Conny Plank
(3 May 1940 – 18 December 1987)



Maybe one of the best examples of a typical European producer and one responsible for sculpting the Neue Deutsche Welle sound at the start of the eighties is Konrad "Conny" Plank (May 3, 1940 in Hütschenhausen – December 18, 1987, Cologne). 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 began his career at the end of the fifties as assistant to Karlheinz Stockhausen (see ‘History of electronic music part 2’) and soundman for Marlene Dietrich. But it was at the Zodiak Free Arts Lab in Berlin in 1969 (see part 4 of the History of electronic music) he came in contact with the scene that would turn Rock into Krautrock. In 1969 he served as engineer for the first Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius ‘Kluster’ album, ‘Klopfzeichen’, which was released the following year. But it was with when Plank starting producing for some Dusseldorf friends (better known as Kraftwerk) that he first got international success. His production for ‘Autobahn’ can be regarded as classic. But he produced more German progressive/experimental music acts like Neu! (all their recordings), Ash Ra Tempel and Guru Guru. With it Plank caught the attention of Brian Eno who later stated that the Plank-sound was very influential on Bowie’s ‘Berlin trilogy’. Plank 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. No wonder Eno worked with him for his Ambient experiments in 1977/78. Through David Bowie and especially Eno, his influence also spreaded to the UK where young acts were flocking to the Plank-studio’s to catch the sound Conny constructed. International acts like the Eurythmics, Gianna Nannini, Les Rita Mitsouko, Ultravox and Clannad were among the first who travelled to Cologne at the start of the eighties. His finest hour came between 1980 en 1984 when his productions were omnipresent in the Neue Deutsche Welle. DAF, Nina Hagen, Einstürzende Neubauten, Joachim Witt and Ideal owed their sound to Conny. Next to more contemporary German artists who enjoyed Conny’s studio like Herbert Grönemeyer and Marius Müller Westernhagen. Allegedly 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 having said :"I cannot work with this singer".

Plank also worked as a recording artist himself as half of the duo Moebius & Plank, recording five 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. His influence on the electronic dance music of the nineties can also be followed back to him producing young British act Freur (known for the hit ‘Doot Doot’). Later bandmembers Karl Hyde and Rick Smith would use Conny’s legacy in their new band Underworld and with it securing Plank’s legacy. For Conny himself the eighties didn’t end that well. The final Moebius & Plank collaboration, ‘En Route’ was recorded in Conny's Studio in 1986 but left incomplete as Plank's health deteriorated. Conny 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, was the recording of concerts on the Eurythmics' Revenge tour, and editing 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 Stefan Plank until her failing health forced them to offer its contents for sale in May 2006. Christa died two months later.

Some essential Plank productions:

- Sweet Smoke - Just A Poke - 1970

- Ash Ra Tempel - Ash Ra Tempel - 1971

- Neu! - Neu! - 1972

- Kraftwerk - Autobahn - 1974

- Ultravox - Vienna - 1980

- DAF (Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft) - Alles ist gut - 1981

- Ideal - Der Ernst des Lebens - 1981

- Joachim Witt - Edelweiss - 1981

- Eurythmics - In the Garden - 1981

- Gianna Nannini - Latin Lover - 1982

- Les Rita Mitsouko – Les Rita Mitsouko - 1984

- Gianna Nannini - Puzzle - 1984

- Eurythmics - Savage – 1987

(see for more credited productions Allmusic) Udo