Touch has reissued a digipak version of Fennesz’s first studio album for Touch, previously released as a jewel case in 1999. [There was prior to that a deluxe edition of 1000 copies in landscape art format, which sold out immediately.] It has been out of print for a couple of years. The audio remains the same, the imagery uses the location shots from the deluxe edition.
Touch # TO:40
CD – 8 tracks – 37:45
This is Christian Fennesz’s 2nd solo full album after the highly acclaimed ‘Hotel Paral.lel’ (Mego 16). He also released ‘fenneszPLAYS’, a 3″ CD originally issued by Mego but now on Jim O’Rourke’s new label, Moikai. Fennesz has also made various contributions to compilation CDs, including the awesome ‘Surf’ on ‘DECAY’ (Ash International 3.9) and is a member of MIMEO, fixed line up orchestra alongside Keith Rowe, Kaffe Matthews, Jerome Noetinger, Phil Durrant, Peter Rehberg, Thomas Lehn, Rafael Toral, Gert Jan Prins, Cor Fuhler, Markus Wettstein, and Markus Schmickler. He has also released a live CD on Touch, # TO:CDR3. ‘plus forty seven degrees 56′ 37″ minus sixteen degrees 51’ 08″‘ was recorded in his garden in Austria in July and August 1999; the photographs in the booklet by Jon Wozencroft embroider this.
I remember reading on the release of DJ Shadow’s seminal Endtroducing (you remember, before he lost the plot) that the producer was the “Jimmy Hendrix of the sampler.” This may have been true, but if Shadow was the Jimmy Hendrix of the sampler then surely Christian Fennesz must be the Jimmy Hendrix of the humble laptop? He’s certainly the rock star that the electronic community was always waiting for, and with 2004’s Venice he captured the hearts and minds of more than just the horn-rimmed, beard stroking elitists and surprisingly did it without losing his core fanbase. Of course, with any success comes re-issues of prior work, but in Fennesz’s case it’s a worthwhile venture even though many of us bearded folk will have shelf or hard drive space filled with these tracks already. Those expecting the harmonic, tear-jerking near-pop of his more recent work though might be surprised to find a barrage of crushing electronic noise, but underneath the snap, crackle and pop of a faulty firewire cable is something altogether more arresting. The ‘songs’ are disguised carefully, and over repeat listens gradually reveal themselves, showing slowly their distinct melodic characteristics. Released back in 1999, I’ve had a while to digest Plus Forty Seven Degrees 56′ 37 Minus Sixteen Degrees 51’08, and to strip back the Pita-patented crumbles to open up that lilting heart. Deep down there is a record of almost shoegazing proportions, something which surely influenced the newer wave of noisy ambient producers such as Tim Hecker and Aidan Baker but one which has the mathematical chops of anything Raster Noton might eulogise over. With this record Fennesz created a milestone in electronic noise music, and an album that has possibly even more relevance now, almost ten years on, than it did on its original release. [JT]
2008 Edition. Christian Fennesz is an artist who I’m sure needs little or no introduction. Since the runaway success of his ‘Endless Summer’ album he has gone from strength to strength with a following that defies the musical field in which he operates. Hell, as if producing for David Sylvian wasn’t odd enough he even ended up on the last Sparklehorse album. This rather lengthily titled album came out back in 1999 when he was merely a name on the lips of Wire reviewers and antisocial crate fondlers, but was a startling sign that something truly amazing was happening over in Vienna (besides great baking). Using a laptop and a guitar Fennesz conjured up cracking distorted passages of sound, somewhere in between the ear-piercing noise of the Mego label (who Fennesz also managed to notch up releases on) and the glorious harmonic drones more readily associated with Touch. However this was not only electronic music, what Fennesz had done was blend these sounds with the distorted guitar rock he had grown up on and chanced upon a sound that owed as much to My Bloody Valentine as to Hecker. ‘Plus Forty Seven Degrees 56′ 37 Minus Sixteen Degrees 51’08’ might not have the instant appeal of ‘Venice’ for instance, but give it time and it reveals great and beautiful depths – this is an album that once it hooks you in rarely gives you the chance to wrestle yourself free. Quite unnervingly gorgeous music…
Created using field recordings of his backyard and signature guitar playing, this CD shows Christian Fennesz taking a different approach from the fragmented and cracked pop treatments of “hotel paral.lel” and “Plays”. Far subtler and more abstract, melody is hinted at, but never achieved, buried beneath layers of sound. Any resemblence to the source material is obliterated, yet each sound somehow retains some vague, inherent qualities Beautifully designed with photography by Jon Wozencroft. [JZ]
RECORDED IN his back garden using a Powerbook and a mixing desk, fennesz’ second album ‘plus forty seven degrees 56′ 37″ minus sixteen degrees 51’ 08″‘ (Touch) is an object lesson in just how far out there you can go with a little technology. Through layering, shaping and distorting sounds fennesz has created an intensely varied, often disjointed slice of outre electronica that encompasses mesmeric textures, harsh frequencies and churning sheets of noise. Recommended listening for anyone with an interest in the sonic manipulations of Oval, Pan Sonic or the Mego label, who released fennesz’s ‘Hotel Paral.lel’ debut. [Andrew Carden]
Created using field recordings of his backyard and signature guitar playing, this CD shows Mego artist Christian Fennesz taking a different approach from the fragmented and cracked pop treatments of “hotel paral.lel” and “Plays”. Far subtler and more abstract, melody is hinted at, but never achieved, buried beneath layers of sound. Any resemblence to the source material is obliterated, yet each sound somehow retains some vague, inherent qualities Beautifully designed with photography by Jon Wozencroft. [JZ]
Herr Fennesz released his first solo album ‘Hotel Paral.lel’ on Mego. Earlier this year his CD Single of covers of the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys came out on Moikai, and he’s been busy contributing tracks to compilations and performing as one of the laptop gang. [He won a prize at Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria this year, which I discovered in the press release, he promptly broke in protest ‘of the festival organiser’s bias towards sponsor politics’. A man of danger, obviously. Still this sort of petulant behaviour has to happen at least once during the lifetime of any festival, I suppose. Personally I think that if he’d slowly squatted down on it until it completely disappeared, he – and it – would have made a more lasting impression. I mean, even Marlon Brando can bite the face off an Oscar, for God’s sake. Never mind, I just wish this sort of redundant behaviour wasn’t used to advertise to what marvellous and subtle heights human expression can rise.] Rather leave it to the things we manifest to display our brilliance, for these are infinitely more refined than we can ever hope to be. This new CD by Christian Fennesz is just such a beauty spot on the face of Pulchritude. Basic material was apparently recorded in his back garden – you can find out where he lives by using the map coordinates which are the title – using a Powerbook and a small mixing table. I’m not sure if the sounds themselve are all manipulations of natural sound events – doesn’t really matter actually – this CD is a recording of a garden somewhere. A strange one, for sure, as some small creepy thing might hear it – resplendent, with microaudible made macroaudible, where sprinklers roar and scuffed gravel becomes an avalanche. The creaking arc of blades of grass straining towards the light, the soft hiss of dew chasing the sun. The murmurs of dirt, the stretching of stone and falling leaves crash like a gun. A terse 38’00 of shimmering, swirling electronic sound. A perfect length as it has to be played again immediately. Mysterious and pure. [Mark Poysden]
Of the names associated with Austria’s Mego label, Christian Fennesz is the one who has tapped most into the legacy of psychedelic and industrial music and the resources of organic noise production. Here he takes the standard Mego language of needling synthetic tones, random clicks, buzzes and electronic blisters, and fuses them into a fluid rush of energy. If at times the results recall Merzbow, it’s nothing to do with the scale and density of the noise, but more the rhythm of cutting and collapsing between streaming bodies of sound. As vibrant as this music becomes with the friction of speeding numbers and fine-tuned acid fugues, it remains inventively lucid. Much of the disc is rollercoaster stuff: digital psychedelia, speedfreak agitation, virtuososound derailments. A more tranquil track shows that he can alter the configuration too; it has the hushed spirituality of Arvo Part meditation heard beyond the burning rim of a bleached and blasted foreground.
What sticks in the ear is the clarity with which he shifts between different swathes and bandwidths of noise. From moment to moment what you catch feels like a pinball machine, a child’s electronic toy, a rasping insect, a fax, or simply the abstract whirr of digital information &endash; all caught up in an articulate but pressured streamline.
Would you pay listening to the microscopic world with telescopic ears? No, not a micro-nature documentary we’re talking about, at least not an ordinary one. Austrian musician Christian Fennesz, who’s long known for his experiments with the electric guitar here presents 8. pieces of sonic mastery, totally entitled with the coordinates of his home, which he used as an abundant sound-source. “Plus Forty 56’37” Seven Degrees Minus Sixteen Degrees 51’08″” is a boiling pot of noisescapes which are distilled from the micro sound-universe of Mr. Fennesz’s backgarden and processed in a powerbook and mixing desk – a brilliant example of proggression without being engaged to equipment fetishism. What he achieved is a meshwork of drebbling, rattling, pulsating and squelching noises, which are often washed with thick streams of icy echoes or backed by microwave swarms. The often disjointed organization of soundwebs can be connected to the Japanoise school but in regards of saturation the sounds do not surpass a certain limit. A pure and profound release that sticks a new definition to naturalism. [M.Y.]
Weekly Dig (USA):
Ambient synthesis and experimentation comes in many forms, ranging from syncopated gentle humming sounds with minimal beats to noisy atmospherics seemingly of extraterrestrial origin. Christian Fennesz, armed with only Powerbook and guitar, conceived his latest astral-ambient experimental piece in the comfort and privacy of his own backyard. The 8 tracks, obscure in nature and designated only by spatial numeric sequences like 010, 011, 012, 013 etc., offer a unique perspective of man and machine in a natural setting. The music itself contains soothing, minimalist segments, seamlessly recorded in a real-time fashion without noticeable breaks or interruption. Very reminiscent of early work produced by Robin Rimbaud a.k.a Scanner and solo material, Fennesz becomes the human link where terrestrial and celestial become one, as fragmented minimalist sound structures provide the dimly lit path Fennesz now walks. [Alkemist]
Why is Vienna’s Christian Fennesz one of the most widely respected and imitated guitarists of his generation? His notion of using new technology to reinvent an old instrument isn’t unique in and of itself. But few execute these ambitions with the sparkling musicality that marks Fennesz’s self-sampled computer-and-guitar treatments. Guitar may be the last thing to come to mind as coruscating wavebreaks, torrents of resampled sound, and crystalline glitch showers pour forth from Fennesz’s second album. Yet six strings and a Powerbook are the sole sources of the sonic phenomena Fennesz conjures on +475637 -165108. Even as sounds are drastically crunched, compressed, and rejiggered, the lushness and luminance of Fennesz’s compositions go against the sterile anti-nature of computerized synthesis. The eight untitled tracks resemble sensitive, telescopic recordings of rainforest insect life or natural atmospheric occurrences, not calculated computer-lab findings. This inherent naturalism extends to the warm, lifelike pulses that find their way into each piece. Fittingly, +475637 -165108 takes its title from the coordinates of Fennesz’s backyard garden, the site of the open-air studio where these tracks were created.
City Newspaper (USA):
Imagine the electric guitar severed from cliché and all of its physical limitations, shaping a bold new musical language. Based in Vienna, Austria, Christian Fennesz sources all of his sounds from an electric guitar and takes the instrument into completely new territory. An articulate rush of cracked ambiance, digitalia, and musical malfunction. See also: Second by Chicago’s Kevin Drumm on Perdition Plastics, and, in 2000, Insulation by Australia’s Oren Ambarchi on Touch.
Data torn apart becomes new, different data. Cut and paste in a format of sound…sometimes just paste, paste, paste. 014 – that’s no vapours, that’s a single cover. A plank. Made of nails and full of fluff. Surfaces appear from everywhere and change into a great rustling which is whirling in itself, compressed and dense. When there’s suddenly quiet, then there’s nothing. Nothing. Other tracks are made of angles. Thousands of angles which never become a circle. But a crystal made of oscillating interferences and ether noises. Christian Fennesz makes the conditions of production, under which sounds remain to be developed, seen and heard via his laptop. And he’s marking his own interventions in that process. So there’s the crackling noises of tools switched on as well as technical errors and high-frequency flirring of the tools themselves. The production of sounds reduced to its economical and social reality. [Klaus Smit]
Alternative Press (USA):
My Bloody Valentine are famous for having thrown the guitar into the digital blender, whipping up catgut froth in a radically new mélange (meringue?) of pop and noise. Ten years down the line, Christian Fennesz has given Kevin Shield’s electric mixer an exponential power boost, proving that there are still hitherto unimagined flavors to be juiced out of the mixture of guitar pick and microchip. Picking up where his Hotel Paral.lel (Mego, 1997) left off, Plus Forty Seven Degrees sails by charts and map the chance geometry of digital sound manipulation. You may never hear the six-stringed underpinnings here, but you’ll certainly feel echoes of their resonance in the frozen tones like water currents caught, snap-shot style, in a glacier’s crawl, and transformed into something brittle and menacingly beautiful. Like the best artisans of ‘microscopic sound’, Fennesz recreates the organic from the atom up; he’s a Romantic seduced by the binary.
The press release for the album says that is “was recorded by Fennesz during July and August this summer, transforming his back garden into an open air studio, using only guitar and powerbook”. That unlikely idyllic duality comes through on the CD, reinforced by Jon Wozencroft’s lush landscape photographs, which adorn the package. Imagine a chorus of modems caroling cricket fantasias and you’re halfway there. [Philip Sherburne]
Fascinating walls of wiry sound stretched and kneaded by the prolific Christian Fennesz (the enclosed info sheet has him playing with a multitude of bands and musicians who reside on the outskirts of experimental). The music was created using only guitar and Powerbook, and recorded in his back garden; the impression of space is quite prevalent when the guitar’s feedback and slippery noise wails to the open sky, while more earthbound, the sneaky cadences of manipulation are jittery like ants attacking an intruding beetle. “010” sweeps down on wings of wind-battered sound, wings that flutter, flap and glide. ” 013″ on the other hand, is nervous and twitchy, gurgling spastically before slipping into disjointed sequences that mesh musicality with static noise. Huge chords tumble forth during “014,” coagulating like blood from a wound after the bleeding has ceased, slow and thick, while underneath, mesmerizing slashes of corrosive noise slice into fresh veins and arteries, forcefully draining more blood. The whole disc is a balance of clash and resolution between disparate sonic entities, a balance of stormy turbulence and itchy experimentalism. [JC Smith]
Those damned Austrians and their glitch worshipping slop. Since 1994, the world has been subjected to zero and one heresy – Viennese label Mego acting out as corner stable – by the country’s laptop wielding byte-monger elite. Who will save us? Call the UN. Bomb the fuckers.
Christian Fennesz is one such infamous footsoldier, notorious for obliterating Rolling Stone and Beach Boys classics, and a recent honoree at Austria’s Ars Electronica festival. His second full length solo album was recorded in his backyard, under the open sky with just a guitar and a powerbook. You’d never know by listening, but it’s fascinating just the same. Typically abstract and random in form, Fennesz’s “degree symphony” is best when he turns up the heat and boils the sauce. The tension within the pool, the molecular shuffle of digital beads, the jagged brittle tones – sometimes faintly heart-tugging – it’s mesmerizing and inspiring to behold. Like easy listening for the noise fan. Not so compelling is Fennesz in telegraph mode, but that’s personal taste, I guess. Take it with a grain…
New York Press (USA):
These three important new albums from core practitioners of the glitchwerks movement represent the next step in the genre’s evolution. While the first batch of glitchwerks releases (reviewed here a year ago) tended to stress the formal aspects of the music, these new offerings begin to take the cold digital source material and add emotion and warmth to it. It’s fascinating to witness the melding of a didactic approach to computer-based work – some genuinely personal statements emerge.
Out of the thick waves of white digital noise, melody begins to appear. Christian Fennesz’s latest begins with a soft atmospheric track – an electronic Satie-esque tune awash in sensual, transistor-radio-like static; it’s a thick, calming, digital fog. The fourth track starts out with standard skipping glitches but soon shifts focus to a piano, which is digitally mangled, creating a savvy binary update to Cage’s prepared pian – think of it as a “processed piano.” The piano serves as a melodic basis for the piece, which is constantly interrupted by mechanical noises of every stripe. It’s a great metaphor for the way electronics are altering the function of traditional concert hall instruments, giving them entirely new leases on life. A track in the middle of the disc at first sounds like a sheer assault on the ears, but as the piece progresses and your ears become accustomed to the volume, a gorgeous melody emerges from the density. It’s a bit like listening to Morton Feldman – once you get on Fennesz’s wavelength, small, unexpected occurrences leap out of every nook and cranny of the recording. It’s a complex, varied and luscious landscape, echoing the cover art, which features photographs of lush, green landscapes that have been altered in some way by man and machines.
The Sound Projector (UK):
Christian Fennesz, one of the Mego ‘superstars’, and the man who brought us the sublime Fennesz Plays 45 last year, is on the warpath like a roaring beast here. The Mego team, concentrating on generating truly modern electronic music, have dispensed with conventional instruments like sequencers, drum machines and synths – and started to tinker directly with the sort of computer programming that makes such machines work in the first place. The most efficient way to do it seems to be to bypass the instruments and go straight to the programme, via a Powerbook. Using the keyboard and mouse, an intelligent artisan can vary the nature of his soundforms however he chooses.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this is record in no way ‘musical’. Under normal circumstances I’d be put off too, but one listen to the furious and powerful sound textures on this (and other Mego-related items) will excite your neurons in ways you’d never dreamed possible – and change your mind in a second. This work is in fact more musical than much of what passes for musical entertainment in the welter of techno-based releases. At first listen, this may seem an excessively abstract work – perhaps brutally so. But all the features of exciting music are there, really – depth, texture, dynamics, volume and rhythm – but expressed as purely abstract, digital tones, freed from the associations of melody and harmony.
There are at least three great features to Christian Fennesz’s work. One – unpredictability. His best moments – and these would include the wonderful final track on this not-overlong CD – confound the expectations of any listener, leaving one puzzled. What was that? Why did it stop so suddenly when it was just starting to say something? This sense of puzzlement can turn into a good thing, if you’ll let it. This music is not inconsequential, because it leaves a very strong impression with you.
Two – Brevity. There’s a lot of information in a Fennesz track. He has more ideas than most electronic buffoons manage in their entire career, so many indeed that he plays two or three of them together at the same time. Each component is clearly stated, and the listener needs only to work that little bit harder to distinguish the lines of thought. But be quick, because many of these tracks are tight and concise.
Three – pleasure. Fragments of musical notes bubble up from time to time within the flying sheets of crunchy, textured noise. A noise so palpable it’s like the inside of a Crunchy Bar. Or is rather that some of these tracks started life as a melodious tune, and have been extensively reworked and taken apart into their basic, mechanical components?
This is the second solo full-length recording from Christian Fennesz – the first was Hotel Paral.lel – and it’s made entirely with a guitar and a computer. And it’s absolutely superb. [Ed Pinsent]
Minneapolis City Pages (USA):
THERE’S A THESIS to be written on the shared sociocultural factors that lead both middle-European electronic composers and their Middle American postrock kin to attempt to milk melodrama from irony. Maybe this affinity has something to do with the fact that each genre’s metropolitan center occupies a similar spot on the nexus of labor and leisure. After all, Chicago is a union town, Berlin has a four-day workweek, and each has pressed musicians from diverse global crannies into paying their dues.
Lacking such an academic dissertation, we’ll just have to settle for the aesthetic rewards that transnational collaborations like the Fenno’berg disc offer up. A meeting between Chicago post-rock avatar Jim O’Rourke and a pair of Austrians (math-rock/ambient guitarist Christian Fennesz and electro-minimalist Peter Rehberg), Fenno’berg is the sound of three men sitting at a table pecking at computers that chomp and flush what could pretty much be called the Entire History of Recorded Music. As the trio finds the anger in MOR samples and the beauty in sine-length manipulation, they manage to show up much modern tuneage, from film soundtracks to alt-rock. And yet they find the path to real emotion within that pathos.
For soundscapes without subtext, there’s the Fennesz solo disc. Packaged in what appears to be an elaborate picture postcard of Teutonic milking country, the music scurries between the skitter of Oval, the squelch of Pansonic, and the drugged-out chest-beating of My Bloody Valentine. Most of the sounds here originate from beat-free laptop orchestrations that scrape away all musical details. Still, this is a pretty sensuous disc, particularly for music seemingly created largely to bore the girlfriends of smug audiophiles.
These discs represent different sides of the same musical coin. The orchestrator Fennesz secretly desires to transform a single note into a symphony. The collage artist O’Rourke hopes, conversely, to find the single note that ties together all sound. [David Strauss]
Quirky, volatile Guitartistry: Fascinating walls of wiry sound stretched and kneaded by the prolific Christian Fennesz (the enclosed info street has him playing with a multitude of bands and musicians who reside on the outskirts of experimental). The music was created using only guitar and powerbook, and recorded in his back garden; the impression of space is quite prevalent when the guitar’s feedback and slippery noise wails to the open sky, while more earthbound, the sneaky cadences of manipulation are jittery like ants attacking an intruding beetle. 010 sweeps down on wings of wind-battered sound, wings that flutter, flap and glide. 013 on the other hand, is nervous and twitchy, gurgling spastically before slipping into disjointed sequences that mesh musicality with static noise. Huge chords tumble forth during 014, coagulating like blood from a wound after the bleeding has ceased, slow and thick, while underneath, mesmerizing slashes of corrosive noise slice into fresh veins and arteries, forcefully draining more blood. The whole disc is a balance of clash and resolution between disparate sonic entities, a balance of stormy turbulence and itchy experimentalism. [JC Smith]
In the last issue of Resonance, a single by Fennesz nearly drove me gaga with excitement with its melding of melodic themes and PowerBook manipulations. His new CD on the reliably recondite Touch Label, the snappily titled ‘plus forty seven degrees 56′ 37′ minus sixteen degrees 51′ 08’ (TO: 40) is a step sideways into textural geography. The lavish packaging provides scant clues to what’s going on, with each track illustrated by a pictures of natural landscapes with some evidence of human activity. On certain tracks the music seems to have been atomised into thousands of tiny stippling sounds with extreme stereo panning splitting the music into two parallel event sequences. Track 5 (called .. er.. ‘014’) is a noisy drone – a chord almost drowned out by caustic white noise which stops dead after eight minutes. It’s illustrated by pylons. Occasionally a texture appears which suggests that Fennesz’s guitar may be the source, but stays tantalisingly out of reach. The CD is a magnificent and infuriating conundrum, and I love it. More fancy packaging comes with Pierre-Andre Arcand’s ‘Le Livre Sonore’ (ohm/avtr 013) the jewel case of which is stuffed with a super illustrated book of the artist’s sculptures and installations. They look great. Unfortunately the CD (which seems almost tagged on as an afterthought) is a bit dull. Consisting of a heavily echoed microphone snuffling around various bits of debris, sounding a lot like small loops of Adam Bohman, but lacking any convincing sense of structure. Even with the aid of the book it failed to hold my attention. I’d like to see an exhibition of his work though… [Richard Sanderson]
The last anyone heard of Fennesz he was doing strange re-assembly jobs on “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)” and “Paint It Black”, but his new album is entirely sourced from his own material, performed on laptop and guitar in his garden over the summer. As tends to be the case with those associated with Touch and/or Mego, Plus Forty Seven Degrees is certainly not an easy listen and a fair way from his earlier Hotel Parallel album to boot.
Processed feedback is the order of the day here, and plenty of it. The first track is the least adventurous but the most accessible: A throbbing feedback riff reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine hovers in the midst of icy laptop scree. Highly desirable. Subsequent tracks (there are no titles; the tracks are merely numbered from “010” to “017”) are almost entirely given over to computer processing, organized in irregular patterns of blips and static to give a stuttering impression. Over time, though, the tracks do develop their own identities. A real highlight is “014”, 7 minutes of cacophonous quasi-industrial computer drone with half-formed shapes stacked up behind. This tracks gets right to the innermost parts of your brain in a way few others do – very much like Farmers Manual if they decided to pursue ideas for longer than a minute and a half. None of the other tracks measure up to this, but they do have enough variations in their grainy resonance to keep you guessing what might emerge next.
It’s difficult to know exactly what to make of Fennesz. His music is undoubtedly of a psychedelic nature. However, there’s no particularly obvious reference to drugs here and the record’s packaging (all rural scenes from Austria) doesn’t exactly lend any clues about his intent. Maybe it’s better just to immerse yourself in his mutating channels of noise without trying to figure out what it means. Chances are you’ll find plenty to explore. [John Gibson]