Splashy Dance

Superior slab of experimental techno with melodic and ethnic elements called Plong (BUREAU B BB 352CD)…Harmonious Thelonious is a solo turn by Stefan Schwander of Düsseldorf, and I see in the past he’s made a string of LPs for Italic, Marmo Music, and Emotional Response, with many 12-inch singles for a variety of labels since 2008.

This dance-derived genre of music is a little out of my line, but Harmonious Thelonious is a good and innovative experimenter. He has a nice line in melodies, added African elements (for this record, at any rate), and while I’m no expert on what constitutes success in this area, his beats and rhythms just seem totally watertight to me. Clean sounds, simple and clear arrangements, every part of the compositional recipe lined up with sound planning and precision. While this particular line of thought usually leads me down a route that includes Carsten Nicolai and others on his Raster-Noton label, Harmonious Thelonious isn’t quite as severe as that; he may admire the precision-tooling of a well-made engine part, but he never forgets it’s also part of a car which he intends to use to chauffeur us to some exciting and interesting locales. Nor does he emulate the Mego school of extreme computer soundfile manipulation; come to that, I suspect Stefan Schwander isn’t too enamoured of “noise” at all, since this Plong item is highly altruistic and accessible, packed full of infectious tunes and basic melodies, and highly danceable rhythms. I gather he did it with backwards tapes, loops, and some “prepared” instruments – there’s a reference to “tuned down xylophones” which sounds intriguing – although I’m not sure if he actually uses magnetic tape and a Revox or whether these operations are executed in a purely digital manner.

Press release also tells me he’s a fan of American minimalism, and you can perceive this in the music too; I shan’t say this is Reich / Glass / Riley set to a disco beat, rather that Stefan Schwander evidently has a firm grasp of how to use repetition to his advantage, and structures this knowledge into every snappy ditty. The first three cuts on the album are particularly strong, and I keep coming back to these crisp bounceroos to try and figure out how he’s managing to convey so much content inside these deceptively simple packages. I might learn more if I listened to this late at night at tremendously high volumes…I suspect there’s a strong dancefloor subtext to all this which can’t be understood by cerebral methods alone. Released August 2020, we got a copy 25 June 2020.