Stephan Thelen: The Second CirdecSongs Interview

Stephan Thelen has easily become one of my favorite musicians over the last decade. I first experienced his guitar brilliance with Sonar, an amazing quartet who took interlocking musical parts to the next level. I was reminded of the 80’s King Crimson and their methodology. But the first time I interviewed Stephan, he told me I was barking up the wrong tree. When it comes to King Crimson, he felt more connected to the 70’s band, which featured only one guitarist and a violin, rather than the two-guitar approach of the 80’s band. Shows what I know!

What really tickled me the first time we talked was learning that Stephan was a mathematics instructor. My first thought up on hearing this? “Of COURSE he is!” There is definitely formula to go with Stephan’s magnificent musical madness. But where most math sends me running into the streets in terror, the equations created by Sonar and on Stephan’s Fractal Guitar albums fascinated me to no end, even as I struggled to figure out how to count the time signature after the “one.”

Stephan took his compositional talents to the world of string quartets, creating a project called World Dialogue. Upon receiving the album, I wondered how long it would take me to figure Stephan wrote the music. It took about two bars. And it worked like nobody’s business! The same can be said for his recent projects with Joe Durant and J. Peter Schwalm. Stephan clearly has a knack as a collaborator, making his sounds fit in perfectly regardless of the format.

Now Stephan is part of a six-piece band called Fractal Sextet, who have just released their self-titled debut album. Once again you can hear the guitarist’s mark on the compositions, but he was quick to remind me that he was merely one-sixth of this particular musical equation. It’s rather poetic that he would explain his participation that way.

On a personal level, Stephan is a kind soul with a sly sense of humor. And while I didn’t have to tap that deeply into it (thank goodness), I get the feeling he has the patience of a saint. No doubt the byproduct of confusing all those students, to say nothing of creating or helping to create those compositions! I knew after speaking to him for the first time I would have to do it again. Luckily, I had the chance to do just that.

I sincerely thank Stephan Thelen for taking the time to be a part of this CirdecSongs interview.


Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell.

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