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Fenn O’Berg In Stereo Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Legendary laptop trinity take it to the studio.

Spencer Grady 2010

The prevalence of numerous laptop improvisers appearing at your local music venue might just be down to these three. It’s easy to forget that, back in 1999, when the trio of Christian Fennesz, Jim O’Rourke and Peter Rehberg issued their debut album, The Magic Sound of Fenn O’Berg, the grossly unappetizing spectre of stern visages illuminated by the glare of computer screens seemed just a figment of some unthinkable, distant future.

Culled entirely from live performance excerpts, both The Magic… and The Return of Fenn O’Berg, the trio’s 2002 follow-up, were defined by their episodic approach, their spasmodic ability to traverse moods and modes – from madcap slapstick to sombre sobriety – at the mere press of a space key. Critical digits wagged in the direction of O’Rourke, fingering him as the chief culprit of the collaged cut-ups, his reputation for mischief-making preceding him.

Now, after a hiatus of almost nine years, the triumvirate are back with a work constituting a significant shift in both method and sound. In Stereo is their first studio record, which helps explain the meticulously crafted nature of its component parts. Even amid the chaotic axis of the digital storm – which sees Fenn O’Berg casting wildly oscillating electrons down the throat of an alien aqueduct in subatomic defiance of Coulomb’s law – there remains the feeling that tones and timbres are being deftly deployed in accordance with some grand scheme. Fantastical visions are raised; bizarrely engineered Hayao Miyazaki-esque machines whirring at the heart of amorphous purple clouds spring readily to mind, as do the extraterrestrial atmospheres of David Lindsay’s surreal science-fiction novel, A Voyage to Arcturus.  

In Stereo also sees the prime trickster take a backseat, partially framing its vistas as sonic struggles between the remaining protagonists. The huge swathes of vaporous nimbus that punctuate this album can be perceived as the resultant detritus of a cosmic struggle; a tussle between Rehberg’s penchant for hostile white squalls of noise and Fennesz’s more melodious inclinations. Of course, O’Rourke’s presence is not entirely concealed: the piano and drum coda of Part I (which appears halfway through this set), recalls his previous work with David Grubbs in Gastr Del Sol, betraying the jester’s hand.

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