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Conny Plank at the Windrose studio, Hamburg.
|Birth name||Konrad Plank|
|Born||3 May 1940|
|Died||5 December 1987(aged 47)|
|Occupation(s)||Record producer, musician|
Konrad "Conny" Plank (3 May 1940 – 5 December 1987) was a West German record producer and musician born in Hütschenhausen. His innovative work as a sound engineer and producer in Germany's krautrock and kosmische music scenes helped to shape postwar European popular music. Plank oversaw recordings such as Cluster's Cluster 71 (1971), Neu!'s self-titled debut (1972), Kraftwerk's Autobahn (1974), and Harmonia's Deluxe (1975). He later produced for new wave acts such as Eurythmics and Ultravox.
As a musician, Plank is credited on albums by Guru Guru, Kraan, Cluster, Liliental and Os Mundi. He collaborated with Dieter Moebius on five Moebius & Plank studio albums recorded between 1979 and 1986. The Moebius & Plank sound foreshadowed techno and electronica and influenced many later musicians.
Style and influence
Plank and the bands he worked with in West Germany had a strong influence on mainstream rock artists, some of whom were able to popularize aspects of his production technique and his distinctive approach. In the 1980s, electronic pop bands were able to realize his ideas in performance as computerized electronic instruments became readily available.
Plank (who began his career as soundman for Marlene Dietrich) was an ardent believer in the possibilities of electronic music and electronic soundscapes. He was also known for blending them with conventional sounds, or natural sounds given unconventional treatments, such as using large metal containers and other industrial objects as percussion instruments.
Plank used multi-track recording facilities. He favored sometimes harsh-sounding effects and contrasting audio for each element in the mix. Plank used combinations of echo, reverberation and other electronic, mixing, editing and tape-based effects to create mixes.
Plank favored a very 'live' production sound, especially on drums. On a recording session in Hamburg in 1970 with Hartmut Kulka from the German Blue Flames & Philip Cantlay of Casey Jones & the Governors/Gaslight Union, together known as Kulka & Cantlay, he set up and recorded conga drums with specially inserted microphones to provide an unusual percussion sound.
Plank began producing albums and working as a sound engineer in the late 1960s and became involved in the underground music scene which was spreading outwards through Germany from Berlin. In 1969 he served as engineer for the first Kluster album, Klopfzeichen, which was released the following year. His long association with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Kluster and later Cluster endured until his death. He also served as engineer for Alexander von Schlippenbach's album The Living Music, which was released in 1969, the first of a long list of engineering and production credits.
During the 1970s Conny Plank produced and/or engineered many recordings by significant German progressive/experimental music acts often referred to as krautrock internationally, including Kraftwerk, Organisation, Neu!, Cluster, Harmonia, Night Sun, Holger Czukay and Guru Guru.
In 1977, through Brian Eno, Plank recruited Dave Hutchins from Island Studios, as house engineer. Hutchins undertook recording and mixing roles on many of the productions originating from the studios in the following ten years.
As a musician, Plank played guitar and keyboards on three Guru Guru albums: Kang Guru, Guru Guru, and Mani und Seine Freunde, the Os Mundi album 43 Minuten, and Cluster's self-titled debut album. In 1978 and 1979 he added guitar and percussion to two Roedelius solo albums, Durch Die Wüste and Selbstportrait. He was a member of the short lived band Liliental, contributing guitar, keyboards, and vocals. In 1979 he went into the studio with Dieter Moebius to record the first Moebius & Plank album, Rastakraut Pasta which was released the following year.
Plank continued to work as half of the duo Moebius & Plank, recording four additional albums. Their second album, Material, was released in 1981. Their third album, the African-influenced Zero Set, with Guru Guru drummer Mani Neumeier, was released in 1983. These two albums are early examples of the predecessors of techno and electronica. In 1983, Moebius & Plank also recorded the album Ludwig's Law using an Emulator, an early form of sampling keyboard that enabled them to duplicate other instruments without having musicians to play them. Mayo Thompson of Red Krayola contributed vocals, mainly spoken monologues. The project was rejected by Sky Records and was not released until 1998. The final Moebius & Plank collaboration, En Route was recorded in Conny's Studio in 1986 but left incomplete as Plank's health deteriorated. It was completed and mixed in 1995, primarily by Dieter Moebius, and released that year.
During the eighties, Plank remained in high demand with the new generation of electronic pop and new wave artists, including Devo, The Meteors from the Netherlands, (Hunger in 1980) and (Stormy Seas in 1981), The Fred Banana Combo, Ultravox (Systems of Romance, Vienna and Rage in Eden), Freur and The Tourists (Luminous Basement), Eurythmics (In the Garden). He also worked on pop and rock productions with artists such as Scorpions, Clannad, Killing Joke, Play Dead, and Gianna Nannini (Latin Lover, Sogno Di Una Notte d'Estate, Tutto Live and others, also credited for music).
Plank's other production credits include Liaisons Dangereuses, Phew, Einstürzende Neubauten, Ástor Piazzolla, Psychotic Tanks, DAF (including the classic single Der Mussolini) Gianna Nannini, Echo & the Bunnymen, Les Rita Mitsouko, and Nina Hagen.
According to René Tinner and Stephan Plank in a radio documentary about the life of Conny Plank, it was Brian Eno's idea that Plank should produce the U2-album The Joshua Tree instead of him. After being introduced to the band by Eno and after a short meeting, Plank turned down the job ("I cannot work with this singer"). According to the companion website of the documentary film Conny Plank – The Potential of Noise (but not the film itself), after the meeting, Plank firstly asked for time for a second thought. In the meantime he attended a U2 concert at Freilichtbühne Loreley, where U2's Bono introduced Plank to the audience as their new producer, after which Plank is said to have left the concert and never communicated further with any member of U2.
Plank fell ill while touring South America with Dieter Moebius, Arno Steffen and Detlef Wiederhoeft performing music from Ludwig's Law. Some of Plank's last work, before his death in 1987 from laryngeal cancer in Cologne, was the recording of concerts on Eurythmics' Revenge tour, and samples used on the NED Synclavier on their Savage album.
His studio, at his home on the southern outskirts of Cologne, continued to be run by his widow Christa Fast and their son until her failing health and the general change in the music business forced them to offer its contents for sale in May 2006. Fast died on 1 June 2006. Conny's famous hand-built mixing desk was bought by English producer David M. Allen and transported to England. The desk was originally designed and built by Plank in 1970, altered and upgraded consistently until his death in 1987. The 56 channel desk was a custom design and has a number of unique features, including a specially designed equalization (EQ) section that conformed to Plank's own preferred EQ settings, as well as a section which can be removed and which was fitted into a converted military van adapted for remote recording. It is also reputedly laminated in wood taken from a single cherry tree from Plank's own garden.
The mixing desk was initially installed at Club Ralf, the private studio of producer Mark Ralph, where it was used to record and mix a range of work including all or parts of "In Our Heads" and "Why Make Sense" by Hot Chip, "Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action" by Franz Ferdinand and "Communion" by Years & Years. It is currently situated in North London at Studio 7, the private studio of songwriter and artist Laurence Loveless.
Plank was involved with the following chronological list of albums, either as a direct contributor or because his studio facilities were used. The dates refer to the year of first release.
Conny Plank – The Potential of Noise, a 92 minute documentary film directed by Reto Caduff and Plank's son Stephan Plank, was released in September 2017.
- Seabrook, Thomas Jerome (2008). Bowie in Berlin: A New Career in a New Town. Jawbone Press. p. 85. Retrieved April 25, 2019.
- Conny Plank – eine Produzentenlegende, NDR German Radio, February 11, 2006
- Conny Plank – The Potential of Noise, Conny-plank.de
- Vintage-music-equipment Archived February 17, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- Connys-Studio.de, Conny Plank's studio.
- Kanthak, Dietmar (September 22, 2017). "Kritik zu Conny Plank – The Potential of Noise". epd Film. Retrieved October 7, 2017.
- Official website
- Conny Plank credits at AllMusic
- Curry, Russ A Curious History of Cluster. Retrieved September 7, 2007.
- Forced Exposure Moebius/Plank/Thompson Retrieved September 28, 2007.
- Freeman, Steven and Freeman, Alan The Crack In The Cosmic Egg (Audion Publications, 1996) ISBN 0-9529506-0-X Retrieved September 7, 2007.
- Interlog Ludwig's Law description Retrieved September 28, 2007.
- Meyer, Bill Editorial Review: Ludwig's Law Retrieved September 7, 2007.