Fennesz/O’Rourke/Rehberg The Return of Fenn O’Berg

[Mego; 2002]

Rating: 5/5

Styles: IDM, experiemental, electronica, laptop
Others: Fennesz, Peter Rehberg (Pita), Jim O’Rourke

Though The Return of Fenn O'Berg is not the most difficult listen of the year, it is surely the most frustrating. Frustrating because the first dozen listens is like listening to a humidifier try to pronounce "exquisite corpse" as a tractor truck corrects its enunciation. I mean, what do you expect when you throw two audacious Austrians (Fennesz, Peter Rehberg) and a capricious American (Jim O'Rourke) onto a stage with laptops and a power strip? It's like having Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Snoop Dogg rap on the same verse. It's completely nonsensical, spastically constructed, and totally incoherent-- at least for the early listens.

Later listens prove more engaging, and ultimately more satisfactory. Beneath the thick collage of static and electronics is silence; the three improvisational gurus' primary duty is to fill that silence with no blueprint or set of directions. And this is where it can get messy. At times it is highly apparent that these three established scientists are battling for the spotlight. It creates an amazing tension in the music that is, at first, disorienting. But after awhile, you realize the piles of atonal counterpoints are not meant to be separate fragments, but more like one stream of noise that randomly bubbles and twitches. Rather than playing off each other in an attempt to sound melodic, conventional, or even technical, the trio develop a new sound by playing all at once, creating a dizzying effect that shakes you by the ears and kicks you in the arse.

But an hour of continuous noise isn't very fun; thankfully, the battling tension is released periodically throughout the album. After minutes of an experimental din, the trio will often release the tension by deconstructing its dynamic sound, opting for a more reclusive, minimal approach. Frequently, a sample of a familiar instrument will pave its way, such as orchestral flourishes and the like, anchoring the experimental side with reality. The constant back and forth between the two extremes can be exhausting at times, but exhilarating also. A sense of structure never hurts, especially when the sounds used are so abstract, atonal, and arrhythmic. It's like the frame around an abstract painting.

"A Viennese Tragedy" is hands-down the most compelling of the four compositions. The trio starts off in typical frantic style, juxtaposing their sounds in a eclectic melting pot of found sounds and created sounds. Slowly, elements are taken from the din and diffused more tastefully and constructively until before you know it, the only sounds left is a sample of a typewriter. More added sounds get piled on and begin to have an almost violent tone. But the tone is contrasted with a ethereal orchestra sample that sways underneath the music in majestic fashion. It's incredibly moving, and it's no doubt, one of the most beautiful contrasts of abrasive electronics and stringed instruments.

Compared to 1999's The Magic Sound of Fenn O'Berg, this album is definitely more cohesive. The growing familiarity between each musician's distinct styles are equally indebted to one another on this album, whereas The Magic Sound was often times fragmented and incoherent (though thoroughly pleasing); it was, more or less, a fun look at what would happen if three idiosyncratic anomalies shared the stage in a musical Battle Royale. The Return, however, is marked with an ambiguous passion; it has an indelible quality that The Magic Sound only has periodically.

The Return of Fenn O'Berg is definitely not for everyone; in fact, it's aimed at a small esoteric group who can appreciate experimental improvisation and the effort of creating new music and new listening. If you're looking for emotional cadences or instrumental virtuosity, Fenn O'Berg is not for you. But if you're ready to expand your mind (musically) and reach heights you've never reached before (musically), this album will provide the long-lasting paradox that your brain rightfully deserves. Just don't expect to shit it out after one listen.

1. Floating my Boat
2. A Viennese Tragedy
3. Riding Again
4. We Will Diffuse You

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