Fennesz Interview by Innerversitysound


Christian Fennesz
Christian Fennesz is an Austrian experimental guitar and electronic artist based in Paris and Vienna. He has released 9 solo albums, 18 collaborations, 17 eps and the list of credits for appearances and remixes is in the hundreds. Being prolific and widely collaborative has seen Fennesz tour Europe, America and Japan regularly as well as working with artists such as Sparklehorse, Ryuchi Sakamoto, Phillip Jeck, Jim O’Rourke, Tony Buck, Peter Rehberg, Oren Ambarchi, Mika Vainio and Patrick Pulsinger (to name but a few). Innerversitysound interviewed Fennesz on te eve of the release of his latest solo album Bécs.

Innerversitysound: You have mentioned before that you have got very tired of the psycho-dynamics of being in a band. What is it about a group of people creating music that disturbs you?

Christian Fennesz: The playing together is really great but what disturbs me is all these psycho things that come up after a few years after you work together and there are always bits here and there that are kind of disturbing. I don’ really believe in democracy in a band, I must say. I love playing with all these collaborators that I am playing with, this is completely democracy. But if you have a rock band, someone is writing the songs and having the ideas and the other ones are playing with you. This is always a source of nasty things.

Innerversitysound: Before you picked up the laptop, I presume you have a plethora of musical technology, pedals and effects that you have discarded. Do you have a specific criteria or way you look at technology to make these decisions?

Christian Fennesz: Not really, I have always been using the laptop along with the guitar pedals. What I was interested in was a mixture of both, a mixture of digital and analog. After the first period of laptop music I was just starting to use the guitar again. I couldn’t say that it is only the digital that interests me or to say it was the analog. I use a lot of analog equipment in the studio and still love using all my old pedals, mixers and compressors.

Innerversitysound: With the risk of entering a shattered hall of mirrors, you have said before that you don’ like repeating things – that you find rehearsals difficult, but in some circumstances important. Coming from a background of learning by imitation from the radio and learning from shards of sound ideas that cultural and natural space. Is there a tension between the inclinations for certain aspects of life recurring endlessly. When you see events that recur naturally in the world and they come up again and again towards you and they are sound events that kind of repeat and you have to navigate them. I’m not too sure if that comes across well…

Christian Fennesz: I think it does, it does. I think that I understand. I don’ know when I said that I don’ like to repeat, maybe that wasn’t very well expressed. I think every musician finds his own grammar and you could call it style or certain sound. These things are coming back to me all the time and I am not afraid of repeating myself anymore I must say, because I realise that this is what I do and this is what comes to me. What I like to do, these things that I have found, this style or special sound or whatever it is, I want to make it sound more perfect. I want to take it to another level, this is the challenge.

Innerversitysound: You talk often about this meta-reality sometimes, when I look at the words you use often liminal comes up. It is almost as if there is there is this geography of the world that is fluid and accessible, a terrain of unknown ideas that separates itself from the usual geography of the world that is the space that you prefer to work in.

Christian Fennesz: Yes. I don’ have any philosophical or academic concept at all. These are the things that guide me somehow. Certain atmospheres, certain feelings just seem to come periodically and it is a very lucid kind of working. It’s not just using instinct, it’s difficult to explain. It’s a very non-academic approach, it’s very emotional.

Innerversitysound: Have you been able to discern any sorts of patterns within this sort of poetic way of looking at your music production? Have you been able to see things that recur often in your music production?

Christian Fennesz: After all these years of course, I have learnt the routines I have learnt the routines that I follow each time I do something and yes there are patterns and a sort of routine that I can rely upon in the meantime. It’s something I had to discover at first and now it’s something I am able to use.

Innerversitysound: Let’s talk about your new album Bécs. It sounds a great deal more emotionally happier, more accessible – it’s definitely more melodic than previous albums. There seems to be less disguising the melody with the noise.

Christian Fennesz: It is a bit of a bit of a pop album compared to the last one I did, Black Sea, and I wanted it to be like that. I wanted to go in this direction, not pop but something more uplifting, something more happy. It’s as simple as that.

Innerversitysound: That’s a reasonable call. Having spent a great deal of time with experimental musicians there can be a tendency towards bleakness for its own sake. Was there some sort of change you found yourself that either personally or within the music itself that created this inclination?

Christian Fennesz: Well you know every record I make reflects my personal situation, in the moment I am doing it. To keep it simple, I am obviously more happy than when I did Black Sea. Maybe that shows in the music, there is a certain lightness that wasn’ there when I did Black Sea. I am proud of Black Sea, I like it, it’s very heavy emotionally, a bit depressed.

Innerversitysound: Errors and randomness, you clearly play a lot with these concepts. Can you, beyond the haphazardness of trying to create randomness, are there strategies that you go about to achieve this sort of state.

Christian Fennesz: The way I work, I just start improvising with different tools, maybe the laptop, guitar and pedals, the synthesiser, whatever and I just record everything. The record button is always on and once I find something that is kind of interesting I just isolate it and start composing on top of that.

Innerversitysound: The track “Static Kings”, the name itself sounds humorous, people who stand still people, who control a domain.

Christian Fennesz: No it’s not. This track actually I had Mark Linkous from Sparklehorse singing on this track. But when he took his life I decided not to use the vocals and so I just made an instrumental track out of it. Static Kings is the name of the studio. It is a little bit of a homage to Mark Linkous.

Innerversitysound: You also use Tony Buck from The Necks on the album. For us he is a local hero.

Christian Fennesz: Well he is a great drummer I think and we have been playing many times, improvising many times and he’ always great and I really wanted to have him on that album. He’ a great drummer and he lives in Berlin so it’s easy to get together and record. I think he still visits Australia, but he spends about six months in Europe.

Innerversitysound: “Liminality”, is that another version of your earlier track “Liminal” that you used to play?

Christian Fennesz: Yes it is. I always had two versions. I had the studio version and one that I played live and this is the one that’s on the album now. I thought that I should use it on the album, its such a great track to play live and I was trying to get the live energy on the album and that was only possible with a drummer.

Innerversitysound: “The Liar”, can you tell us something about that track?

Christian Fennesz: Well I made that really fast, in one day. Not even a day I think. It was very spontaneous and a very simple synth base line and play guitars on top and synthesisers. It was done within a few hours and I wasn’t sure if I should use it because it is really not very well produced. But it has this energy that works, it works for me. The Liar is not related to anyone, the liar is me.

Innerversitysound: I always find it interesting, those moments when you discover that what you had been before was a lie and what you have discovered again was of a new face becomes true and then you waiting for that moment when you are a liar again and it is sort of a pattern of discovery.

Christian Fennesz: Well you have got it.

Innerversitysound: When you enter this liminal state, this state of consistent change, consistent change has sometimes the conceit of believing that you are arriving at a true space and it is merely a change. Do you see anything like a trues space that you try to arrive at through your music?

Christian Fennesz: No I think that I never arrive, in some ways I am still on the way, sometimes I feel comfortable in a place but I haven’ gotten there yet, where I really want to be as a musician. So I guess I keep on trying, ultimately keep on learning.

Innerversitysound: Sometimes people talk of documenting or reflecting ideas through patterns of composition, not that per se you are a composer, but would you say that there is some sort of documentary or representational aspects to your work or is all abstract.

Christian Fennesz: I don’ think it is all abstract. I want to make statements and documents of my life and I like to have it like that. I don’ see myself as an abstract musician, I think it’s very concrete what I am doing. I might be wrong and I like other people to write and describe that but from my point of view it’s not abstract at all.

Innerversitysound: The album cover presents a radically different face to Fennesz. What was the decision process with coming up with this representation of your work?

Christian Fennesz: Simply because the album, Bécs, is not on Touch but on Editions Mego. I did two records already, for Editions Mego, which were Hotel Paral.lel and Endless Summer and both covers were made by the same person, Tina Frank. I wanted to have Tina to find, to make, a bridge to the former works that I did, to the former designs that she did. I think she made it perfectly well because you can see the same colors that were already on the Endless Summer cover and she has been transforming this into 2014. I like that. I also enjoyed having a completely different designer this time, I like Jon Wozencroft a lot and I will work with Touch again in the future. But for this project I wanted to go back to the old team that I already had.

Innerversitysound: Talking about the old team, the pattern of learning by imitation, taking an established artist and copying it by the radio, like you did in your youth, was a similar pattern to what Peter Kuhlmann did. He did it with the Beatles, with the guitar as well as his way of entering a musical space, by imitation and then eventually creating his own work. This method of imitation is how we all learn I suppose, learning from imitation and then realising all the signs are fluid and available to be messed with. At what point did you realise that musical language was not solid and that you could just transform it at will.

Christian Fennesz: I think I already started when I was in my last band, it was in the late 80′, I really thought we have to invent something or else it is getting boring. At that time I was already experimenting with guitar samples and using tape loops and all that stuff. I was looking for my own language. When I got the sampler everything was wide open so I could explore new works that was just fantastic, it gave me so much freedom, and I have been working all the time, 24 hours a day because I was so excited.

Innerversitysound: You use a lot of MSP patches, have you ever thought of going into the area of creating patches or creating instrumental tools yourself?

Christian Fennesz: I did that in the early times when I started using it, it takes so much time and there are just so many more talented people doing this. I am fortunate to have a few friends who are super good at it and they let me use their patches to do what I am doing. I am really just a user, I find it extremely interesting but it is so time consuming, if I was to start writing patches in MSP I would not be doing so much music anymore. I know that for some people creating a patch and creating music is the same thing, for me I am a bit more traditional about this. I am really a multi-track recording guy in the studio, for me the mixing process is the most important thing.

Innerversitysound: I suppose it was really the life of Bob Moog that got me thinking about people who create musicians. A level of people who create the tools so as they give a specific set of possibilities. You could consider it, although I am reticent nowadays to think of it as levels of playing with life, humanity and culture. A person who creates the tools for somebody else is almost creating the language of possibilities with the world and it’s just a different way of thinking, and with writing the similar thing occurs. You can have a series of tools and the person has thought about the range of possibilities of what you can do with them and certainly it’s an open field after you have created the tools but they are playing with a wider set of possibilities.

Christian Fennesz: It makes me think of the keynote system, it exists for almost 20 years I think. It is a programming language and a hardware and it’s completely open. So you can build whatever you build want ever you want from that machine and system. People are still using it, I can hear the sound, it’s a great thing that someone built an instrument and not just a computer language.

Innerversitysound: So the fingerprints of the maker still reside within the language after it is spoken by others. Obviously you can say that a production by Christian Fennesz has a certain fingerprints all over it and other people have their own identities in their productions. Do you ever think that you discover things by looking back on your imprints about yourself by listening to the patterns you create.

Christian Fennesz: You mean if I listen back to my work?

Innerversitysound: Yes you see the pattern of yourself represented.

Christian Fennesz: Yes I do. It is very clear to me and it is almost too clear, almost embarrassingly clear. It’s because of the simplicity, I know how I am functioning and maybe other people don’ see that so quickly, but I do. And this is also the force that kicks me in the ass to keep on working, to broaden my techniques a little bit.

Innerversitysound: How did this album, Bécs come together, was there some sort of spark that served as the impetus for creating this, was it a quick flow or a long structure project?

Christian Fennesz: Well we had a great record a while ago, two or three years ago. I just spent months and years playing around and thinking and but not really going anywhere. I made this title track Bécs, like the title track, and suddenly everything unfolded within three weeks. Suddenly it was there. So the real making it was no longer more than three or four weeks, it took me ages to get there.

Innerversitysound: To think your way into it or to reveal what you were trying to say?

Christian Fennesz: Maybe just to get the self-confidence together to do something because when you have longer gaps between albums, expectations are high and you can get very nervous in a way. It took me a long time to be confident to do it.

Innerversitysound: In regards to hard drives and upgrading I think I read one of your interviews that went very quickly into the quickness or spate of technological progress or innovation that spurs us towards change itself. Do you find yourself, that there is a detritus that falls in your technological world and you see all the things that remain do you see all the things that remain. Do you think that while a lot of these tools have changed there whole aspects to the self and the world that remain and how do you decide what is more important?

Christian Fennesz: Yes I think that the main problem with the world today is that we have too many options and I really try to downsize mine as much as I can because otherwise it is just too confusing. I could try out a new plugin every two hours but it doesn’ lead me anywhere, so over the years I have got a few tools that work for me and that’s it now. I just don’ want to use more stuff anymore it’s just too much. Many options is the biggest problem with technology today.

Innerversitysound: The idea of simplicity and you also present this highly dynamic multiplicity in your work, there is so much happening. Does simplicity remain or drive this complex soundscape.

Christian Fennesz: I try to have it like that yes because it kind of roots things. It may seem like it’s going in every direction but really what I do is quite simple.

The album Bécs is out on Editions Mego on April 16th 2014.


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