Somnambule - Writing About Music

Fennesz ~ Venice

Christian Fennesz is probably best known for 2001’s Endless Summer, an album of processed reflections on a bestselling album by the Beach Boys. This external focus, together with the deployment of guitar as primary instrumentation and the melodic undertow of the compositions, was perceived to set him apart from legions of glitch musicians working to a minimal, computer-based aesthetic. Such a view may be something of an exaggeration given that glitch, like breakbeat before it, is a viral entity which has already infected a wide range of musics. Whatever, there have been a number of Fennesz releases in the intervening years, but Venice will inevitably be viewed as the heir to Endless Summer. Both releases certainly share a sense of sunny warmth perhaps less familiar to their north European siblings.

Melody, depth and transparency are themes to be teased out, unwrapped or briefly spied here. Fennesz appears to be gradually approaching an essentialism which, although made up of a relatively limited number of parts, actively refuses reductivism. The experience of listening to most of these twelve pieces might be compared to the act of viewing from a distance a series of Monet’s weather and light studies (the Haystacks, the Poplars or Rouen Cathedral). The longer the gaze is maintained, the more the colours vibrate and the forms shimmer between abstraction and figuration. The lack of any form of overt rhythmic instrumentation further underlines this impression by causing the music to float like a mirage or apparition.

David Sylvian makes a sudden, declarative appearance on eighth track ‘Transit’, his voice rich and high in the mix. Fennesz’s approach appears to be that of a jewel-setter and it’s undeniably a beautiful piece of work to behold whether or not you’re a fan of Sylvian’s lyrics and delivery. It might however have become something else had there been a little less reverence and a little more of the emphatic manipulation and shredding which Fennesz applies to his own guitar. Even so, it’s certainly a courageous decision to host a single vocal track within an otherwise instrumental album - encountering that signature voice immediately redefines the memory and experience of the tracks which precede it and thus the whole album. It’s a compliment to the power of Fennesz’s music that the more the album is heard the more ‘Transit’ settles in alongside its instrumental peers and ‘Venice’ recovers its equilibrium like a boat initially in danger of capsizing.

The cover bears five photographs by Jon Wozencroft, each of which deals with water, surfaces and light. The images are reminiscent of cropped postcards, their colours rich but their arrangement lacking a defining subject to draw the eye and resolve the composition. A similar interpretation may be applied to Fennesz’s music where shimmering layers of noise either obscure the subject or accumulate to become the subject themselves. The reference to postcards also finds an analogue in the relative brevity of the majority of the pieces here: it’s as though they’re synopses posted from other places and states of being.
Colin Buttimer
April 2004
Published by the BBC