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How Christian Fennesz harnessed his electric guitar to create glitchy digital beauty
Five mesmerizing tracks by the Austrian experimental electronic producer and instrumentalist.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Hotel Paral.lel, the first solo album by Austrian experimental guitarist and electronics producer Christian Fennesz. In the time since its release, Fennesz has created a singular instrumental universe with his glitch-informed ambient-ish work, both solo and with collaborators including Ryuichi Sakamoto, Jim O’Rourke, Sparklehorse and Oren Ambarchi.
Fennesz’s discography is pretty much unimpeachable. Here are a few entry points.
Instrument 4 (1995)
One of the earliest signings to the late Peter Rehberg’s great Austrian label Mego, Fennesz’s first solo work mixes electro-acoustic tones with washes of static and the occasional gentle thud of a bass-kick. It was issued during a period when European producers like Marcus Popp, Jan Jenilek and Stefan Betke (Pole) were starting to amplify the subtle digital quirks created by silicon-chip miscues.
Hotel Paral.lel could hardly be called a “guitar album.” Fennesz channels his ax through so many boxes, filters and looping mechanisms that it’s tough to tell where the strings end and the electronics begin. The track Five is particularly tough to crack.
Paint It Black (1998)
In 1998, the artist “covered” two Boomer classics, the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” and the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder).” The challenge? Recognizing the songs amid Fennesz’s textures.
Endless Summer (2001)
Fennesz’s best known album is Endless Summer, a sublimely messed-up solo guitar album released by Mego in 2001. One of the great recordings of the ‘00s, it’s both comforting and challenging. Melodies drift in and out as if through bursts of fog. Subtle bass tones serve as ballasts, grounding Fennesz’s manipulated washes of guitar with heavy depth. A flawless record, it’s one that, listened to with volume and focus, will rewire your circuitry.
Fennesz Boiler Room x St. John Sessions Live Set
If this 2015 solo performance in a church sanctuary doesn’t make you a believer, you should probably just move on. Uniquely Fenneszian, it offers a portrait of the artist’s aesthetic.
Fennesz and Sakamoto – Amorph (2013)
Ryuichi Sakamoto joined with Fennesz in 2013 for a duo album called Cendre. A relaxing ambient piano and electronics work, it’s Fennesz’s most restrained releases.
Live at Zebulon, March 7, 2020
On March 7, 2020, as the reality of the pandemic was bearing down on the world, Fennesz played a show at Zebulon in Los Angeles. Brought to town by UPEND, Fennesz played two shows that, in hindsight, found him scoring music at the precipice of a worldwide shift.
Fennesz will return to LA in 2022 for a showcase with his longtime home Touch Music, the imprint is one of the most important and enduring experimental hubs of the past four decades. Founded in London in 1982, on March 11-13 Touch will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a series of weekend-long events, including at 2220 Arts + Archives in Los Angeles. We’ll offer more information on this series as it approaches, but here’s the flier.
If you can’t make it to that, Fennesz will return to Zebulon on March 30 for another two-night show presented by UPEND. More information here: https://upend.la/fennesz-kmru
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