I searched the internet trying to find the answer to my question: How much of the English language has fallen into disuse over, say, the last couple of centuries? This has suddenly become important to me because of the latest album from Austrian electronic musician Christian Fennesz, Black Sea.
My own personal vocabulary limits my attempt to describe the audio imagery to you. However, these restrictions simply do not seem to apply to a mind such as the one Fennesz himself possesses. When he locks himself away in his studio, alone, immersed in his work, he creates a canvas to express the labyrinth of sounds within his mind. If he has any limitations at all, it is only those surrounding the technology of trying to reproduce what he can hear. His mind has seemingly endless possibilities.
Black Sea is the fourth solo album from Fennesz, and his first in over four years. The last, 2004’s Venice, further developed a journey that started with his first EP Instrument in 1995. Solo albums Hotel Paral.lel, released three years later, and the breakthrough, Endless Summer in 2001, earned him a wider recognition which was underlined by the critical response to Venice.
Black Sea is bleak on first listen. The cover of the album, beautifully photographed by Jon Wozencroft, is also bleak, as is the name of the album itself. The titles of the tracks within the album confirm this. “Grey Scale,” “Vacuum,” and “Perfume For Winter” seem to wash the album with a sense of anticipated stillness.
It’s when you sit absorbed within the complexities of Fennesz’s work that the greyness slowly lifts. It is like peering through a sea mist at vague, blurred objects in the half light until you finally focus and an outline gradually appears. For Fennesz to hear this in his musical mind and then to transfer those images not only onto a flat piece of plastic but into the mind of the listener is nothing short of remarkable.
You won’t be surprised to hear that Black Sea is darker, and more mysterious than anything he has done before. For this album, Fennesz appears to have used a whole range of distortion, mostly guitar orientated. He creates wave upon wave of intricate texture. You can almost see him experimenting in his solitary studio with the positioning of mics, and the fabric of the room itself, to try and capture the exact sound like a genie in the bottle before finally releasing it again. The guitar plays a vital role ranging from total sparseness to a multi-textured reverb. For over fifty minutes you are locked into a dream-like sequence of music that transcends accurate description. The power of the music will provoke different imagery for different people.
Like a story dissected, a film spliced, a memory distorted, or an image blurred, the music takes you further down the path depicted on the album’s cover. Then it takes you off into the beyond, wherever that may be for you.
Fennesz must be permanently updating the software and technology available to him in his attempts to finally capture the exact atmosphere of what exists within his musical mind. As technology develops, often at the speed of sound itself, composers like this have explored the limits and written music that continually push at those boundaries. Fennesz himself is a master of this. You can only scratch your head and wonder what he will be producing in several years time when some other technical possibility becomes open to him.
It is hard to differentiate between how much the album’s title influences your expectations within the music. His album Endless Summer, for example, provoked a warm glow that also emanated from the music itself. Black Sea as a title, and the cover as an art form, conjures up a certain greyness of imagery. The music does little to dispel that, and I think it would take you in that direction regardless of any preconception.
Such is the power of Fennesz, the artist, the technician, the experimenter, the musician. He has an ability to construct real places within his music that tempt you to visit and explore. This album is one of the finest examples of that ability. For fifty-two minutes I have sat absorbed and mentally explored places that only exist inside my head, conjured up within the electronic soundscape being created for me. Seemlessly constructed and constrained only by the limitations that exist technically, this album is an abstract work of art in every sense of the phrase.
Distorted like our own view of the world, and layered with a myriad of electric sparks that create thought patterns, Black Sea is a journey into the mist of our imagination. The limitations of the English language to describe it, however, are harder to overcome.