Music producer Conny Plank worked with major artists such as Kraftwerk, but he wanted nothing to do with U2

At some point he had had enough. The collaboration with the gentlemen of stature Karlheinz Stockhausen and Mauricio Kagel was beginning to irk him considerably. He found the music of the avant-garde composers artificial, not to say "lifeless". He would rather work as a recording technician at concerts of Marlene Dietrich and Duke Ellington's orchestra. With only one goal in mind. Saving money for his big dream. Konrad Plank was determined to convert a pig farm into a music studio in Wolperath, 35 km south of Cologne.

However, the story of Plank begins years before the completion of his studio in 1974. At that time, he worked as a sound technician at Westdeutscher Rundfunk, where he learned the tricks of the trade. Recording live performances was one of the many tasks for his employer. His work at the WDR also gave him the opportunity to work as a freelance producer. Plank increasingly met young musicians, some from art academies, who wanted to experiment with sound and music. He produced the nascent group Organisation, which later became known as Kraftwerk.


From the beginning, Plank employed a different approach. The moment musicians entered the studio, sometimes feeling awkward or nervous, he immediately reassured them with advice and by emphasizing artistic strengths. “I am not a musician, but a mediator between musician, sound, and tape. You can compare me to a conductor or a traffic cop,” he claimed. He soon came into contact with other bands breaking away from the popular schlager and English-language rock song in Germany. Plank did not limit himself to producing alone. He began to edit recordings in such a way that it seemed as if the music was being created on the spot.

Konrad became Conrad, or Conny, for intimates. Breeding ground for the budding legend: Conny’s Studio. Plank’s idiosyncratic studio techniques came at just the right time. With the young generation of musicians, Plank knew what to do. The all-round producer became a common factor that connected German groups because, and this is often overlooked, there was no sense of camaraderie among the musicians at the time.

Let alone something like a scene described at the time with the somewhat mocking name krautrock. Almost every major German city had its own exponent of this ‘movement’. Meanwhile, groups he frequently collaborated with grew into innovative and legendary ones: including Kraftwerk, Can, Cluster, Neu!, and Harmonia. Conny Plank can undoubtedly be considered one of the pioneers of the “genre”.

Album cover

Interestingly, he never worked with Faust, one of the most adventurous bands from the early seventies; the heyday of krautrock, which hailed from the far north. The avant-gardists of Faust were already self-willed; they couldn’t handle much outside interference. The ‘tontechniker’ Plank was involved in everything. Characteristic of his assertiveness was that this interference also occurred outside the doors of Conny’s Studio.

After seeing Andy Warhol’s banana cover for the Velvet Underground, he advised Kraftwerk to depict a traffic cone as a ‘bildhülle’ for their first albums. Following the footsteps of the pop-art artist, Plank also believed that the performer was less important than the power of ‘imaginary imagery’. Whether an album he recorded sold better because of it hardly interested him.


Like fellow producers George Martin, Phil Spector, and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Plank believed that he could only add value to music in the studio. Effects equipment, tone generators, and mixing panels were all tinkered with by himself. Thus, Plank grew into a sound magician of ‘klangfarben’. Motto: music had to evoke a state of mind. Soul and expressiveness were more important than musical ingenuity. “The producer’s task, apart from the technological aspect, is to create an atmosphere that is completely free from fear and reservation, to find a completely naive moment of ‘innocence’ and press the right button. That’s it. Everything else can be learned and is purely craft.”

By changing the sound perspective using distortion equipment, he managed to give the music a dramatic dynamic, making the records he ‘produced’ sound organic and layered. It was Plank who electronically reproduced the sound of passing cars in Kraftwerk’s Autobahn.

David Bowie

Wide recognition for his vision of the studio as a musical instrument arose when non-German bands also knocked on the door of Conny’s Studio: for example, Killing Joke, Ultravox, Eurythmics and Brian Eno. The latter saw in Plank and his views on the studio as an extension of musical tools a kindred spirit. He partially recorded his album Before And After Science with the craftsman. His influence was also undeniable on the albums Heroes and Low by David Bowie and Eno, famously a unique blend of rock, ambient, and experiment. Especially during the famous title track of Heroes, Bowie’s high vocal exclamations stand out against a texture of guitar and synthesizer distortions. Stimulating the listener with musical paradoxes proved to be one of Plank’s trademarks.


The encounter between Plank and Eno, who later collaborated with U2, resulted not only in a number of curious records with members of Cluster but also in an amusing anecdote. Eno admired his fellow craftsman so much that he wanted to leave the production of U2’s The Joshua Tree to the self-willed German. The Brit arranged a meeting between all involved, but after a few discussions and trial recordings, Plank left the studio empty-handed: “I can’t work with that singer.” He probably felt that the Irish band lacked a certain degree of madness. That was what he sought and pursued. “That hip-hop music from New York might sound appealing, but it’s not crazy enough for me. Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, that was madness.”

However, he asked for some time to think it over. At U2, they felt that it would turn out fine. Plank went to see a performance by the quartet at the Rockpalast Open Air Festival. There, Bono introduced Conny Plank to the audience as their new producer. This unexpected announcement did not sit well with him. Plank made his exit and wanted nothing more to do with U2 afterwards. The German was clearly not fond of fame and the egos that came with it. The few gold records he received for his work hung at his home in the bathroom.

Conny Plank passed away in December 1987 at the age of 47 from cancer. His famous studio was run for a while by his widow Christa, but after her death in 2006, it was sold to two English producers. The mixing panel made by Plank himself is currently in London and is still in use.

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Music. Movies. Books. Former writer for Dutch magazines Opscene, Heaven, Platenblad. Now Reporters Online. I wrote the book POSTPUNK HEDEN EN VERLEDEN (about British postpunk now and then).