An Interview with Christian Fennesz
Endless thanks for agreeing to this interview in mid-recording/production. You are recording at the studio close to home in Vienna where the project started, correct?
I used to have a proper studio room in a commercial recording studio which was about a 10 minute walk away from my home. Unfortunately, I had to give it up a couple of years ago. I moved all my gear back to a small bedroom in my flat (It was my daughter's bedroom. She is 21, and has moved out already).
This situation kind of threw me back to a working routine like back in the day when i did my first records. It was difficult at first, but it got better day by day.
I didn't use any of my outboard gear, it was all done “in the box”; Not having too many options can be inspiring.
It is admirable that your introduction to laptop/effect processing did not result in the abandonment of your guitar, but a movement to incorporate it into your audio explorations. How has this influenced the way you approach your guitar playing?
I played in punk, rock and jazz bands when i was young. Virtuosity was my first goal. This completely changed when i got my first sampler. Sound and sound manipulation became the real challenge. I play simple. Just a few tones, a few chords, but it has to sound strong.
I have the biggest admiration for jazz musicians like Miles Davis or Wes Montgomery who sometimes played just a few notes – and these worked so well because of the quality of sound.
My setup consisting of laptops, max/msp, guitars, pedals and a mixer works perfectly well for me. The guitar is basically a sound generator now.
If you look at guitarists like Stephen O'Malley, Oren Ambarchi, Tim Hecker, or Ben Frost, just to name a few - I think (I hope I'm right) they're following a similar idea, using computers and guitar to explore new territory.
I do have the deepest respect for virtuoso guitarists, though.
Can you recall an initial point of engagement with Max or was it much more of a long term engagement process?
I remember very well. In the early 90's, I was doing music for a theater/performance piece in Austria. I had my guitars, pedals and an Ensoniq EPS16+ sampler with me.
The work was overwhelming, just too much for me - so I asked my friend Klaus Filip to help me. He came over also with an Ensoniq EPS216+ and a Macbook from the 100 series. He had Max running on that computer.
What he was able to do with Max and the sampler was incredible.
When MSP was introduced later on, I bought it and started programming. I had some experience with SuperCollider under OS 9, which was a great sounding software. But MSP seemed to be more like what i wanted, and it was also easier to use for me. I still hope that someone makes a new and easier to use version of SuperCollider one day.
You have a patch in Max that you have explained is integral in your process. Would you mind sharing some info about that process or what it looks like?
I am still using “ppooll” (formerly named “lloopp”), which is a patch made by Klaus Filip and his colleagues. You can download it for free at www.klingt.org
I've been using this for many years, and I've gotten really used to it – this is my main software for live playing. It gives me everything I need: a sampler, loopplayer modules, a few synths, effects, audio in, audio unit/vst connections, MIDI controllers, etc. It's like a toolbox or a studio on your laptop.
I also use it in the studio in combination with logic 9 and X. I actually still use a quite old version of ppooll. I also have ableton live (with Max 4 Live) installed on my computers but i barely ever use it. It's a great piece of software but I think I can improvise much better in a live gig context when using ppooll.
Many artists talk about the challenge of not being able to "unlearn" habits with how they approach the creative process. In times past, you have explained that you haven't learned anything and that the approach is always a novel one for you.
The statement is nice as it doesn't put your work on a timeline of "progress." However, with the guitar being a first love, there must be a resort to some habits on occasion, correct?
I have no idea when and where i said that…
You are right, as a guitarist i do have the typical habits and routines, but what i was probably trying to say is the fact that i can get totally lost in a studio/production surrounding, in a nice way though!
I try out instruments, outboard gear, plug ins, very fast. I make fast decisions. Once i have finished a track i can hardly remember how i made it.
Being at this for a very long time, are there any longstanding challenges? With the current record are there any novel ones?
It's always a challenge. Every record is like building a house. Nowadays where every idiot can spread her/his opinion over the internet it's even more difficult.
People are not nice.
The challenge for this album “Agora” that i just finished, was the limited options that i had. i worked in a small bedroom on headphones as mentioned above.
I used more synth sounds than ever before. Click here to listen to "Agora", Christian's recording
Whether it's a somber feeling , a reflective feeling, or a pensive feeling, a strong sense of complacency comes through as a listener of your work.
Do you feel a sense of complacency when making music?
Do you mean complacency in the sense of “oh i know what i am doing and i can get lazy now…?” or complacency in some sense of self confidence?
I don't think anything of that is in me.
When i started making electronic music back in the early 90's I was sure i would never have to play live again. The complete opposite happened very soon after this.
If ever I could, I would never show my face in public again. But then, when I am on a stage I really enjoy it. It's my job and I have accepted that and it has become a part of my life.
Your sound is never absent of noisy elements. Being an admirer of noise, is there anything you're currently listening to?
I am an admirer of noise, too.
Recently, I have been listening to a lot of jazz. I don't know why. Davis, Montgomery, Coltrane, Coleman, Monk. Taylor... jazz from the 60's.
I had two shows in Brazil in December, and loved the classic Bossa Nova you hear in Rio all the time…
I've been enjoying Stephen O'Malley and BJ Nilsen's latest releases.
Also Ipek Gorgun's new album.
I think Jim O'Rourke's ongoing Steamroom series is fantastic.
And I liked Ryuichi Sakamoto's last album a lot.
You have collaborated with so many artists over the years -- Jim O'Rourke as well as Ryuichi Sakamoto. In what ways are collaborations important to your artistic expression?
Well, first of all, these collaborations make me leave my cave… which is good. It's both a social and an artistic challenge.
I feel privileged being able to work with all these great musicians. It does open doors for me and it makes me learn new things. It's great to see how they do things differently in a similar studio surrounding.
We all have our home studios but every approach is different.
Is there anything about the progress and content of the current record you're working on that sticks out to you?
That's a difficult question… I've just finished the album a few weeks ago.
If I mentioned an influence of Spacemen3 and French movie soundtracks from the 70's, would that be understandable? I don't think so.
I'd rather say nothing.
I hear you are a Neil Young fan. "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" or "Harvest"? (We are both Neil Young fans, however I may just ask this and exclude your answer from the interview or ask for myself).
Everybody Knows This is Nowhere.
I think my favorite Neil Young albums are the self titled “Neil Young”, the one with Joni Mitchel's portrait painting on the cover, and On the Beach.
by Christopher Reid Martin on
Mar 5, 2019 9:46 PM