Ian Maleney spoke with Christian Fennesz ahead of his performance at The Unitarian Church with Cian Nugent & Withering Zithering.
At this point in his career, Christian Fennesz needs little in the way of introduction. He is one of the founding fathers of modern electronica and with an extensive back catalogue of glitched out guitar and ambient explorations on one of the premier experimental labels out there, Editions Mego. The classic Fennesz album is ‘Endless Summer‘, a hazy precursor to much of the sounds that have permeated popular electronic music in recent times and widely considered one of the most blissful experiences ever committed to CD.
These days his work reaches out in new ways through collaborations and sporadic solo issues. His work with Japanese composer Ryuchi Sakamoto saw them taking on improvisational piano textures while recent solo work has been dark and typically deep. With a new solo album pencilled in for 2013, he has just released a 12” rework of a track from his debut album. 15 years after it’s first appearance, ‘Fa‘ is still as vibrant and strange as it ever was, further proof of one of electronic music’s truly visionary minds.
Can you tell me a little about your approach to playing live at the minute? Are you using any new equipment that has had an impact on your performances lately? I´ve been using an iPad lately for synth sounds but unfortunately I forgot it on a flight to Rome – then it got stolen from the lost & found.
I am still using a laptop, running a max/msp patch, a guitar and some effect pedals. I try to change the pedals every once in a while. Right now I use a custom made distortion box and a delay/looper pedal.
You’ve mentioned before that you are a “player”, and you enjoy the act of playing an instrument. How does this affect your relationship with the computer, especially in a live environment? It still remains a challenge. The “instrument” consists of different parts: guitar, laptop, effects and mixing desk – and that´s not easy to play.
As technology has progressed, many limitations associated with computers and digital music seem to have receded. Have you found that to be the case and do you ever impose your own limitations on a piece of work or a working method? Yes. There are just too many options now. There are thousands of plug ins for recording software. It’s impossible to find a way through this. I´m trying to concentrate on working methods that have been satisfying. Downsizing seems to be the best approach for me right now.
You talked recently about moving more towards capturing live sounds in rooms, something that we’ve heard on Black Sea and say the piano on the Sakamoto collaborations. How has that impacted your work? Do you think it opens up the outside world at all, maybe blurring the lines between studio and field recordings? I think pure electronic music lacks ambience and space. It is somehow 2 dimensional. I think therefore it makes sense to experiment with spatialisation, or the combination of digital sound and analog instruments recorded in a room. I am fascinated with “room sound” and microphone placements.
On the subject of collaborations, how important do you think it is for artists now to go out and collaborate in person? Especially when the solo artist and bedroom producers are so common. Do you think the internet can increase isolation as much as it can ease it? I can only speak for myself. I love working alone and isolated to some extend but every once in a while I need to interact with other musicians. Of course the internet gives us great opportunities. It’s easy to send sound files back and forth, but being in a room recording with great musicians is still the best.
I’ve found it is almost easier to talk of your work in terms of colours rather than genre or style. Do you think this is often the case? If so, are you influenced by visual art at all? I am to some extent. Film and photography always had a big impact. I find the art of capturing a feeling or an atmosphere in a picture or a movie (like Chris Marker was doing it) very inspiring.
Vinyl has made a comeback in certain circles over the last few years and, unlike a lot of artists in your field, you’re quite suited to it through favouring shorter pieces. Certainly Touch have a strong passion for high quality vinyl as well. Do you enjoy hearing your work in that format? Do the imperfections bother you or is it something you’re happy to live with? I am absolutely happy with it. I´ve been growing up listening to vinyl. It’s great to see this wonderful format is coming back.
Finally, what are you working on at the minute? What is exciting you? I have just finished some film soundtracks and a few remixes. Right now I am working on the score for a new Gustav Deutsch movie (“Visions Of Reality”) which will premiere at the cannes festival next year. At the same time I started working on a new album for Peter Rehberg´s editionsmego label. I have released 2 albums on mego but I always thought there is one missing. It felt like unfinished business. Now I am doing it.