Knoxville is a profound, intelligent record of sound and darkness. Recorded at the Big Ears Festival in, of course, Knoxville, Tennessee, the album marks the first meeting of Christian Fennesz (guitar and electronics), David Daniell (guitar) and Tony Buck (drums).
These three masters of experimental music forge a bond that really can only come out of first meetings, as their interactions with one another are like newborn children exploring the world of sensory delights with wide open fresh eyes.
It’s interesting, too, to note how the varying backgrounds of the players come into the performance to make impacts. Fennesz, who has recorded with the likes of Mike Patton and Sparklehorse, brings his incredible understanding of composition to the fray. Buck, best known for his 20-year history with The Necks, sprinkles touches of percussion that bring together the borders of avant-garde, jazz and ambient traditions. And Daniell, noted for collaborating with Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) and Greg Davis, to name a few, slowly burns the outer edges with arresting guitar.
Knoxville is tough to divide into individual tracks, as the entire performance really exists like a slow-moving fog over the landscape of the Tennessee city.
Blown in by a gentle wind, “Unüberwindbare Wände” is the first piece. It is not so much a “song” but a movement unto itself, journeying through like a pleasant mist might cover the tops of skyscrapers until unleashing into noisy torrential rains.
The beauty of Knoxville lies in the ability of the musicians to transition from subtle, deep lines to alarming, abrasive chasms of noise with the volatility of intimately involved players.
There’s also the not-so-small way Fennesz, Daniell and Buck lay monsters beneath abnormally sweet surfaces. “Heat From Light,” with its proposal that all is not as it seems, is like a soft pool of water broke apart but menacing ripples. Its creaking, hulking mass threatens the stillness, but there is loveliness in being so scared.
Knoxville’s closing number, “Diamond Mind,” seals the deal – or maybe the crypt – with a clattering of electronic noise and sparkling percussion.
The experimental sounds of Fennesz, Daniell and Buck don’t make for easy listening, but the ambient and drone tones will please fans of the genre to no end. Listening to Knoxville is like listening to three masters snarl it out with machines and instruments on a bleak, murky February evening.