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Stephan Thelen: Fractal Guitar Remixes and Extra Tracks

Mark Sullivan By

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Swiss guitarist-composer Stephan Thelen (leader of the band Sonar) released his first solo album Fractal Guitar (Moonjune Records, 2019) to great acclaim. This remix album offers a dramatic new look at four of the original five tracks—only "Radiant Day" is skipped—as well as adding three new tracks from Thelen and two collaborators.

The remix album begins as the original did, with "Briefing for a Descent into Hell." Thelen's remix makes a more direct statement, cutting almost immediately to David Torn's guitar solo, and fading out ahead of the long atmospheric section that concluded the original track. The running time is reduced by almost eleven minutes. Thelan's "Road Movie" remix is similarly lean and mean; after building atmosphere like the original, it focuses on Markus Reuter's touch guitar solo, then cuts quickly to the thunderous original ending (reducing the running time by about six minutes).

The centerpiece of the album is legendary bassist-producer Bill Laswell's remix of "Urban Landscape." The running time is the same, but there are many changes in the mix, large and small. It opens with the same slow build, but with a less prominent guitar ostinato. Laswell brings out the atmospheric electronics, adding more, plus a bit of almost ambient bass. Just before the five-minute mark he completely mixes out a fast guitar part, substituting a bass and drum breakdown. About nine minutes in he makes an even more dramatic breakdown, looping Benno Kaiser's drums into a driving rock rhythm and adding a supportive new bass line. Laswell's largest playing contribution comes with the bass improvisation and additional electronics added during the atmospheric section at the end after the drums drop out.

The extras are a varied lot; "Waves And Particles" is the original version of the track that was later used on the Sonar with David Torn album Vortex (Rare Noise Records, 2018). The personnel here consists of Thelen on guitar, Sonar drummer Manuel Pasquinelli, and touch guitarist/soundscaper Markus Reuter standing in for the rest of the band. It's an interesting look at the basic structure of the Sonar track, as well as a fine performance in its own right, Reuter contributing both bass parts and guitar solos.

Guitarist Bill Walker contributed electric guitar and live looping to the original version of "Road Movie." His "Half Moon Bay" is his own composition, with Thelen contributing mixing and editing. "Beckoning Bells" is a collaboration between guitarist Barry Cleveland (who played on two of the Fractal Guitar tracks and is also credited with atmospheres and mix here) and Thelen, who plays eBow guitar. These tracks are a lovely ambient ending to the program, stylistically harmonious with David Torn's looping on several of the earlier tracks.

Fractal Guitar Remixes and Extra Tracks is a resounding success which builds on the excellent framework of the original album while also improving on it in many ways. Kudos to Stephan Thelen, Bill Laswell, Bill Walker, Barry Cleveland, and the cast of additional collaborators.

Track Listing: Briefing For A Descent Into Hell (ST Remix); Fractal Guitar (ST Mix); Urban Nightscape (Bill Laswell Remix); Road Movie (ST Edit & Mix); Waves and Particles; Half Moon Bay; Beckoning Bells.

Personnel: Stephan Thelen: fractal guitar, tritone guitar, blue sky guitar, granular loops, organ, samples, piano, bass, mix, edit, e-bow guitar; 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: guitar, live looping; Barry Cleveland: guitar atmospheres, mix; Andi Pupato: percussion; Benno Kaiser: drums.

Title: Fractal Guitar Remixes and Extra Tracks | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: MoonJune Records

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