Thursday, 2 September 2010

Magic & Return - Fenn O'Berg

“Hello Hamburg. Are you ready to rock?” Asks Christian Fennesz, or Jim O’Rourke, or Peter Rehberg, the trio that makes up Fenn O’Berg. You can’t tell because the words are converted into robot voice, a mechanism I do enjoy although, perhaps, for that ultra-ironic retro Rock effect, perhaps it should be spoken through a talk box as used by Peter Frampton. As I recall, it entails (entailed, surely...I mean, does anyone still use one?) having a plastic tube in your mouth, which made it look as if the singer was being fed liquids...or having his stomach pumped...
   The electronic supergroup (!) Fenn O’Berg’s first two ‘live’ albums are available in one package called ‘Magic And Return’ – made up from gigs played in ’98 and ’99. I say ‘gigs played’, but the term hardly seems appropriate. Played, yes, well, you know, knob-twiddling, and ‘gigs’...I suppose they were, but perhaps I’m showing my age (I swear, I still say ‘taped’ sometimes when I mean ‘burnt’) because to call these events gigs is far too...Old World...and these sounds are very much of the New World or, if you like, the Possibly Timeless World Depending On How Much Technological and Musical Trends Affect This Kind Of Thing. This kind of thing is a long way from easy listening, although it’s not quite as much of a challenge as pure Noise.
   There are moments on an album when you decide you love it, aren’t there? Perhaps it’s not the first, second or even third track...or it could happen halfway through one of those – so what sounds like a cat being squeezed to produce a strangulated ‘meow’ starts up on track 3, ‘Horst Und Snail Mit Markus’, and I fall for the recording. The fact that I’m not a great lover of cats has nothing to do with it, honest. Better still, whilst this goes on, much else is happening, like a submerged orchestra, fizzing electronics and a random drum-thump. This all evolves into something much calmer.
   The war of the machines that is ‘Gurtel Eins’...'Escape From Hamburg’’s ferocious assault on your sense involving what sound like kung-fu movie samples. You can only say these sounds sound like something, rather than actually being something, and that is the wonder of this kind of music, the sound of sounds you’ve never heard before. That said, orchestral strings are often mixed in to great effect, rather than as faux lushness. Although, on ‘Fenn O’Berg Theme’, they opt for a shockingly (near) conventional use of a John Barry tune to create the perfect moody soundtrack for the wired generation. Imagine ‘Moonraker’ for the 21st century.
   ‘A Viennese Tragedy’ is possibly the magnum opus as far as melding classical and futurist music. It does just that, the machines whining, shrieking, crunching and creaking through the massed violins. It’s so awesome as to sound like the death of the old, a musical battlefield...or requiem for Strauss, perhaps.
   There’s so much to hear across these two recordings that a few listens won’t reveal half, never mind everything.
   Fenn O’Berg will rock you, but not in quite the same way as Peter Frampton.

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