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Concert Review/ Christian Fennesz

img  Tobias

Concerts have long been regarded as the last safe haven of the „real world“. Of course, the web is already ripe with youtube clips of anyone from your neighbour to Madonna and as Video-on-Demand is slowly taking off, digitised versions of live-DVDs are being streamed to more and more homes the world over. Still, the schism between the action on your TV screen or PC-monitor and the emotional experience of watching these performances remains blatant: No matter how powerful the accompanying imagery and the various surround sound options may be, you are, essentially, watching a camera man watching a crowd watching a band from behind the deforming lens of a camera and this subtle sense of alienation has prevented the incomes of most major concert agencies from falling even in these troubled times. The approach of „The V Sessions“, an online service offering performances both as live gigs and as recorded streams must therefore be regarded as the real next step: Private performance spaces create a mood of intimacy, a close-up main camera perspective generates the sensation of sitting right next to the artists, while alternative camera angles allow the audience to virtually walk around the stage to observe what is happening in more detail.

With his style a fantastical concoction of tradition and progress, Austrian Sound Artis Christian Fennesz should seem the ideal candidate to introduce the first „V Sessions“. It is also a welcome opportunity for anyone who has missed out on his busy touring schedule to experience just how far he has come from his humble beginnings. Judging by this performance, in any case, it is hard to imagine that there was ever a time when Fennesz thought it thoroughly impossible to perform his music live. And yet for years, he would shun the bright lights of the stage, afraid of not being able to fully and satisfyingly recreate his vision in concert. Over the years, however, he has grown more comfortable about placing himself and his art in front of an audience. During his „V Session“, he appears completely relaxed, comfortably standing behind a small table filled with equipment – a mixing desk, no more than a handful of effect boxes and a Macbook. His Guitar, meanwhile, is confidently strapped around his neck and takes prominence even over his own persona. It has remained  his instrument of choice after a decade in the business and a tool which he has brought back to him on stage to possibly fill the vacuum he experienced when working through a performance exclusively from behind his laptop.

From the extended stretches of time between Fennesz-albums, too, one might be inclined to believe that playing live and recording in the studio ought to be two entirely different creative challenges for him. This turns out to be a fallacy. In fact, despite the care and obsessive attention for detail that has gone into his last full-length „Black Sea“, this Fennesz-concert moves almost along the same coordinates: The overall tension arch of the performance is shaped by a string of clearly delimited scenes, yet an overwhelming emphasis on mood rather than on sharp incisions creates an immersive feeling of continuity and warmth throughout. Fonder of developing new ideas from the aftermath of preceding sounds than building each segment from scratch, Fennesz is seemingly carving all passages from the same artistic stone, seamlessly entering and exiting them, even though he is unafraid of  allowing for distinct moments of silence.

Even more astoundingly, he has become so utterly natural in his in-the-moment response to his own pre-prepared material that everything moves forward in a perpetually self-pollenising stream of thought. There hardly ever seem to be any loops involved and even when there are, as in an extended ambient section composed of choral voices spiralling around a repeated sequence of four chords somewhere around half-time, playing these sections against rhythmically offset motives as well as morphing the original timbres and sonic characteristics of his material with subtle twists of the mixing desk's knobs keep the music intriguingly evolving and organically shapeshifting at all time. Where others would linearly steer their themes towards their obvious resolution in dynamic climaxes or emotionally charged finales, Fennesz instead dives into the music with full force, feels for its most urgent nerve and then returns to the surface to observe its progress, smooth the waves and sail on to new horizons.

It is a technique which requires a great deal delicacy in placing the next step – preserving the magic is no longer just a question of faultlessly playing the tunes but of always keeping the suspense simmering. There can be no doubt, however, that Christian Fennesz is passing this test tonight. In fact, the gig goes from a rather raw and uptight opening to an increasingly atmospheric and irresistible canon of deep, multilayered ambient washes, melodically pitched noises and harmonically ringing echoes.

While, for him as a performer, having to keep this fragile balance is lending a benign tension to the show , the option of re-watching this gig over a two-week period as part of the „V Sessions“ licence to explore its intricacies must be considered a great bonus over the regular concert situation. Of course, visually, nothing much is happening here on the surface of things, except for a few heartfelt tremolos and Fennesz combing his hair back with his hand on a couple of occasions. Against expectations, though, the notion of great calm and concentration (a striking opposition to the flashing cue-changes of regular concert registrations) turns out to be the key to building a real rapport with the artist. As much as it may frighten some in the business: Even concerts are no longer safe from the wonders of the virtual wold.

By Tobias Fischer

The Video is now available for free on Antoine Richard's blog "Happily the Future".

Homepage: Christian Fennesz

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