Friday, 8 February 2013

Recommended music: 'Who's That Man?' - a tribute to Conny Plank

To start with, a confession of sorts. Until recently I'd never listened to a Krautrock record (as teenagers a friend and I once experimented with a latter-period Tangerine Dream album that we found in the bargain bin, but we were so disappointed with it that we melted the vinyl and turned it into a scuplture). All this changed a few months ago when Nigel Godrich, esteemed Radiohead producer and founder of Ultraista, was doing a show on BBC 6music and he played 'Hallo Gallo' by Neu! - I couldn't believe that 1) I hadn't heard it before and 2) how much a lot of records I liked seemed to be influenced by it. I instantly bought the entire Neu! back catalogue, and couldn't believe my luck in December when, at the ATP Festival curated by The National, I was able to watch Michael Rother play the music of Neu! and Harmonia in front of an enraptured crowd, backed by young German band Camera. Since then, with the aid of Julian Cope's excellent book 'Krautrocksampler', I have continued my exploration of the genre, which brings us to the box set that sits before me.

If, like me a few months ago, you're asking 'Who's That Man?' when reading the name Conny Plank or looking at the photograph above, then this 4 cd selection will go some way to answering your question. Collecting together just a small portion of the tracks he was involved in the first 2 cds give a real feel of his musical vision. Plank was always much more than just a producer - in the Krautrock days he often received full songwriting credits along with the bands he was producing such as Cluster. At the same time he was creating new recording processes and even new pieces of equipment to enable his vision to be realised. Whilst the tracklisting may at first appear a little odd and arbitrary (The Eurythmics next to Michael Rother?) listened to as a whole it really works, showing innovators and disciples all flowing together in the same stream. And although most of the tracks on these two discs is already widely available, there are four rare tracks to hold the interest of those who already own much of Plank's output. I don't imagine that everything on these two cds will be to everyone's tastes (the prog-jazz stylings of Ibliss are a bit much for me, and Streetmark's version of 'Eleanor Rigby' is well worth avoiding) but certainly the majority of the tracks are worth a try.

CD 3 brings things up to date with a brand new set of remixes of from the original master tapes of Plank tracks. It's difficult to comment on remixes when you're not familiar with the original versions, but taken at face value there are certainly some tracks of note here. Walls' remix of 'Infiltration' doesn't sound much like his recent album or much like a Krautrock track but is still good, but the next 2 are even better, especially the version of Michael Rother's 'Feuerland'. There's a lull with the Phew Remix, but then 'Farmer Gabriel' is vastly improved on the original by turning it into an Orb / FSOL-esque ambient dance track. The Eye Remix of Neu!'s 'Fur Immer' is pretty radical and may well be what Krautrock would sound like if it had been born in the 21st century. The Crato remix of Phew's 'Doze' is OK once it gets started, but overlong, and the final track is neither here nor there.

That brings us to CD 4, which was recorded at a live show in Mexico in 1986 by Conny Plank / Dieter Mobius and Arno Steffen under the name Trioformation. This was the last recorded performance by Plank before his untimely death in 1987, and as such it probably has more historic value than musical worth - the tracks are fairly average and there's a sense on at least some of them that they're making it up as they go along.

Overall then, an interesting if quite expensive box set - if you're thinking of buying it I suggest you get it direct from the Gronland label site here, where it's at least £10 cheaper than anywhere I've seen it listed in the UK.

Right, I'm off to explore some more Krautrock geniuses with my trusty 'Krautrocksampler' tucked under my arm - I feel some Harmonia coming on...

Michael Rother performing with Camera, ATP Festival  8/12/12

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