Conny Plank

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Conny Plank
Conny Plank.jpg
Conny Plank at the Windrose studio, Hamburg.
Background information
Birth nameKonrad Plank
Born(1940-05-03)3 May 1940
OriginGermany
Died18 December 1987(1987-12-18) (aged 47)
GenresExperimental rock, krautrock, new wave, electronic, ambient, progressive rock, techno, electronica
Occupation(s)Producer, musician
InstrumentsSynthesizer, keyboards, guitar, percussion
Years active1969–1987
LabelsSky, Drag City, Curious Music, Brain
Associated actsCan, Cluster, Holger Czukay, DAF, Brian Eno, Eurythmics, Harmonia, Hunters & Collectors, Jane, Kluster, Kraan, Kraftwerk, Guru Guru, Killing Joke, Liliental, Dieter Moebius, Moebius & Plank, Phew, Gianna Nannini, Mani Neumeier, Neu!, Night Sun, Organisation, Os Mundi, Play Dead, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Scorpions, Mayo Thompson, The Tourists, Ultravox, The Meteors

Konrad "Conny" Plank (3 May 1940 – 18 December 1987) was a West German record producer and musician. He was born in Hütschenhausen. His creativity as a sound engineer and producer helped to shape many innovative recordings of postwar European popular music, covering a wide range of genres including progressive, avant-garde, electronic music and krautrock.

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[edit]

Plank and the bands he worked with in West Germany had a strong influence on mainstream rock artists, some of whom were able to popularise aspects of his production technique and his highly distinctive sonic approach. In the 1980s the new generation of electronic pop bands were able to realise his ideas in performance as computerised 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 a master of creating startling electronic soundscapes, but he was also adept at blending them with conventional sounds, or natural sounds given unconventional treatments, such as using large metal containers and other industrial objects as percussion instruments.

He was one of the first European producers to fully exploit the possibilities of using multi-track recording facilities to create dramatic production effects and treatments that acted as musical and rhetorical elements in their own right, rather than mere gimmicks. He favoured sometimes harsh-sounding effects and contrasting audio spaces for each element in the mix. His best work stands in stark opposition to the smooth, 'evened-out' sound that predominated in most commercial pop and rock at that time.

Plank used radical combinations of echo, reverberation and other electronic, mixing, equalisation, editing and tape-based effects to create mixes in which every element might be given its own highly individual sound environment, and in which each of these elements might alter radically in sound several times over the course of a track. In this he was undoubtedly influenced by the work of Jamaican pioneers like Lee 'Scratch' Perry but he was certainly one of the first European producers to adopt key stylistic innovations sourced from these reggae and dub production techniques.

Plank was one of the first 'name' producers to favour a very 'live' production sound, especially on drums, a sound that was strikingly opposed to the dense and heavily compressed drum sound that dominated rock recording in the 70s. Plank's open, sometimes clangorous drum and percussion sounds undoubtedly had a significant influence on producers and engineers like Steve Lillywhite, Hugh Padgham and Nick Launay. On a recording session in Hamburg in 1970 with Hartmut Kulka from the German Blue Flames & Philip Cantlay late 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.

Career[edit]

The 1960s[edit]

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 very long list of engineering and production credits.

The 1970s[edit]

During the 1970s Conny Plank produced and/or engineered many of the most important recordings by significant German progressive/experimental music acts (given the label krautrock by the UK music press), including Kraftwerk (Kraftwerk, Kraftwerk 2, Ralf und Florian, Autobahn, and the pre-Kraftwerk album by precursor group Organisation Tone Float), Neu! (all their recordings), Cluster, Harmonia, Night Sun, Holger Czukay and Guru Guru.

His body of work exerted a strong influence on some of the more adventurous British and American musicians and producers. The most notable are probably David Bowie and Brian Eno, who worked together on the late-70s 'Berlin Trilogy' of albums, Low, Heroes, and Lodger, all of which showed the strong influence of Plank's earlier German productions. Bowie's song 'Heroes' is a virtual paean to the Plank style, featuring radical sounds and dramatic alterations of sound in various elements, such as the lead vocal, to heighten the emotional or dramatic effect; this is placed against a swirling, droning electronic backing track that interweaves elements such as multitracked synthethisers and feedback guitar. In 1977, through Eno, Plank recruited Dave Hutchins from Island Studios, as house engineer. Hutchins undertook recording & 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.

The 1980s[edit]

Plank, via Bowie and especially Eno, in turn had a strong influence on many acts of the new wave period in the late 1970s and 1980s. Neu!'s "Hero" is said to have been a major influence on John Lydon's work with his post-Sex Pistols group Public Image Limited. The earlier work of Australian band Hunters & Collectors also showed unmistakable signs of familiarity with Plank's production techniques, and they were one of many international acts who recorded with him.

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 were early examples of the sound which would become 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 to deal with the musicians who played 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 in 1980, The Incredible Fred Banana [FBC] in 1981, Fred Banana Combo 1983 and Fred Banana! in 1987, 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, The Damned, 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").[1] 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. Thereupon Plank has left the concert and never again talked to any member of U2.[2]

Death[edit]

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.[3] She 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 and altered and upgraded consistently till his death in 1987. The 56 channel desk was a custome design and has a number of unique features including a specially designed EQ section that conformed to Plank's own preferred EQ settings as well as a section that could be removed and 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. It was initially installed at Club Ralf, the private studio of producer Mark Ralf 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 and Years. It is currently situated in North London at Studio 7, the private studio of songwriter and artist Laurence Loveless.[4]

Recordings[edit]

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.

1969

1970

1971

1972

1973

1974

1975

1976

1977

1978

1979

1980

1981

1982

1983

1984

1985

1986

1987

Posthumous

Documentary[edit]

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.[5]

Notes[edit]

The Conny Plank Webseite

  1. ^ Conny Plank – eine Produzentenlegende, NDR German Radio, February 11, 2006
  2. ^ Conny Plank – The Potential of Noise
  3. ^ Vintage-music-equipment Archived February 17, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Connys-Studio.de, Conny Plank's studio.
  5. ^ Kanthak, Dietmar (September 22, 2017). "Kritik zu Conny Plank – The Potential of Noise". epd Film. Retrieved October 7, 2017.

References[edit]