Konrad "Conny" Plank (frequently spelled Planck) (May 3, 1940 – December 18, 1987) was a German record producer and musician. He was born in Hütschenhausen. His creativity as a sound engineer and producer helped to shape some of the most important and innovative recordings of postwar European popular music, covering a wide range of genres including progressive, avant-garde and electronic music. Plank was as much responsible as anyone else for defining the broad genre now known as krautrock and is arguably the unifying link between most of its disparate productions. His work has also greatly influenced studio production and engineering techniques worldwide.
Plank also had a notable career as a musician, playing keyboards and guitar on albums by Guru Guru, Cluster, 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 influenceEdit
Plank and the bands he worked with in 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.
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.
During the 1970s Conny Plank produced and/or engineered many of the most important recordings by significant German progressive/experimental music acts (given the derogatory label krautrock by the UK music press at the time), including Kraftwerk (Kraftwerk, Kraftwerk 2, Ralf und Florian, Autobahn, and the precursor album Tone Float), Neu! (all their recordings), Cluster, Harmonia, Night Sun, Ash Ra Tempel, Holger Czukay (Can), 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: Kan 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, 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 wasn't 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, 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 Echo & the Bunnymen, Les Rita Mitsouko, Einstürzende Neubauten, Ástor Piazzolla, The Damned, Psychotic Tanks, DAF (including the classic single Der Mussolini) and Nina Hagen.
According to Rene Tinner and Stefan 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").
Plank fell ill while touring South America with Dieter Moebius, performing music from Ludwig's Law. Some of Plank's last work, before his death in 1987 from 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 forced them to offer its contents for sale in May 2006. She died on June 1, 2006.
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.