J. Peter Schwalm & Stephan Thelen with Transneptunian Planets - Out on RareNoiseRecords, June 3
The demotion of Pluto remains a topic of controversy more than a decade and a half later, but the now dwarf planet is hardly alone way out on the fringes of our Solar System. On their first collaboration, Transneptunian Planets, electro-acoustic composer J. Peter Schwalm and guitarist/composer/mathematician Stephan Thelen journey beyond the beyond to draw inspiration from the outer limits of the cosmos.
Transneptunian Planets further evolves the already innovative body of work that both Schwalm and Thelen have created for the label. Schwalm’s relationship with RareNoise began in 2016 with the release of his entrancing album The Beauty of Disaster, followed by the sound sculptures of 2018’s How We Fall and continued through collaborations with electro-jazz trio Chat Noir, Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen and guitarist Markus Reuter.
Thelen first came to RareNoise in 2018 with Vortex, which combined his minimalist quartet Sonar with the expansive guitarist David Torn. Two more meetings, Tranceportation Volume 1 and Volume 2, followed over the next two years. Under his own name, Thelen released World Dialogue in late 2020, collecting a decade’s worth of his contemporary classical compositions performed by the renowned Kronos Quartet and Al Pari Quartet.
Transneptunian Planets was built on a back and forth communication between the two composers, with each given complete freedom to build on, transform or mutate the other’s contribution. The music is also enriched by contributions from Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset and British bassist Tim Harries, both regular collaborators of Schwalm’s, and Swiss drummer Manuel Pasquinelli, Thelen’s bandmate in Sonar.
The instigation for the collaboration came from RareNoise founder Giacomo Bruzzo, who suggested that Schwalm and Thelen might discover some fertile common ground. “I think the idea was that we could combine my 'architectural' way of using polyrhythms with J. Peter's dystopian soundworlds, ” explains Thelen. A meeting over coffee was soon arranged in Schwalm’s native Frankfurt, where Thelen visits often.
“We immediately connected on many levels, ” Thelen says. Adds Schwalm, “We actually already developed the first ideas during that conversation. Stephan was very open and also very goal oriented. I had suggested that we give each other creative space and ‘permission’ to dismantle each other's contributions, and also not to fall into grids that we both might already have been in.”
Plans were made to enter the studio together in May 2021, but like so many other notions over the past couple of years, the idea was disrupted by the pandemic. Transneptunian Planets was thus crafted with files sent over the internet. The communication began with the piece now known as “Haumea, ” initiated by Thelen, with synth tracks added by Schwalm, and so on, eventually resulting in the mysterious and mesmerizing form the piece finally assumed.
“It was important for both of us to put together two opposite musical worlds and to use the first ideas and subsequent results as further inspiration for further material, ” says Schwalm. “We needed to keep all channels open mentally so that something could come about that neither of us have done before… It was important to both of us that we didn't get stuck in one key and that the freedom of the artist should be the top priority.”
That attempt was ultimately successful, as Thelen points out. “This album turned out to be very unique, different from anything that J. Peter or I have done before – or anyone else for that matter. And yet, you can clearly hear our individual voices.”
The same applies to the guest contributors, each of whom adds their singular voice to the mix. Aarset in particular adds strange and heady elements to the already densely layered mix. “Eivind's playing is so expressive, ” lauds Thelen. “I find it fascinating how strong the emotional impact of his glitchy and distorted sounds can be.” Schwalm continues, “Like a solo singer, he flew over the basic structures of Stephan and I in a way I had never experienced before. He's the element that was needed to give this project even more craziness.”
All of the tracks are named for celestial objects drifting out past the eighth planet. The convention began when Schwalm contributed the basic tracks for album closer “Eris” and “Sedna” with those titles, which Thelen rushed to look up. “I found out that they are both names for objects of the Solar System beyond Neptune (like the former planet Pluto) and had the idea that we could name the pieces according to these 'Transneptunian Planets', ” the guitarist explains. “J. Peter immediately liked the idea because a faraway, mysterious and unknown planet was the perfect analogy for every piece that we had created together.”
That’s true from the opening moments of “Pluto, ” where a grinding industrial rhythm is soon enshrouded by ethereal atmospherics, evocative guitar patterns and mechanical eruptions. Harries and Pasquinelli lock into a steamroller groove that carries the listener through the track with the implacable momentum of a conveyor belt. “MakeMake” is punctuated by volcanic eruptions and cyborg vocal incantations, while “Quaoar” time travels between the tribal past and the interstellar future. “GongGong” takes that notion into a primeval techno/trance feel, while “Orcus” drifts free of gravity in a dub-inspired ether.
Like Pluto, the Transneptunian Planets may not technically be planets – but does it really matter how you define these massive, majestic objects, further from us than we can imagine but still linked to a region of the universe that we consider home. The same can be said for the music made by J. Peter Schwalm and Stephan Thelen – intimate and vast, alien yet enticing, foreboding yet endlessly inviting for the exploratory listener.
1. Pluto** 5. Orcus*
2. MakeMake * 6. GongGong
3. Quaoa 7. Sedna
4. Haumea** 8. Eris*
J. Peter Schwalm – synths, voice, live treatments,
electronic percussion & programming
Stephan Thelen – guitars, keyboards, granular synth & programming
Eivind Aarset – guitars, e-bow, effects
Tim Harries – bass guitar
Manuel Pasquinelli – drums, percussion
Nell Catchpole – voice samples on “Sedna”
Written by J. Peter Schwalm & Stephan Thelen (Edition Outshine / Universal Music, SUISA) except * by J. Peter Schwalm (Edition Outshine / Universal Music) and ** by J. Peter Schwalm & Stephan Thelen & Eivind Aarset (Edition Outshine / Universal Music, SUISA, TONO)
Recorded May 2020 - August 2021 in Frankfurt am Main, Zürich, Oslo, London.
Mixed by J. Peter Schwalm @ Mainsound / Frankfurt am Main.
Drums recorded @ Powerplay Studio A in Maur near Zürich.
Vinyl mastering by Serge Christen www.mazzivesound.ch
Produced by J. Peter Schwalm and Stephan Thelen
Executive Producer for RareNoiseRecords Giacomo Bruzzo.
CD, LP AND MULTIPLE DIGITAL FORMATS AVAILABLE IN STORES AND ONLINE ON JUNE 3, 2022 AND THROUGH WWW.RARENOISERECORDS.COM