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In concert: Fennesz at The Mansion at Strathmore

fenneszFennesz: Pretty, loud, pretty loud. (All photos by Josh Sisk/FTWP)

By Aaron Leitko

The best way to withstand the sonic onslaught of a Fennesz concert: the lotus position.

Making his D.C.-area debut Wednesday Tuesday night as part of the Sonic Circuits festival, the Vienna, Austria-based electronic composer Christian Fennesz let loose a sluice of distortion - a tidal wave of fuzz that temporarily turned the The Mansion at Strathmore's tranquil organ chamber into a sawmill.

But the audience, many of whom had waited years to catch one of the composer's rare stateside live-sets, received the cochlea-mincing sounds in a state of meditation - settled comfortably on the venue's wooden floor, legs crossed, eyes closed.

Fennesz's music is loud, but it is also very pretty.

Inspired in part by the effect-heavy rock bands of the mid-'90s - My Bloody Valentine, in particular - Fennesz uses a laptop computer to create dense compositions wrought from layer upon layer of electronically processed electric guitar. His music can be peaceful - there are parallels to the glacial, synthesizer-driven new-age music of the early '80s. But his use of distortion imbues his compositions with a distinctly organic feel.


Noises churn, dither, and tumble over once another. Placid textures give way to torrents of intricately layered hiss. Sometimes his music evokes a barren, windswept plane. At other times, an active garbage disposal.

Using just a laptop computer, a few distortion pedals, and an electric guitar, Fennesz performed a continuous 30 minutes of music - incorporating sounds and motifs from his records "Venice" and "Black Sea," along with newer, possibly improvised material. He bobbed his head, fingered the track-pad on his Mac-Book, and hammered out the occasional heavy, dissonant chord on his guitar.

Fennesz's breakthrough record, 2001's "Endless Summer," imbued distortion with emotional depth - it had a playful, lush, and summery sense of nostalgia. For a glitch-ridden abstract electronic record, it sounded strangely reminiscent of the Beach Boys.

Those gentle moments were rare in Wednesday night's performance. Instead, Fennesz concentrated on the heavier, darker, and overpowering side of his schtick. To be on the safe side, a few audience members opted to wear earplugs. But they might have been wiser to simply endure the noise - hearing protection blocked out the ethereal clicks and clacks that were consigned to higher frequency ranges. Once and a while, it's okay to crank it up.





By Aaron Leitko  | September 22, 2010; 3:19 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags:  Fennesz  
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Fennesz was Tuesday night not Wednesday night. (Happens to me all the time!)

Otherwise nice write-up, sorry to have missed it.

Posted by: mdarpino | September 22, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Fixed. Thanks!

Posted by: Aleitko | September 22, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

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