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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Laptop Concert in Tokyo Nest

At a club called Shibuya Nest in Tokyo, Japan, on February 9 of 2003, Christian Fennesz, who records under his last name, took the stage with his laptop and let loose three quarters of an hour of sublimation and noise. The event is now available as full-length CD, Live in Japan, from the Tokyo-based label Headz. Aside from one fadeout half an hour in, it’s a single continuous piece of music — continuous, but not homogenous by any means. What is beautiful in a familiar way about the recording (the occasional spurts of guitar, the squawking of birdsong, various lyrical samples) is often muffled by layers of static and fuzz. And that static and fuzz, in turn, is often shaped into its own musical material — repeated, for example, until what sounds like interference becomes a riff; the experience is a bit like seeing enormous and threatening clouds overhead come to resemble faces and forms. (Throughout the record, various segments might be recognized by anyone who has heard Fennesz’s previous Endless Summer and Field Recordings albums.) His music thrives on its proximity to chaos, which is what makes it sublime. In contrast with cathartic work that openly embraces chaos, his has the detailed beauty of a carefully produced song, though that song may take several listens to hear, and the production several listens more to appreciate.

Almost seven minutes into Live in Japan (the disc contains one single track, 43 minutes in length), after a flurry of fuzz has settled down, an acoustic guitar surfaces tentatively to provide a distinct signal. The digital hubbub subsides, soothed like a pack of digital beasts, rabid robot scouts lured to the campfire by the promise of a lullaby. The hisses and crunches that had previously defined the recording seem to coalesce around the guitar, echoing or otherwise complementing the melody that’s being plucked and strummed. There’s an extent to which these fluctuations and irritants are welcome, since some of the guitar playing sounds like second-rate singer-songwriter mush. Twenty minutes or so in, as an electric guitar emerges, again it’s downright enticing how peculiar particulate sounds — bleeps like terse foghorns, scintillate like amplified fireflies — mesh with the guitar. On first listening, the noise can be little more than a distraction. But Fennesz has the unique ability to suggest an interplay between what is foreground and what is background, and how those two merge into one thick moment is what makes Live in Japan worth sitting through repeatedly. So heat up some sake, dim the lights, and sink in.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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  • My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, was published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury. It has been translated into Japanese (2019) and Spanish (2018).

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