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(Editions Mego; US: 25 Apr 2014; UK: Import)

Beautiful Noise

Whenever I listen to Fennesz, a distinct and powerful image unveils ahead of me. The Austrian experimentalist’s music unveils itself in a slow but sensual fashion like a nearby galaxy when its lights emerge from behind a nebula of gas and dust. The stars are bright enough for us to be able to see them, but the vast clouds radiating from the destruction of other bodies or their own dramatic creation make up a visual noise that is a colourful show in itself. This was particularly true with Fennesz’s Endless Summer, which came out in 2001 on Mego (now Editions Mego), and whose idea of pop was somehow discernible behind the static noise, the fuzz and the glitch that accompanied it. Some say that Bécs (the Hungarian word for Vienna, Christian Fennesz’s home city) is the natural continuation of that record, which is considered by many—probably those same people—as the artist’s masterpiece. True or not, this pipsqueak of a detail is of no importance to us, as 13 years and a myriad of albums, singles and collaborations later, the music has evolved and the overall approach is substantially different.

Bécs is a dense cloud of noise cluttered with minimal melodies timidly emerging from time to time, but whose brilliance remains present throughout the development of the album. Take “Liminality”, for instance:  it is a simple idea drenched in layers of chaos, but it is there, it doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t even make an effort to resurface. Its essence mutates through noise. If in Endless Summer, it was musicality which drove the sonic compound, in Bécs it is the noise that embellishes and forms the dynamic paths the harmony is enriched with. Ironically, this process makes the resulting ambience more accessible than ever, because no one moulds cacophony the way Fennesz does. Kristoffer Rygg (Ulver), once said of Fennesz that “he makes white noise sound like sunlight dappling in the Mediterranean,” and this clever remark echoes in our mind as we approach “‘Pallas Athene” or “Sav”.

With this in mind, one is left to wonder why the opener, “Static Kings”, lives a life of its own, with The Cure-esque moving melody delicately brushed by the buzzing mechanics which, as we mentioned, lead the album by mutating its melodies. This is just an illusion—and probably the only real connection with Endless Summer—which is forgotten as soon as the album’s tenets are rolled out by the following “Liar”. Surprisingly, Fennesz is not alone in this battle against the predictability of pop, and fellow experimentalists like Martin Brandlmayr of Radian and Tony Buck of that glorious trio known as The Necks contribute to his dream made up of guitars and loops, feedback and static turbulences, shoegazing and The Beach Boys, discipline and chaos.

This is an album that takes its own time to unfold, one whose very nature is such that it can be understood only by listening to it in its entirety. Each track is a distinctive vision of the same image, captured from a different perspective. Minimalism is temporarily set aside in favor of a pop imagery filtered through a vast cloud of gaudy disturbance that is indeed an essential part of the whole picture. This is no easy music, but at the same time it is experimentalism made accessible through the artist’s cunning methods. It captivates and betrays the listener who, unaware of the deceitful plan, falls victim of the most heinous crime in art:  representation through deconstruction.


Alex Franquelli is a freelance journalist and writer. He focuses on Mongolia and North-East Asian politics and ethnomusicology. Find him on twitter @alexfranquelli

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