Christian Fennesz is an Austrian electronic, noise and ambient producer who has defined and transformed these genres for over 20 years. Revered as one of the most innovative and versatile electronic musicians of our time, he really is in a league of his own. Raised and still based in Vienna, Fennesz reports to have found great solace and inspiration from the wind that endlessly swept the valley of his home. Indeed, his music often embodies just that – layer upon layer of shape-shifting melody, beaten endlessly down by droning overlay and unpredictability. He is the sound of a sandstorm tossing blinded, desperate songbirds through the air, or of a drowned wind-up charm as it sinks slowly to the bottom of the sea. He at once embodies steadfast artistic consistency with unrelenting change, where every sound and texture was conjured uniquely by him, to be used for a specific musical moment alone, never to be heard again.
Offering probably the greatest solo live performance I’ll ever see, Fennesz demonstrated true mastery of his instruments, intensely scanning his computer and studio-sized soundboard, generating and altering an immersive synthetic density while driving essential guitar-based accentuations through the fog. He rocked back and forth with a near-possessed look upon his face, like a zealot just moments away from enlightenment. Upon finishing his 1-hour non-stop set, the crowd sat in prolonged silence, seemingly for fear of cursing the molecular arrangement of the air. Fennesz sincerely apologized for his many “errors” during the set, to which one audience member simply returned, “Please, play more.”
Since 1995, Fennesz has amassed an amazing collection of work. Starting as a noise artist, he remained off the beaten path, steadily expanding his repertoire throughout the initial releases. Perhaps best known for his version of a pop record, 2001’s “Endless Summer”, this work secured his place in the music world and is an essential demonstration of his abilities. However, it’s in the 2004 follow-up “Venice” that I believe Fennesz found his masterpiece. With some of the greatest electronic songs to be heard, “Venice” is an absolute triumph of vision and execution. 2008’s “Black Sea” is perhaps less immediately accessible, but continues with his dedicated experimentation and innovation in engineering. 2014 broke a 6-year LP-hiatus with “Bécs”, a beautifully-wrought guitar-heavy return to his take on pop-influenced songwriting.
Furthering his versatility, Fennesz is a prolific collaborator with a large variety of musicians in studio and live performance – from the piano mastery of Ryuichi Sakamoto, to the raw and fragile croons of the late Sparklehorse, to the spasmodic insanity of Mike Patton, to the live soundtracking of a ballet performance (and literally dozens more), his diversity knows no bounds. Hacking covers and remixes into something wholly indistinguishable from the original, it never ceases to impress and perplex how it is Fennesz must approach and perceive music. Despite this, he offers incredibly simple, purist opinions when inquired, almost as though his music is the only thing that makes clear, logical sense. In a recent interview, Fennesz discussed how listeners sometimes state difficulty in finding the path connecting his interpretations, so he played an unreleased version of his 1998 originally-instrumental cover of The Beach Boys “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)”, featuring the magic of Brian Wilson’s vocals to guide the listeners’ ears. I have to say, I join much of his fan base in my inability to completely understand his soundscapes, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming my very favourite electronic artist and a cherished, quintessential component of why I love music. Update: Enlisting frequent collaborator Jim O’Rourke, Fennesz recently released 2-track LP “It’s Hard For Me To Say I’m Sorry”. Again, perhaps with the ear of a music master I might be able to find hints of Chicago buried throughout, but to me it simply sounds like the usual intensity and elegance that emanates from Fennesz’s mind. You can listen on label Editions Mega’s YouTube.