Published on 14th January 2019
Stephan Thelen – Fractal Guitar
A theology of sound, gliding serenely in the upper atmosphere, then? I know I’m not allowed to say “sonic cathedrals in the sky”, obviously! It might seem remiss of me to open a review of an album that appears to wield a furrowed brow at every circumstance, heck even the fun to be had making the record is described as “serious”, with a touch of levity, but hey, these are fractious times and we have to take our humour where we can get it!
The old “cathedral” cliché has never seemed more appropriate than after a full submerging in this auditory flotation tank provided by the professorial Stephan Thelen, the chief composer behind Swiss microtonal math rockers Sonar, here let loose in the toy box without the restraints of a group format.
Wanting to make some noise, Stephan returned to an effect he worked with before Sonar called ‘Fractal Guitar’, “a rhythmic delay with a very high feedback level that creates cascading delay patterns in odd time signatures such as 3/8, 5/8, or 7/8.” Au naturelment, Stephan, au naturelment! Whatever the technical niceties, the end result is fully immersive, and will take you on a trip where time has no meaning. These pieces could be five seconds, minutes, or days long, it is entirely up to you. A hypnotic effect ensues, such that around seven minutes into Road Movie (he types after casting a furtive glance over his shoulder at the read out on the CD player, having no real clue what time has passed) you could swear that the hitherto metronomic rhythm was shifting on loose sands, although it may well have remained constant. Neat!
Recorded over three years between 2015 and 2018 in various locations, and assembled via a bewilderingly disparate process enabled by modern internet technology, the end result is complete, seamless, a whole, which of itself is a tribute to co-producers Stephan and Markus Reuter, who lends his stellar playing to every track here.
Speaking of guest appearances, Stephan enlisted the assistance of some great players from the avant guitar scene and beyond in order to assemble this glorious sound collage. The coruscating opener Briefing For A Descent Into Hell was co-written with current Sonar buddy David Torn who lends his fire to proceedings, and I suspect contributed the track title. Joining Stephan and Markus on the aforementioned Road Movie is none other than Henry Kaiser.
Veteran American left-field guitar slinger Barry Cleveland adds some textures and solos to the title track and to the following Radiant Day, the latter stealing a typically Sonar bass thump, and the rhythm section throughout is Matt Tate on touch bass, who sounds uncannily like T Lev on the final track, and either fellow Sonar tub thumper Manuel Pasquinelli or Benno Kaiser is behind the kit, the latter turning in a hard hitting performance on that final track, which is a fitting summation of all the accumulated store of power in the album, akin to an exploding battery! There is a natural flow linking it all together and the album delivers some considerable thwack with a practised ease.
Fractal Guitar while intentionally delivering a fuller soundscape than the Sonar world it was borne from, does not differ radically in structure, and the extra layers of fried guitar – dig Barry Cleveland’s airborne solo in Radiant Day – may lend the record an appeal beyond the Sonar camp. The Sonar fans have already bought it, of course!
01. Briefing for a Descent into Hell (18:35)
02. Road Movie (13:23)
03. Fractal Guitar (9:20)
04. Radiant Day (8:42)
05. Urban Nightscape (17:34)
Total Time – 67:40
Stephan Thelen – Fractal Y Tritone Guitar, Blue Sky Guitar, Granular Loops
David Torn – Electric Guitar, Live Looping
Markus Reuter – U8 Touch Guitar, Soundscapes
Jon Durant – Cloud Guitar
Matt Tate – U8 Touch Guitar (Bass)
Manuel Pasquinelli – Drums
Bill Walker – Electric Guitar, Live Looping
Henry Kaiser – Electric Guitar
Andi Pupato – Percussion
Benno Kaiser – Drums
Barry Cleveland – Guitar Atmospheres, Bowhammer
Record Label: MoonJune Records
Date of Release: 17th December 2018