Somnambule - Writing About Music

eRikm & Fennesz ~ Complementary Contrasts Donaueschingen 2003

eRikm is a prolific musician who has collaborated with the likes of musique concrete composer Luc Ferrari and avant turntablist Christian Marclay. However, he’s probably rather less well-known than his partner here, Christian Fennesz, whose Endless Summer has captured the imaginations of many. Those looking to explore further the melodic possibilities of that work might do best to steer clear of this release which explores the possibilities of sound distanced from traditional musical properties. Listeners familiar with the sort of ambient forms created by the likes of Thomas Koner, the grittier, arhythmic elements of Matmos or the output of Farmers Manual may feel more at ease though. Complementary Contrasts Donaueschingen divides roughly between two studio pieces and three tracks recorded in concert. Given a blindfold test, though, it would be impossible to tell which were which.

The performance begins with what sounds like an uncontrolled electrical signal, its voltage almost certainly lethal. The signal pulses menacingly, its rhythm quickly mutating. There are metallic overtones and an accompanying percussive sound, as if something were pounding upon an electric guitar’s strings. There’s a strong sense of intertwining performances here, a sense of duetting far removed from traditional musical interaction. Despite the proliferation of genres and sub-genrres, it does seem that there’s a lack of agreed terms when it comes to naming this... what to call it? The term Noise on its own is too redolent of uniform, scree-like static and these performances are too active, too variegated for that. Perhaps Abstract Electronic Soundscape might be a fairly appropriate shortform description, however ungainly. Abstract: although music is generally revered as the most abstract of artforms, it’s very easy to perceive popular and classical music’s clear rhythms and melodic motifs as figuration. Electronic: there’s precious little here that would exist away from mains voltage. And Soundscape because the overall arc of this work conjures a sense of largescale form, as if negotiating valleys, mines, cities and the like. That’s not to say that eRikm and Fennesz make sweeping, generalised statements. Quite the opposite: Complementary Contrasts Donaueschingen is actively detailed, there’s a lot to hear and assimilate.

Listening to this cd prompts one to question what the most useful response to it is. There’s the possibility to use analogy (the sound is like a cold winter dawn in an over-industrialised part of eastern Europe); or to savour and describe in detail particular elements (the geiger-like pitter-patter that’s so brief it’s almost not there, like the individual prick of discomfort when experiencing pins and needles), and there’s the opportunity to cite and compare (how B.J. Nilsen and Christof Kurzmann are exploring similar territory). Perhaps silence is the listener’s best response to such activity. Then, almost immediately one experiences the impulse to argue, think and respond. That’s the particular strength of these sounds, to dislodge the listener from easy assumptions, familiar patterns – to cause him/her to think. If so, it’s very successful. This work may be seen as a contemporary practice not dissimilar to that of Russolo’s Intonarumori though perhaps with different intent. Though continuing to be sound in and of itself, the final minutes of the concert recording consist of a beautiful, elegiac wall of noise that summarily contradicts (or concentrates) all that precedes it (and most of what has been written here).
Colin Buttimer
January 2005
Published by Milkfactory