The Music of Thomas Fanger and Michael Kersten
(by Bradford Warner, SoundDesign)
Two German musicians. Two music projects. The sounds and influences of two time periods meld, twirl, and even shine. This is Mind-Flux. This is Fanger & Kersten. Thomas Fanger and Michael Kersten began one of the most exciting progressive groups in the past decade by using the trance flavored styles and sounds of 70s electronic music with the beats and textures of 90s trance. This was only the beginning, however. Over the next half decade, Mind-Flux would sonically venture into moody ambiance, ear-catching polyrhythms, and continued evolution of the art of purposeful sequencing. Fanger states that his fascination with new instrumental music began by hearing Tangerine Dream's album Rubycon (1975). The sound was fresh, new, and seemed to hold incredible promise. After hooking up with Michael Kersten in the late 1970s, the two artists began to move from improvisation to more high-tech based sequencing and editing. This allowed a new level of effects and production, not to mention a whole new level of complexity in their compositions. They incorporated some of the energy of techno and dance beats by the late 80s, and began to mix this energy with the hypnotic styles of earlier electronic-based music. By the mid 1990s, they were signed to one of the world's leading new instrumental labels, Innovative Communication and finally, their music would be able to reach a truly international audience. Their debut album, Trancefloor, is subtitled "The Resurrection of Hypnotic Energy" and without being trendy or derivative, they made that resurrection a reality. They have even had the energy for a side-project entitled Fanger & Kersten, with two studio albums. Their first Fanger & Kersten album, Script, is remarkable, not due to some new technological breakthrough or avant-garde construction, but because it achieves what so much electronic music lacks--soul. The album succeeds in the way groups such as Depeche Mode have--by creating acoustic short stories you want to hear again and again. Both artists are committed to exploring new musical style and sounds. A few songs off their latest album, Kontinuum, mix the techno-pop feel of Kraftwerk by interplaying crisp rhythms and vocoder enhanced vocals. The title track, Fanger divulges, was actually the last composition added the album. Its lyrics concerning the relationship of time and space are not out of character for progressive or "space" music, but they have a truly entertaining quality here as well. The group realizes "what's the point of listening if you don't enjoy it?" At the same time, Fanger knows he and Kersten could be trendy and very successful by just sitting back and mixing improvised spacey sequences and dance loops. But why ask these two sonic voyagers to give us remakes, when they could take us places we've never heard before? We connected with Thomas Fanger this fall in the hopes of gaining more insight into their past, present, and future.
Mind-Flux and Fanger & Kersten may be the same duo of musicians, but they diverge musically despite both being electronic oriented projects. What do you see as some of the major differentiating stylistic or aesthetic elements?
It is not that easy for me as an artist to make 100% reliable and evident statements about our music. But anyway I will give it a try: Mind-Flux is more conceptual, it's about electronic "purity." It's also more about the fascination of the future and its technological developments and the fascination of electronic music machines.
The sound of Fanger & Kersten is more intimate. We do use the same electronic equipment, but to me Fanger & Kersten is more "acoustic." But as we do not want to put labels on our own music, please don't complain if our next releases do not fit in the above mentioned categories.
What events led to your signing on the prestigious label Innovation Communication?
That's a simple one. In 1993 we sent out demo tapes to various electronic labels. These demo tapes included early versions of the Trancefloor tracks. By the way, the working title for Trancefloor was "Rubicon Transfer." Among several other label people Mark Sakautzky of IC/Digit called and told me that Mr. Weisser and Mr. Sakautzky did like our music and the new approach towards electronic sounds. At that time, IC/Digit was also looking for new artists working with "modern" beat and trance elements. As IC was interested in a long-time partnership, we decided to go with IC because we really wanted to have enough time to evolve our music without any commercial pressure.
A few songs on your latest studio album "Kontinuum" have been said to have a Kraftwerk-like feel to them in part. Was this intentional or just another iteration of the Mind~Flux sound?
We see ourselves as sort of electronic explorers. And the more electro style tracks are just another segment extending the Mind-Flux sound continuum. We are just traveling further and further trying to explore different worlds of our electronic galaxy. This segment or world is more about clear structures than about floating spacey sound bubbles. But there are too many different species living in our electronic galaxy, so for us it doesn't make sense to concentrate only on one style segment.
Mind~Flux has moved from the more techno-influenced tempos of "Trance Floor" to more subdued rhythms and even some incredible poly-rhythms such as those in the song "Destination Unknown." Where do you see future works moving rhythmically?
Yes, Trancefloor was really fast compared to Kontinuum. Today we prefer more relaxed and subtle grooves. I think we will continue to experiment with rhythmical structures. We just started the work on the new Mind-Flux album, and I am sure you will find some surprises on it. I don't want to say too much because we are still in the state of experimenting with new structures and elements, but don't be afraid, it shall definitely be Mind-Flux style.
What "rare tracks" are floating out there by Mind~Flux or Fanger and Kersten such as compilation tracks, singles, etc.?
Not that many rare tracks are available on CD, e.g. there is an earlier Fanger and Kersten "New Times" version (peace mix) available on a compilation CD made especially for a Manikin concert night in Berlin. Also two unreleased F&K tracks are floating out there: "No Jacuzzi" (Sequences magazine CD) and "Tapedriver" (GoldTri Vol.1). On the sold out vinyl remix edition of Trancefloor called "Brain Diva" there were two tracks not available on any Mind-Flux CD: "Headache" and "RT 3." But most of the rare tracks are still locked in our tape archive, such as live material, unreleased studio material or album tracks in different mixes. Maybe one day we will find an adequate way to release this stuff.
Some of the songs on the Fanger and Kersten debut "Script" establish really smooth grooves without using jazz or R&B stylistics. Do you think these electrogrooves provide a nice platform for solos, voice, or even acoustic instrumentation?
I think these kind of grooves provide a better platform for long synth solos than minimalistic multi-layer shifting sequencer patterns, because the listener can concentrate on the performance of the solo voices. If we talk about integrating some acoustic parts as well or maybe even more jazzy elements, I believe Fanger & Kersten or a new project would be the platform to do this, not Mind-Flux.
On the doorstep of a new millennium, where would the two of you like to see some music exploration take place?
So much interesting music exploration is already taking place, but there is no appropriate mass media platform to make it available to a larger audience. As long as radio and TV stations follow the needs of major music companies, I think there is little hope that music beyond the mainstream will become very popular, although the Internet has already helped to establish a communication and information platform for "underground" music lovers all around the world. Most radio people are caught in a self-fulfilling prophecy loop; they think they cannot play music like ours in the prime time because it's not mass compatible and as the music is not played on the radio, less people buy it, and so it seems to be less commercial and mass compatible.