schneider'. This track goes back to the faster mid-tempo of 'A New Career in a New Town', but this time it doesn't sound like an escape into passivity but rather a return from it into active existence. The music is jazzed-up, vibrant and cheerful, as if our hero is ready to take on the world once again. The ambient tracks on "Heroes" are distinguished from those on Low in that they sound more emotional, and this one is no exception. But while on 'Sense of Doubt' and 'Neuköln' the emotions are mostly bad, here it sounds optimistic.

The ambient pieces on Low weren't completely instrumentals. They had vocals, vocals that sounded like spoken language but were actually gibberish. It was as if Bowie was searching for a new language, almost getting it, but ultimately failing. Here, we once again hear the words struggling to come out from beneath the synthesized music, getting closer and closer to the surface, and then finally breaking through into something intelligible: "V2 Schneider". It is still not exactly English, and it is still blended with the synthesizers (an effect achieved by making the synthesizer try to "sing" these words), but this time it makes sense.

In 'Sons of the Silent Age' Bowie expresses his and youth culture's current inability to say something of value, and urges "let's find another way in". He is looking in vain for a new form of expression, and his frustration lasts until the end of the track, but the backing vocals are already giving him the answer. "Sons of sound, sons of sound" they sing, telling him that he should be focusing not on words but on sound. Focusing on sound is exactly what Bowie did in his Berlin period with the aid of sound-wiz Brian Eno, and in 'V2 Schneider' he finally comes forward to celebrate it as the answer. What is the answer, the new sound that he was seeking? The name of the track reveals it, pointing to someone who was even greater than Eno when it came to sound: Florian Schneider, founding member of Kraftwerk and the man most responsible for concocting the magical and completely novel electronic sounds they made in the studio. While the rock world largely treated electronic music as soulless and empty, Florian and his mates used it to create new soundscapes of immense beauty and sometimes even feeling, bringing humanity and technology together to open up new horizons. Bowie glorifies Schneider as a hero of our time, with a track that sounds like a fanfare to the glorious future of humanity as it comes together with technology.

The V2 was once the forefront of advanced technology, a rocket created by the Nazis towards the end of WW2. It was an instrument of destruction, but the technological breakthroughs it presented took humankind one step further towards putting a man on the moon. In a way, it was the same turnaround Bowie went through in his relationship with electronic music: like other rockers, at first he used the German motorik to depict dehumanization and doom, but now he sees it as the basis for creating the future of music. '"Heroes"' bequeaths new ethics for pop culture; 'V2 Schneider' points to how the new pop should sound.

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