Fennesz, Venice

David Stubbs

By David Stubbs

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Those not already familiar with the music of Austrian-born Christian Fennesz might find the initial experience disconcerting — this is electronic but beatless terrain, full of tiny irruptions, pockmarks and hiccoughs, a semi-abstract, synthetic mess of malfunctions. This is glitch, a genre invented, electronica legend has it, when another Austrian, Stephan Betke, aka Pole, dropped one of his studio mics and was intrigued by the hisses and crackles it made in its broken state.

Austrian-born guitarist transforms glitch into poignant symphonies.

Venice elevates glitch, however, from a transient, futuristic fad into something altogether more poignant and symphonic. Whereas many electronica artists, you suspect, have got their shtick down to a default setting or random programme, able to generate new material by the yard at the push of a button, with Fennesz it's a fine art — he clearly labours at and sculpts his pieces. Venice might seem like it's all a surface swell of fuzz and blips and feedback at first glimpse but it's the skeleton of form and melody which informs the contours, direction and viscosity of these sounds.

The dark blue hues of the album's sleeve art are reflected in opener “Rivers of Sand,” whose dawning grandeur reminds more of Vaughn Williams than any of Fennesz's electronica peers. Twisted and burgeoning, ebbing and flowing between Gothic gloom and Heavenly surges of adrenalin, this is sheer emotion rendered in electricity. “City of Light” lurches and lists like a long-abandoned galleon rediscovered in the 21st century, while “Circassian,” on which Fennesz enlists the assistance of guitarist Burkhard Stangl, highlights the link with MBV in its mesmeric fixation on the grains, textures and phantom micro-details of plectrum-generated noise.

“The Stone of Impermanence” and “The Point of It All” are immense, like electronic transcriptions of extreme polar weather conditions. Yet all this is really an outer manifestation of inner states of being. Proof of this arrives with “Transit,” on which ex-Japan vocalist David Sylvian intervenes, appearing high in the mix as if Fennesz's soundtrack lies many miles beneath him. As he delivers an obliquely mournful elegy for Europe, Fennesz depicts an entire continent in the last throes of radioactive torment, its neon lights and national grids sputtering what could be their last. Yet Fennesz's music is destined to endure when his contemporaries have long degraded and died away. That's not just because of his application to his work, or his brilliant, Eno-esque draughtsmanship but also because albums like Venice give the lie to electronic music as steely, formidable and inhuman. In its nebulousness, its holes and burns, its jumps and fissures, Venice reflects a very human condition of vulnerability and uncertainty.