"In 1944 art critic Clement Greenberg wrote, "Yet it seems to me - and the conclusion is forced by observation not by preference - that the most ambitious and effective pictorial art of these times is abstract or goes in that direction." In the IDM genre of music, this also seems to be the truth. While you can't discount solid efforts from various artists that follow the melodic, poppier side of IDM, the truly most ambitious and effective work that is being produced is more abstract. On Fennesz's Plus Forty Seven Degrees 56' 37" Minus Sixteen Degrees 51' 08," Christian Fennesz, a guitarist based out of Vienna, released one of the most abstract and aurally challenging albums of the year 2000 on January 4th of that year. Digital washes of sound enveloped the listener on each track, as Fennesz seemed to disregard his guitar in favor of his laptop and its sound generative abilities. On some tracks it seemed as though the guitar might have been used, but one could never be sure, as each part was cut up and manipulated past recognition. While the CD was extremely challenging to get through, as most noise and abstract releases admittedly are, it was ultimately fascinating and illuminating.
On this CD, released by the experimental Mego label, the cover art is the first clue to the subtle changes in Fennesz's sound. An obvious homage to the Beach Boys already in the title of the record, the cover art features beaches and rolling waves onto the shoreline of an unidentified coast. When confronted with this CD, the listener is first struck with how melodic it is. Of course, this is melodic in the sense that a Viennese avant garde composer who digitally distorts every tiny piece of information that is included in his compositions can be melodic. The melodic sense is indebted largely to a post rock sensibility of repeating phrases with little to no alteration whatsoever during the length of the song once the main theme has been presented. Once the melodic theme has been fleshed out during the song, the listener can only concentrate on the digital mastery that Fennesz has created. Only at key points do melodic phrases appear to the listener unscathed by digital processed bed of sound.
On "Endless Summer," the title track of the album, the guitar line that runs throughout the length of the eight-minute song underneath a sheen of processed sound and another melodic synth line emerges from out of the murky depths of the surrounding noises at the end to crystallize the song in the dying seconds. Similarly, on "Caecilia" marimba notes float in and out of the hazy distortion in a manner that belies a certain yearning which is followed up by a simple guitar chord structure that reinforces the feeling evoked in the bell section. While all songs are worthy of mention, "Before I Leave" stands with the previous two as the highlights of the album. "Before I Leave" uses a simple repeating effect to hypnotic ends for its four-minute duration, but upon repeated listens has a startling complexity to its repetition. A melody appears underneath the surface - almost imperceptible, almost making the listener believe that they aren't hearing it and making it up in counterpoint to the simple melody line that is used.
The only complaint that can be found with this album is the track order. If given the chance I would change it a small bit, to reflect a better flow from one track to the next. Overall the album seems to break up the songs that use the same techniques of digital manipulation which would be better heard against one another.
The abstract quality of this release is going to be the ultimate turn off to most listeners. Because of his reputation as a noise and experimental artist, Fennesz will not have the fan base that is attainable by most electronic acts and even most IDM acts. This is unfortunate because Fennesz has, once again, crafted an album of shimmering beauty that demands to be listened to with your full concentration. This is a demand that only important art can make. This is a demand that only the most ambitious and effective art can make. This is a demand that Fennesz creates in this work."
One of the best, if not the very best ambient works ever. Turn on, tune in, drop out? Yes, please.
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