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Stephan Thelen biography
Born May 12th 1959 (Santa Rosa, California, USA)

He lives and works in Zürich, Switzerland as a musician, composer, producer and mathematician. He has two sons (Diego, born 1984 and Sancho, born 1987) and lives with his wife Katharina and her daughter Anna (born 1999).

Education: Studies in classical guitar; Guitar Craft Seminars with Robert Fripp (founder and guitarist of King Crimson) during the 1990s; studied mathematics at the University of Zürich (PHD in 1990)

Musical activities: plays or played guitar and electronics in various bands and ensembles in and around Zürich that concentrate on music at the fringes of rock, jazz, experimental and classical music. (Sonar, Radio Osaka, License to Chill, Broken Symmetry and Root Down). Many CD Productions (No No Diet Bang, Peter Schärli Sextet, etc.). Many Theatre-, Dance- und Filmproductions.

Stephan has been releasing solo albums since 1998.

Since 2004 he has been concentrating more and more on compositions for modern Classical Chamber Music and since 2010 on work with the minimal-progressive band SONAR.

Bio from Stephan's website.

See also: HERE

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STEPHAN THELEN discography

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STEPHAN THELEN top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

0.00 | 0 ratings
Dolphin Ethics - Angles Of Resonance
0.00 | 0 ratings
Wormhole To Paradise
0.00 | 0 ratings
License To Chill - Dark Matter
4.33 | 3 ratings
Broken Symmetry
0.00 | 0 ratings
Vol De Nuit
4.20 | 5 ratings
4.50 | 2 ratings
String Geometry
0.00 | 0 ratings
Mise En Abyme
0.00 | 0 ratings
Beneath The Surface
0.00 | 0 ratings
Soundscapes & Remixes
5.00 | 1 ratings
Into The Blue
4.00 | 46 ratings
Fractal Guitar
4.33 | 9 ratings
Fractal Guitar 2
3.67 | 3 ratings
Crossings (with Jon Durant)

STEPHAN THELEN Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

STEPHAN THELEN Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

STEPHAN THELEN Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

0.00 | 0 ratings
Fractal Guitar Remixes and Extra Tracks

STEPHAN THELEN Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Fractal Guitar by THELEN, STEPHAN album cover Studio Album, 2019
4.00 | 46 ratings

Fractal Guitar
Stephan Thelen RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by memowakeman
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

5 stars Review originally posted at

The name of Stephan Thelen might not be as familiar as he deserves, since his work this millennium as a Sonar member or solo musician has been very prolific. However, with the release of this 'Fractal Guitar' album, he and his collaborators have made us (the listeners) quite happy.

It is common to me that the first time I listen to an album I don't immediately click with it, but this time was not like this. 'Fractal Guitar' is captivating, I embraced its charm since the very first experience, because yeah, Thelen is the mastermind behind it, but he chose a bunch of wonderful first-class musicians to join the road. Most of them are guitar players but each of them has a peculiar style, a personal touch that was added in certain parts of the album.

When we talk about records with no boundaries, we must turn to this one. A progressive rock, jazzy, spacey, experimental, exquisite release that will give you a unique and different experience every time you listen to it. If you don't believe me, just start playing the first track: 'Briefing for a Descent into Hell', a long 18-minute track that has countless passages, atmospheres, notes and sounds. It progresses little by little, surprising us with the creative figures the musicians create. An ambitious project whose result is simply outstanding and, believe me, it is enough to listen to this single track to realize it.

Stephan Thelen himself pointed out that he wanted to write an album in which effects were integral part of the music. With that on mind, he empowered a concept he already had, called fractal guitar, an effect that consists on rhythmic delay with a high feedback level. But to make it real, he also wanted to be joined by people such as Markus Reuter or David Torn, musicians that are creative, educated, experimental and compromised. This is why the album is a carousel of sounds, and a ticket to music paradise. Addictive sounds, repetitive structures fulfilled by loops, improvisation and understanding. Important to say that the role of percussion men along with bass-man Matt Tate is also incredible. It is an exciting journey!

The best of this album is that you will love every single track, a clear example is 'Road Movie', a shorter but amazing song that spits a hypnotizing structure in which you can close your eyes and let the diversity of colors make their work. It is like a spacey trip full of emotions, an expansive sensorial experience where guitars take you to infinite paradises, while drums create the needed shelter.

An exquisite effort comes next with 'Fractal Guitar', which has some Crimson vibes on it, endless loops and a delicious spacey atmosphere. After three minutes it becomes a bit more aggressive, drums put more elements while strings keep experimenting and adding colors here and there. The intensity still increases and those crimsonian vibes become even more evident, it is the climax of the song. Then it slows down again, the peace has returned.

The soundscapes of 'Radiant Day' are beautiful, you'll perceive them better while using good headphones. The bass is predominant in this piece, it is cool to see it being as important as the guitars, which hypothetically are the main elements on the album.

Last but not least, the amazing 17-minute 'Urban Nightscape' is the perfect closer. Ambitious that Thelen and co. opened and finished with their longest songs, in one hand we could think about a circle, an album that perfectly spins round and round, but in other hand, it cannot be a circle, I mean, there are endless drifts, winding roads that we have to sort out with our ears, emotions and soul. Stephan Thelen has made a memorable album that, at least to me, deserves to be on this year's top ten, to say the least.

 Fractal Guitar by THELEN, STEPHAN album cover Studio Album, 2019
4.00 | 46 ratings

Fractal Guitar
Stephan Thelen RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars The SONAR leader and King Crimson-style Math Rock champion is back with yet another solo effort with an all-star array of guest musicians.

1. "Briefing For A Descent Into Hell" (18:35) could have come from Stephan's other project, SONAR, and their 2018 album Vortex, especially as there are three of the five members of that album on this song. Interesting, cool, just not memorable for anything new or distinctive--though there are many moments in which I feel as if I'm more immersed into a piece by CAN or KLAUS SCHULZE. One bull-headed pace and foundation over 18 minutes with lots of interesting displays of creativity over the top as solos. Somehow it works as I find this to be the song I return to most of all when I want to re-test this album. (36/40)

2. "Road Movie" (13:23) another SONAR-like foundation from the rhythm section as Henry Kaiser takes a turn competing with Stephan. Flags a little in the second half. (25.5/30)

3. "Fractal Guitar" (9:20) opening with infinitely echoed and morphed solo electric guitar, the sound journey is fascinating in itself. Yet another SONAR-like foundation is added by the rhythm section at the end of the first minute--in an unusual time signature. The "guitar atmospheres" of Barry Cleveland are quite interesting--perhaps they are the sound "morphing" to which I referred in the opening sentence. Drums and percussion begin to add their own distinct personalities in the fourth minute. (17.5/20)

4. "Radiant Day" (8:42) a more KING CRIMSONian weave of electric stringed instruments opens this song. Markus Reuter, Matt Tate, and Barry Cleveland all weaving their touch guitars with Stephan's is quite interesting. The absence of atmospheric "glue" of washes and slow decay notes and chords is also interesting. It's like a stage full of guitarists each waiting patiently for their turn to solo. (16.75/20)

5. "Urban Nightscape" (17:34) opens with two lines of chromatic arpeggi backed by David Torn loops and washes. Bass line and drums eventually join in but it takes a few minutes until a solid flow and structure are settled upon. Benno Kaiser's drumming is much more noticeable than the hypnotic support style of Manuel Pasquinelli because he is imposing a mentality of a lead instrument. (He's good but not great.) It's David Torn who really shines in the thick and heavy section between the sixth and ninth minutes (though Benno does try). The music gradually moves to a stripped down, atmospheric section where, in the fifteenth and sixteenth minutes you feel as if night skies and bug noises are the sounds trying to be reproduced (or imagined). My least favorite song on the album. (29/35)

Total time 67:34

It is very difficult to fault Stephan Thelen with this type of music because it is so unique and unusual in the music world, but after an album or two, listened to consecutively, one begins to grow fatigued of the repetition of similitude.

B/four stars; a solid contribution of polished, mood-oriented Math Rock and excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.

 Fractal Guitar by THELEN, STEPHAN album cover Studio Album, 2019
4.00 | 46 ratings

Fractal Guitar
Stephan Thelen RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by admireArt
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Another great 2019 album which actually explores new possibilities for the progressiveness of Prog Music.

If taken literally this is actually an electric guitar based album, but as far as its music writing goes it does not overwork its performances for the sake of doing so. Opposite to that its compositions are well balanced, creative, detailed and, better yet, the variety of guitar players, guitar effects and guitar & bass ideas actually add up for an uncommon freshness and heavy/lightness which makes the whole trip enticing and eventually recurrently inviting.

Fractal Guitar (2019) is a 5 track release, which could well be set close to King Crimson kingdom's outskirts or Sonar's neighborhood yet its personal musical language establishes its own game and rules and although it witholds some kind of Rock in Opposition obscurity its Avant Prog approach is far from the macabre and its sound closer to the Eclectic Prog mutability where Jazz is not actually Jazz, nor the Blues the Blues and Rock, well, not exactly Rock.

Nevertheless everything falls into place naturally and its electric guitat electronic efx also open the door for, yes, electronic music atmospheres (not exactly Progressive Electronic of course).

If forced to come up with a single adjective I will choose seductive.


 Fractal Guitar by THELEN, STEPHAN album cover Studio Album, 2019
4.00 | 46 ratings

Fractal Guitar
Stephan Thelen RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Reviewer

4 stars To be able to fully comprehend this album, in some ways it is best to understand the concept behind it. Stephan Thelen says, "After a few years of playing without effects apart from reverb in Sonar, I felt the urge to compose and record some pieces in which effects were an integral part of the music. I especially wanted to use an effect I worked with before Sonar, which I call "Fractal Guitar" ? a rhythmic delay with a very high feedback level that creates cascading delay patterns in odd time signatures such as 3/8, 5/8 or 7/8. The other desire I had was to work with and to have some serious fun with a few of the many great guitarists I've met over the years to create an album that features some of the more forward-looking possibilities of the most mysterious, compelling and eclectic of all instruments, the electric guitar."

All the melodic sounds on the album are created by one of the guitarists, and Thelen has been joined by touch expert Markus Reuter along with David Torn, Jon Durant, Matt Tate, Bill Walker, Henry Kaiser and Barry Cleveland. They may not all play on the same track, but there are often four guitarists all using different loops and effects, alongside touch bass, and a drummer at the back attempting to keep it all in order. The result is a layered soundscape, and sonically the ears are pleased that the bass is often fairly grounded in its approach as there is just so much going on in the higher registers. To say this is a complex and complicated album is somewhat of an understatement, and while the album as a whole (and "Urban Nightscape" in particular) owes a great deal to King Crimson, there are also elements of Steve Hillage in particular, plus the overarching feeling of musicians more embedded in RIO and jazz than they are in what many would consider to be progressive rock.

That this is indeed a progressive album is a moot point as every musician is pushing the boundaries on what can be achieved with an electric guitar, bouncing ideas, throwing in feedback when the time is right or being clean at others. The repeating loops become almost hypnotic, taking the listener to a different level of consciousness, a different reality. The only way to fully experience this album is in a darkened room late at night being played through high quality headphones. The mind mustn't have any other stimuli, the world is the album, and the album is the world. This is music which needs to be listened to, really listened to, as opposed to being played while something else is taking place. If this were a concert hall, there would be no sound to be heard apart from the musicians themselves as the audience would be frightened to even breathe less the spell be broken. If you have the time to give to it, this is a superb album, but if you can only spare a passing listen then move rapidly on.

 Fractal Guitar by THELEN, STEPHAN album cover Studio Album, 2019
4.00 | 46 ratings

Fractal Guitar
Stephan Thelen RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by TCat
Forum & Site Admin Group Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team

4 stars Stephen Thelen is a solo artist that has been releasing albums since 1990 under his own name. Considered to be a RIO/Avant Prog artist, he utilizes new technology and new ways of playing guitar in his music, yet composes similar to the classical artists. The album "Fractal Guitar" was released early in 2019, and continues with that style, experimental and innovative. In the 1990s, he was involved with the Guitar Craft Seminars along with Robert Fripp, so you can imagine that his playing and style is innovative. "Fractal Guitar" consists of 5 tracks and the total runtime of the album is 67 minutes, so the tracks are all quite long. There are several guest artists on this album, and between some of them and Stephen, there are several various types of guitars and styles used. Stephen also returns to a heavy use of effects on this album. Marcus Reuter guests on all of the tracks, mostly playing the U8 Touch Guitar and so does Matt Tate on the U8 Touch Bass.

Starting off with the longest track at over 18 minutes, "Briefing for a Descent into Hell", we get Stephen using Fractal and Tritone Guitars. The fractal guitar utilizes a rhythmic delay and a high feedback level that creates some awesome sounds. Also, on this track guests use U8 Touch Guitar and Bass, Cloud Guitar and Electric Guitar to generate some interesting layers and etc. The track has a steady bass and rhythm foundation and the different layers play out against this, creating melody, textures and atmospheric effects with the delay causing some interesting off-beat sounds. At the 8 minute mark, the constant rhythm stops for a short time allowing things to float for a minute before coming back again. A different sounding guitar takes over, I assume this is the tritone guitar because of the sudden smoothness of the transition from one note to another. Soon, the beat starts to break up a bit, and a new arpeggio type pattern is established before the rhythm starts up again, this time a bit more complex. Once the fractal guitar takes the spotlight again, this is where you can really hear the power of this guitar and its uniqueness in sound. Now the foundation isn't quite as steady as before, but more involved in what is going on around it. Around the 15 minute mark, things get quite a bit calmer until the guitar screeches and growls its way to the end.

"Road Movie" has Stephen using fractal guitar and a blue sky guitar as well as granular loops. Guests use other electric guitars, atmospherics, and both U8 touch guitar and bass. The rhythmic foundation has a boiling bass and drum pattern that is a bit reminiscent of Pink Floyd, but with guitar chords making for a more tense atmosphere. A beautiful and somewhat shimmering melody is played on top of this, and is later joined by a more intense melody on top of it. Power and intensity ebbs and flows throughout the track with a nice variation of sound coming from the different guitars and effects improvised over it all. The continuation of the rhythm throughout and the use of improvisation gives this track a space rock vibe, but with a huge amount of experimentation involved. Also, all of the guests get a chance to solo on this and their performances were added to the track.

"Fractal Guitar" utilizes echoing and repeating patterns of 5 notes against a 9 / 8 meter established by the rhythm section to create a nice lush sound as patterns echo and fade as other patterns are established over them. As things continue, the rhythm builds in intensity, sounding more complex as it goes. Marcus later comes in with a rousing solo giving everything that Fripp-ian feel. Things calm down again just before the 6 minute mark as new echoing patterns and effects return.

In the track "Radiant Day", the bass pattern and the main guitar pattern are the same, except that the bass is twice as slow as the guitar and also played an octave lower and this creates an interesting and complex foundation. Shimmering guitars and effects play over the top of this, much of it played by Marcus with inspiration coming from Mike Oldfield's music.

"Urban Nightscape" is a new version of an older piece that Stephen has recorded before. It has a tricky part played by the bass that serves as the foundation and features a very odd meter, a fractal guitar part played in another meter, and has that automated and metallic feel of Discipline-era King Crimson. This is my favorite track on the album and has the perfect placement as the last track. Not only that, it is 17+ minutes of genius, powerful, rapid-fire delivery, screeching chords and feedback, heaviness, coldness, just perfection. The guitar solo is amazing! After 10 minutes, things start to break down slowly and after 12 minutes, the entire track turns into a beautiful soundscape.

No doubt that this is the work of a genius, but at times it can develop quite slowly. Things get a bit less interesting in the middle, but still showcase the talent and ingenuity, but I tend to lose my interest a little, but that last track is just plain awesomeness and makes the entire journey worthwhile. With repeated listenings, you start to catch things that you missed before and different moods can make certain sections more appealing that were not so noticeable before. This is a recommended album, and I definitely want to explore some of his other albums.

 Fractal Guitar by THELEN, STEPHAN album cover Studio Album, 2019
4.00 | 46 ratings

Fractal Guitar
Stephan Thelen RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Rivertree
Special Collaborator PSIKE Team & Band Submissions

4 stars Since knowing such staff being present, is there anybody out there who will seriously argue that this won't be another sophisticated prog effort? A bunch of experimental musicians is aboard here, surely a who-is-who. True to the album title the guitars rule, of course, represented by Stephan Thelen, Markus Reuter, Matt Tate, David Torn, Henry Kaiser, Barry Cleveland, Jon Durant and Bill Walker. The five songs are dominated by a looping flow with jamming character. No, not really a neo kraut rock affair. Somewhat close to the polyrhythmic Sonar sound, as one might expect, though not a simple copy-cat at all, as well provided with proper King Crimson and Stick Men ambience, amongst other influences.

Which means you definitely will recognize that Markus Reuter is involved as the co-producer. Now coming to the protagonist, STEPHAN THELEN is known for playing in the aforementioned band hailing from Switzerland, which recorded a studio album in collaboration with David Torn in 2018. Furthermore the band managed to schedule one impressive live gig at least, which was recorded and self-released under the title 'Live At Moods' in the same year. And in all conscience, with 'Fractal Guitar' Moonjune Records now have added another top notch album to the fold. Not sure though how to sum this up with words. Stylistically seen probably best described as eclectic space rock, or what? On top though comes the exceptional atmosphere.

I guess with intent it all starts a bit Pink Floyd feel-good reminiscent. The compositions are definitely accessible, on the other hand it will be an unusual experience for one or two, as the guitars are serving delay patterns based on odd time signatures. I really love their approach to let it flow with special ease. Yeah, the shortest song is knocking at the nine minute border. While two drummers are alternating, speaking of Benno Kaiser and Manuel Pasquinelli of Sonar fame, the rhythm branch varies in a pleasant manner with rock and jazz tendencies. Radiant Day turns out to be my favourite, what a wonderful inspiration, vibe and crystal clear production! 4.5 stars.

Thanks to nogbad_the_bad for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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