Saturday, December 20, 2008
'Black Sea', released this autumn, was the first new Fennesz album since 'Venice' (2004). As can be seen here, it has a typically beautiful Touch Records landscape photograph on the cover, but like its predecessor you wouldn't really be justified in calling this a kind of 'landscape' music. For me, 'Venice' was more like the Venice of Howard Hodgkin's paintings than the Venice of, say, Caneletto - an art of vague memories and moods. 'Black Sea' is praised in the latest Wire but also described as 'business as usual' for Fennesz and I see that it doesn't make it into their top electronica releases of 2008. However, another recent Touch record, Lawrence English's 'Kiri No Oto', does make that list. The Touch website explains the title: loosely translated it means 'the 'sound of fog' or 'sound of mist'. In many ways it's a collection that meditates on the sense of displacement and distortion that occurs in environments which undergo extreme mists, snowstorms and sea sprays. In the same way that visual objects loose their perspective, form and shape in these environments, the sound components that make up Kiri No Oto are not quite as they first might appear.'
Touch records are designed by Jon Wozencroft. In a 2000 interview he explained his fascination with landscape photography: 'It’s a response to the tyranny of the close-up of the human face, for one thing. So it’s also a response to a sexual question. Next, it’s based around a feeling I have about sacred images. It’s the way that, as a subject, “natural” landscapes can invoke wonder and respect, which hopefully feeds back into human behavior. There has to be a way that images can teach, but all the didactic methods have failed in the face of mass media, so my concern is to find a language that is the opposite of meta-this, techno-that, and try to get to elemental concerns in a softer way. These landscapes are atmosphere recordings, and they are forensic. When I really started making photographs, at the beginning of the 1990s, I started by photographing material that I’d shot on video off the TV screen. I worked a lot on what could be done with abstraction, and as soon as the PC made it so easy to output abstraction, I decided it was time to make the subject central. And it seemed to me that photography could take the opportunity that Photoshop offered to sleigh off its skin. Maybe documentary photography, and a painterly approach to the medium, could be combined with a choice of subjects that were non-representations. It is the camera, it is the moment, but alongside a series of other processes parallel to the mechanical aspect that make it unique to the viewer, and the only manipulating factor is the light. Questions for the eyes, based on beauty. Saturated beauty.'
Here are a couple more landscape images from the Touch Records catalogue. The first one, above, is a collaborative work which features Fennesz and others. I can't resist repeating an unattributed quotation on the website about this: 'Fennesz's set "...evokes the rolling centuries in all their pain and beauty, leaving us at once becalmed and energised, but never oppressed under the weight of time.' Who writes like this?! The second, 'Surface Runoff' by Jana Winderen, is a pair of soundscapes recorded using hydrophones in various rivers, ranging from the Ping and Mae Taeng north of Chiang Mai, Thailand, to the Ouse in England.