Last century's pop and rock recording engineers ran the meters in the red, pushing recording tape past its prescribed limit for the musical qualities they discovered in the resulting compression and distortion. Likewise, some of this century's musician/composer/engineers push digital recording into areas not suggested in the manuals. Known as "glitch" artists, they are attracted to digital distortion, low-fi bit rates, and other digital artifacts that traditional engineers eschew. One such artist is Christian Fennesz, who uses guitar and computer to create electronic music that sounds sometimes like subtle shadings of emotive white noise and on other occasions like ghost melodies broadcast from a far galaxy, obscured by electrical interference from the stars.
Ryuichi Sakamoto began creating electronic pop three decades ago with the Yellow Magic Orchestra, a band that is considered to be a major influence on rave, techno, and ambient movements. Since then he has carved out a career in soundtracks (Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, The Last Emperor) and collaboration (with David Sylvian, David Byrne, Thomas Dolby, Bill Laswell, Nam June Paik, Iggy Pop, Caetano Veloso, and others). In Rome in November 2004, a live meeting with Fennesz birthed an EP, "Sala Santa Cecilia," each musician offering sonic hues ranging from aggressive to pastoral. Their palpably comfortable communication begged for a follow-up.
The resulting tunes on Cendre are quite unlike the often-challenging static of the single nineteen-minute piece on the EP. Whereas Sala Santa Cecilia sounds as if Sakamoto is meeting Fennesz on the young artist's own granular turf, here they have found a way to blend Fennesz's machine magic with Sakamoto's French-romantic acoustic piano. The results are breathtaking. Like Satie's "furniture" music, Cendre works as background or foreground. Though far from New Age noodling, the disc would make a perfect moody soundtrack for the ultra-modern, space-age bachelor pad. Yet close listening offers equal if not greater rewards. It is then that you marvel at the textural variations created by Fennesz's computer wizardry, like the rattling chain-like construction noises of "aware," or the electronic winds of "haru." You might also find yourself taken with the utter beauty of the Sakamoto piano melody that opens "trace," demonstrating a vaguely Asian tinge before dissolving into sporadic commentary on Fennesz's glitches.
Whether using Cendre to make modern whoopee or focusing on it for full analysis, you can't help but be impressed at how two such disparate worlds--broken computer noise and lyrical piano playing--can come together in a fashion that feels so natural and inevitable. It is down to the fact that a young Austrian man can find the emotion and beauty in the world of electronic noise, and a not so young Japanese man can bring an unadorned 300-year-old instrument into the world of tomorrow. • Michael Ross
thanks to Jonas Ahrentorp for his photo (see more here)