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Stephan Thelen: Fractal Guitar

Mark Sullivan By

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For this debut solo album Swiss guitarist/composer Stephan Thelen reached back to his interests before the band Sonar for which he is best known. That band builds its interlocking patterns without electronic effects (other than reverb), so Thelen felt the urge to to compose and perform pieces in which effects were an integral part of the music. The album title comes from a rhythmic delay with a high feedback level that produces cascading delay patterns in odd time signatures. He also welcomed the opportunity to work with some of the many guitarists he has met over the years—and there is indeed an impressive list of guests.

The first of these has to be Markus Reuter, who contributed U8 touch guitar, soundscapes and co-production (as well as co-writing two tracks): he is the only guitarist other than Thelen to appear on every track (along with U8 touch guitar bassist Matt Tate, giving yeoman duty on the low end). The second is David Torn, electric guitarist, live looper, and co-writer on the two longest tracks, which bookend the album. He plays a role similar to his collaborations with Sonar on Vortex (RareNoiseRecords, 2018) and Live At Moods (7d Media, 2018).

Listeners who like to identify the contributions of individual players are bound to be frustrated here. Every selection has at least two guitarists in addition to the leader, with two or more credited with some kind of looping or soundscaping. The result could have easily been a dense sonic stew: the fact that it is not is a credit to both the players and the production. "Briefing For A Descent Into Hell" opens the album with a rhythmic build that soon displays David Torn in full flight—including a solo with his trademark extreme whammy bar attack—before concluding with a few minutes of looped atmospherics. "Road Movie" features guitarist Henry Kaiser: his solo includes ecstatic pitch-shifter octave leaps.

Appropriately enough, the title tune begins with the clearest demonstration of the fractal guitar technique, Thelen's echoing cascades establishing the rhythm before the rest of the rhythm section joins him. Reuter contributes a ripping U8 touch guitar solo. Closer "Urban Nightscape" is based upon an insistent rhythmic figure: like the rest of the program, it shares rhythmic DNA with Thelen's writing for Sonar, while also allowing considerable space for improvisational energy. Torn brings more manic energy, and the track (and album) concludes with five minutes of rich, varied soundscapes.

Despite considerable file sharing and overdubbing used in its creation the album has a live feel. Much of that has to be credited to drummers Manuel Pasquinelli (a fellow member of Sonar) and Benno Kaiser, as well as Matt Tate's U8 bass playing. Thelen says he wanted to "create an album that features some of the more forward-looking possibilities of...the electric guitar." Mission accomplished. Fractal Guitar is a virtual feast for guitar fans, a banquet of moods, tones and textures.

Track Listing: Briefing For A Descent Into Hell; Road Movie; Fractal Guitar; Radiant Day; Urban Nightscape.

Personnel: Stephan Thelen: fractal guitar, tritone guitar (1), blue sky guitar (2, 4), granular loops (2, 3), organ (5), samples (5); David Torn: electric guitar (1, 5), live looping (1, 5); Markus Reuter: U8 touch guitar, soundscapes; Jon Durant: cloud guitar (1); Matt Tate: U8 touch guitar (bass); Manuel Pasquinelli: drums (1, 2, 4); Bill Walker: electric guitar (2), live looping (2); Henry Kaiser: electric guitar (2); Barry Cleveland: guitar atmospheres (3, 4), bowhammer (4); Andi Pupato: percussion (3); Benno Kaiser: drums (3, 5).

Title: Fractal Guitar | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: MoonJune Records

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