In Appreciation Of Conny Plank Review

David Stubbs visits the Goethe Institute to see an evening of music and talks celebratibg the memory of Conny Plank. Photograph by Christopher Baker

Conny Plank, who died far too young in 1987, was a key midwife figure in the development of Krautrock. A sound engineer from the 1960s onwards, his work brought him into acquaintance with the extremes of musique concrète, while also giving him access to the finest, state-of-the-art equipment available at the time. He shared the idealistic determination of his musical peers that there be a new German music that reflected the spirit of postwar cultural renewal of his era, whose inventions dispensed with the slavishly imitated tropes of Anglo-American rock. To this end, he worked with Can, Neu!, Kraftwerk but his longest working relationship was with Cluster and in particular Dieter Moebius. In a talk moderated by Geeta Dayal, Moebius explained how Plank could easily be considered the "third member" of Cluster (along with the now estranged Hans-Joachim Roedelius, not present tonight, but celebrating his 79th birthday). It was Plank who, generous with his time, snuck the Cluster members into studios, lent and showed them how to use what was then forbiddingly expensive synthesizer equipment and enabled them to develop beyond their noisenik origins.

Stefan Plank, who is currently making a documentary about his father, has only memories of growing up amid the paraphernalia of recording equipment, fascinating to a child, but which in Plank’s case involved delicate, elaborate set-ups in real time and space to achieve his effects, unavailable in the pre-computer, pre-digital era. He recalled the story of his father working in Hamburg to take advantage of an overnight photo lab, which he would use to take develop pictures he took of the way his mixing desk was set up the previous day, so that he could set it up precisely the same way the next morning.

As Dayal observes, Plank’s unorthodox and adventurous recording methods mean that the albums he worked on have about them a timelessness – they could have been recorded yesterday, tomorrow even. This is still more crucial in that the music he helped create in the 1970s has enjoyed much of its glory posthumously – it is a living, relevant, still to a great extent untapped resource some 40 years on. Its future is still unfurling.

This feeling of linear, endless continuity was exacerbated in tonight’s accompanying sets. First up, Moebius himself, looking, for all his years, slight and boyish. Working calmly as if in a potting shed, he unleashes a series of violently engineered mutant techno broadsides, each, a complex mess of wire, melody, rhythm and electric abstraction, wildly ambitious yet elaborately logical. He was always more inclined to noise and misshape than his erstwhile partner the sometimes too bucolic, gentle Roedelius; each piece in tonight’s set feels like electronica in a constant stage of birth pangs, a melting pot of experimentalism in which the melting, the process of emergence is more important than some eventual, functional end product.

Cold Pumas, originally from Exeter but now living in Brighton, look pretty unprepossessing but are among a number of new groups who have rejected the small beer and potatoes tropes of indie orthodoxy that have dominated since the mid-80s in favour of a more motorik style which channels early Can and Neu!, with fresh sparks flying upward as they rock on, each song a grey ribbon extending towards the horizon. I particularly like the howl of white noise that provides a background to their set, like wind and reverb in a tunnel. They’re infectiously fun but if they’re taking German music as their inspiration, they might want to seek out its byways of variety, shade and mood, rather than stick to the increasingly well-trodden path of the Dingerbeat.

Finally, Kreidler, who only yesterday seemed like postmodern upstarts but can now count themselves as veterans of almost 20 years. Andreas Reihse’s moustache rivets the attention the way Florian Schneider used to in the original Kraftwerk line-up. However, Kreidler work to their own, unique meter, which has all the traditional virtues – cyclical, cumulative, exponential energy – but also a sort of rolling, martial quality that reminds faintly, in places of Adam & The Ants’ ‘Prince Charming’. Repetition is nothing to be scared of. As with the night in general, a restatement of a core, endlessly rediscovered value, to misquote Samuel Beckett: "I can go on. I can go on. I’ll go on."

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today