Stephan Thelen is someone you may or may not recognize. He’s probably best known for his work with Sonar. They’ve been around for nine years who have burst through the flood gates with their minimal, darker, and nightmarish sounds that is dynamic, brutal, and very mysterious. He’s an American-born Swiss musician who can write, compose, and perform his own music.
Alongside Sonar, Stephan has worked on projects including Radio Osaka, Root Down, License to Chill, and Broken Symmetry. And CD productions for Andy Brugger’s No No Diet Bang and Peter Scharli Sextet while composing music for dance, film, and theater productions. Stephan is a very, very busy man.
Kronos Quartet recorded one of his compositions entitled Circular Lines which was commissioned by the Kronos Arts’ Association and Carnegie Hall for this visionary project called, Fifty for the Future. And the percussion ensemble from Germany called Mannheimer Schlagwerk also premiered one of his compositions called, Parallel Motion. Stephan has released his debut album via MoonJune Records called, Fractal Guitar.
What Stephan wanted to do was record and compose pieces of music with an integral side to it. He used this effect that worked on before Sonar called, Fractal Guitar. It is this rhythmic delay with high feedback levels that creates this surging delay of patterns from 3/8, 5/8, or 7/8.
Recorded from various locations between Europe and North America from August 2015 and April 2018, Fractal Guitar has all the ingredients that’s in there. Post-Rock, Experimental, and straight out the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, Thelen is bringing out more of the energetic forces with a little help from David Torn, Markus Reuter, Barry Cleveland, and Manuel Pasquinelli to name a few. And they lend Stephan a helping hand with more gigantic sounds by going into a ramming speed.
Radiant Day is Stephan’s answer to Krautrock masters Agitation Free’s Haunted Island from their 2nd album released in 1973. It shows Thelen going into those perplexing tunnels to see what’s inside. From the booming sounds of Matt Tate, Cleveland and Reuter, it give Thelen going into those surreal voyages by swimming across parallel universes by creating their own score for Werner Herzog’s 1972 classic, Aguirre: The Wrath of God.
It has these watery effects that begins to climb upwards to the heavens as the skies suddenly become red and very alarming before Stephan, Markus, Matt, and Barry begin to chart the dangerous landscapes. The opening track, Briefing for a Descent Into Hell, which took its name from Doris Lessing’s 1971 novel, the collaborations between David Torn and Stephan Thelen, shows that they have each other’s back.
When I was listening to the piece that kicks the album off by clocking in at 18 minutes and 37 seconds, I can hear them going into the styles of Post-Rock, Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma-era, and King Crimson’s The Talking Drum. They can take you towards the edge of the cliff as the heat level increases more and more.
Torn is playing some incredible feedback and loops while his guitar becomes this snarling beast that is getting ready to attack with a vicious hunt for raising hell on their prey. With those territories that go beyond space and time, Tate’s bass playing goes into the works of Tool’s Justin Chancellor to have the doors opening more and more by going into a middle-eastern twist.
Listening to Road Movie is like a journey down the desert highway. Stephan lets his band members not just to go with the flow, but prepare to make the jump by surging towards sub-light speed and engage themselves into space madness. I can imagine Reuter, Kaiser, Walker, and Thelen going into the waters of Ash Ra Tempel’s Manuel Gottsching as they tip their hats towards the master by flying into the outer limits.
The title-track begins with some of the sections between the looping and soundscapes that Markus, Barry, and Stephan do on the third composition. Kaiser’s drums create this roller-coaster ride with some challenging measurements. I can definitely hear some aspects of Aphrodite’s Child’s All the Seats Were Occupied from their third and final album, 666.
The final track Urban Landscape, brings David Torn back to the forefront again as Stephan helps him out once more by racing to the finish line. Reuter takes you back again into his soundscapes as the droning sounds come crawling underneath your spine.
It has these film-noir vibes that adds up the final pieces of the puzzle as if Thelen and Torn are detectives are finally catching to the criminal's hideout and bringing him to justice. You could tell that Markus is doing this split-second fast guitar solo with a mighty crunch. But that was an unexpected moment that worked very well.
And Kaiser, his drumming crosses over between Bill Bruford and Buddy Rich’s playing and he is on a full-scale assault. David and Stephan are a band of brothers by working together and taking the listeners into town with some unexpected results as they climb upwards more and more to see what will happen next.
After listening to his album, I was very impressed on how Stephan Thelen goes beyond the structures and shows that he’s more than just his work with Sonar. But he takes a leap forward with the challenges that awaits him. Fractal Guitar is one of those ingredients by having a huge amount of carte blanche. And it shows that Stephan is having a lot of fun of bringing his music to life.