Harmonious Thelonious Talking Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Konono No.1 meets Steve Reich for a sweaty techno all-nighter.

Louis Pattison 2010

Harmonious Thelonious is the current nom de plume for one Stefan Schwander, a Dusseldorf-based musician and DJ who remains best known for his minimal techno productions of the late-90s and early-00s under the name Antonelli. Debuting in 2008, the Thelonious name signals interest in a quite different field of dancefloor investigation. In capsule, it’s a fusion, and a pretty simple one: a blend of live-sounding African percussion with the repetitive melodic motifs of American minimalist composition; or, if you’d rather, Konono No.1 meets Steve Reich for a sweaty techno all-nighter.

Obviously, this is hardly the first time that African music and classical minimalism have come together – indeed, composers such as Reich drew much early inspiration from the likes of Balinese Gamelan. But Talking takes a pleasingly focused, rhythmic approach to its melding of forms, obviously keen to emulate the ecstatic, trance-like peaks of an African djembé troupe, but conscious too to retain a sturdy 4/4 techno backbone that can be slipped in and out of a mix with ease.

Tautological Speakers opens with a revolving three-note chime that’s rough and distorted like Konono’s electric likembes, and slowly takes on mass through a number of deft and subtle maneuvers: another interlocking layer of melody, an almost imperceptible shift in a tempo, a twist of the filters, a change of key, and then finally, a bass drum drop that lifts the whole thing skywards. The excellent Mokamo, meanwhile, locks into an upbeat march, polyrhythmic percussion and a background cacophony of whistles and yells lending the track a live, organic feel.

Said formulas are more or less repeated over and over throughout the album, which isn’t necessarily a problem – it works, so one might as wear it out. But there’s a gem left right for the very end in the shape of Verwobene Muziek, a delightful closer that scales back the minimalist patterning for a melodic, carnival feel, concluding Talking on a sunny high.

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