Pocket Calculator

Album: Computer World (1981)
Charted: 36

Songfacts®:

  • The Bee Gees Rhythm Machine was manufactured by Mattel in the wake of Saturday Night Fever. According to Q magazine, this portable battery-powered mini-keyboard branded with a Bee Gees logo never made it onto any records by the brothers Gibb, but it did find a place on Kraftwerk's song "Pocket Calculator." The innovation was immortalized in the lyric: "By pressing down a special key, it plays a little melody."
  • Kraftwerk issued several versions of the single in different languages: namely, German ("Taschenrechner"), French ("Mini Calculateur") and Japanese ("Dentaku").
  • The first portable calculator was placed on sale by Texas Instruments in 1971. It weighed two-and-a-half pounds and cost a mere $150.
  • This belongs in our category for songs featuring unusual instruments due to Kraftwerk's clever use of the Casio FX-501P programmable calculator as an instrument on the track. The device even sparked an idea for a marketing strategy to promote the single, with the band commissioning the Japanese company to design a special musical calculator for Kraftwerk fans. Based on the Casio VL-80 model, the Kraftwerk pocket calculator doubled as a synthesizer and included "sheet music" so fans could play a handful of the band's hits, including "Pocket Calculator," "Autobahn," and "Trans-Europe Express."
  • During live performances, the band distributed calculators among the audience and encouraged them to play along.
  • Kraftwerk was aware of the complicated influence of technology on society. While it has its benefits, it also allows governments and corporations to exert more control over people. Ralf Hutter, the band's co-founder, told NME how the band dealt with the topic on their computer-themed album. "There are stores and societies which control your financial situation so the whole computerization gets more like a 1984 vision. Our idea is to take computers out of context of those control functions and use them creatively in an area where people do not expect to find them. Like using pocket calculators to make music, for instance. Nobody knew you could do that, we always try to do things to break the normal order," he explained. "It's about time technology was used in resistance, it shouldn't be shunned, reviled or glorified."

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