2014 CD release of Static Motion by the Swiss band Sonar
is certain to be one of the year's most acclaimed albums of experimental
electric guitar music. Featuring the interlocking guitar sound of
Stephan Thelen and Bernard Wagner, this first Sonar
CD release on the highly regarded Cuneiform Records label also features
key contributions by Christian Kuntner (bass) and Manuel
Pasquinelli (drums). In critically acclaimed write-ups and reviews,
much has been made of the tritone guitar sound of Sonar and for a
cross-reference on the bands influences you might look to early
Mahavishnu Orchestra and shades of King Crimsons work circa
1973. As expected and as delivered on Static Motion, Sonar
defines the art of experimental guitar music in the early 21st century.
Completely instrumental, the net result of Static Motion is
an experience akin to hearing the sonic equivalent of a fascinating
M.C. Esher painting, complete with spiraling patterns of guitar sounds
juxtaposed over hypnotic jazzy fusion rhythms. One could also cite
Robert Fripp and certain works of California Guitar Trio as being
comparable to the Sonar sound, yet with the 2014 CD release of Static
Motion, Sonar stakes out a most unique musical terrain all their
mwe3.com presents an
Stephan Thelen of SONAR
The 2014 Sonar CD, Static Motion was released on the Cuneiform
Records label. How did working with Cuneiform take shape and from
a musical, compositional and recording perspective how would you compare
Static Motion to the last Sonar album A Flaw Of Nature from
Stephan Thelen: Steve Feigenbaum, the head of Cuneiform records,
wrote very enthusiastically about our first CD A Flaw of Nature
on the Wayside web site, so I contacted him and asked him if he would
be interested in releasing our next album on Cuneiform.
Steve and all the wonderful people at Cuneiform have been very supportive
in every way. They gave us total artistic freedom and only made a
few suggestions how to improve certain things. I think Static Motion
is a more colorful album than A Flaw of Nature, which was deliberately
more austere and radical.
mwe3: In the CD liner notes, you mentioned that Static Motion
was recorded in Norway. How did that experience shape the sound
of the album and who else was involved in the making of the album,
sound wise all the way to the mixing / mastering and art design? Are
you still happy with the lineup with Bernhard, Christian and Manuel
and how has the Sonar sound grown over the past two years?
Thelen: The landscape around the studio in Norway is completely
stunning. I think you can hear the influence of the surroundings in
the improvised, more ambient parts of the music, especially on the
last track, Vertical Time.
The sound engineer, Henning Svoren, had a very important influence
on the sound and captured our performances beautifully. The mixing
was done mainly by myself with a little help from Manuel (the drummer),
but there was also one other engineer, Andi Pupato, who helped create
the final sound of the album during the mastering process.
Im very happy to work with Bernhard, Christian and Manuel, they
are not only great musicians, but we also can talk about what we want
to do in a very democratic way. The sound has evolved considerably
over the last few years, somehow it has become heavier and clearer
at the same time.
mwe3: Tell us about the most recent Sonar live concerts. Tell
us about your current tour in the US? Is there a way to describe the
experience and sound of Sonar live in concert and what are some of
the most memorable concerts Sonar has played live? Whats been
the reaction to the band live? Do you travel with a sound man and
play loud? (I hope)
Thelen: We played three very memorable live gigs on the East Coast
(Brooklyn, Washington D.C. and Baltimore) in October 2013. Besides
those gigs, we had a remarkable gig in Manchester, England... the
audience there was unbelievable.
Sonar is mainly a live band. Our music is written in a way that it
must be performed in front of an audience to really come alive and
I think a lot of people are surprised how passionate the music can
be in a live context.
It can get very loud, but we can also play very quietly, we use the
fullest possible dynamic range. We dont have a sound man yet,
but that is certainly something we are looking into for the future.
mwe3: You mentioned the title of Static Motion was influenced
by poet Rainer Maria Rilke. What is yours and the bands concept
of static motion as it applies to this latest Sonar album?
Also how does Sonar apply Robert Fripps famous quote about being
very careful about the beginning, then be very careful about
the middle and finally be very careful about the end of
a piece of music? Do you still consider Fripp an influence on this
latest Sonar album and what do you remember most about studying guitar
with Robert Fripp?
Thelen: Actually, the title Vertical Time is from
Rilke, but for me it means the same thing as Static Motion.
That term came from my wife, who once walked into my music room while
I was playing that piece and said it sounded like something that moves
forward and stands still at the same time, so it simultaneously inhabits
two worlds, the timeless, eternal reality as well as the world of
fading hearts, as Rilke says.
Robert Fripp will always be a strong influence, not only musically.
His comment is really the best piece of advice you can give to somebody
who is trying to figure out the dramaturgy of a piece of music. Actually,
what I remember most about the Guitar Craft seminars was how funny
they were, but I would say they mainly made me realize what I wanted
to do in life and in music but also what I didnt want
mwe3: In the Static Motion liner notes you also say
that Mahavishnu Orchestra, ELP and the French band Shylock were also
an influence on your music. It seems like the 1970s are still
the benchmark for musical integrity on a lot of levels. Is that decade
frozen in time so to speak? A shame a lot of music fans today didnt
have the good fortune to experience the wonder of those years! I also
remember how great, especially Shylock were. Light years ahead of
Thelen: Its the music I grew up with. Music was really something
magical then. So many people were creative, even if they hardly knew
how to play. Today, musicians are technically much, much better, but
I really miss the sense of adventure and mystery that was clearly
there in the 70s.
mwe3: Are there other influences from other artistic avenues,
such as movies, painting or architecture, that inspire your music
and composing? Who and what are your favorites from those other art
forms and how do they affect you on a musical level?
Stephan Thelen: Recently, I have been very fascinated by minimal
art and minimal design. I like the idea of taking one good idea and
expressing this idea as clearly and from as many different angles
as possible. Id really like to be able to create a piece of
music that has the same power, beauty and tragedy but also the same
monolithic simplicity as a Mark Rothko painting.
mwe3: Do you have special techniques that Sonar uses
to capture and record your various guitar sounds? For instance, do
you use certain effects to color the sound?
Thelen; Our philosophy is to do everything without effects and
technology. The only effect we use is a volume pedal and a Strymon
Blue Sky reverb, all other things are done with ideas, playing techniques
and pure dedication.
mwe3: Is there a video for some of the tracks on the Static
Motion CD and what is your opinion on pairing sound and vision
and the possibility of a Sonar DVD in the future? What are your favorite
Sonar related video clips and are there certain film makers you would
like to work with in the future?
Stephan Thelen; There is a video for the track Static
Motion on YouTube and we will soon release two live videos taken
at the CD release party here in Zürich, one of them with Markus
Reuter on touch guitar. Were thinking about releasing the whole
concert on a DVD, but that hasnt been decided yet.
The live videos were done by Nordhang Film, the same company that
produced the Static Motion video. We dont have any
other film makers in mind at the moment, but we are very interested
in any visuals that are related to what we do musically.
What plans do you have for Sonar moving into 2014 and even 2015? What
other avenues are you planning to explore next both as a guitarist
/ composer and a performing musician?
Stephan Thelen; 2014 will be about touring in Europe and rehearsing
new material for our next album. I have written a lot of new pieces,
some of them co-written by our drummer Manuel, that stay true to our
original concept but also explore new harmonic and rhythmic possibilities.
Hopefully, we will return to the US for a lot more concerts in 2015.
At the moment, I am concentrating on Sonar, but I do also have other
musical projects in mind, but its really too early to talk about
to Stephan Thelen @ www.sonar-band.ch