Fennesz at Mutekâ€ â€¬2008
I met with Christian Fennesz and video artist Lillevan in the green room of the Theatre de Nouveau Monde, where they would be performing together at A/Visions 3. Fennesz had no idea what visuals Lillevan would be using that evening, but they say they have known each other for a long time and there is an element of trust there. The trust was well placed because their performance was lovely and memorable, often using oceanic and watery themes projected over the top of both performers as they stood in front of a screen.
We started right into discussing technical affairs, such as Fennesz’s live performance setup. In concert, he uses the Max MSP lloopp patch, available at http://lloopp.klingt.org/plone/lloopp/
PD: I’m going to ask you about geeky things for a moment –
F: OK [laughs] – no problem –
PD: What is it about lloopp as an instrument that attracts you?
F: I think it lets you improvise in the best way. That’s what it is. I’m still not very satisfied with the controller aspect – this is something I still have to work on.
PD: Using MIDI controllers and things like that?
F: Yeah. I didn’t even start doing that, you know.
PD: Have you tried Kore, from Native Instruments?
F: No, but that sounds interesting to me. I use Reaktor a lot in studio. I use a lot of Native Instruments software, but not for live playing.
(note: our discussion of Reaktor specifics is available here)
PD: So when you’re in the studio you use other software, other synthesis techniques –
F: Oh yeah, basically everything that’s available. My main working, composing tool is Logic. And I do use all the plugins, all the Hipnos and Pluggos and whatever – I do use Reaktor, I do use Guitar Rig.
PD: But when you go on the road, you bring the lloopp software on a laptop, a guitar, and pedals… mixers?
F: I’m always asking for a Mackie mixer. So it’s a quite simple setup.
PD: Do you combine lloopp with any other software of your own creation using Max / MSP?
F: Actually not, no, I just play guitar into it, and I use old guitar pedals [laughs] as extra effects, but basically I just use the lloopp patch as it is.
PD: When you’re playing live do you also have audio that you’ve prepared in advance?
F: Yes, I do, I have like a bank of samples and sounds that I always use, but as you might know, lloopp is pretty much freestyle, so it’s always sounding different. The mix is always a different one.
PD: About field recording – you’ve released field recordings in the past…
F: Well, that was just a title for an album. I’ve not been doing so many field recordings myself, you know… I just use it as a title. But I did a little bit of outdoor field recording, yes – but not as much as other people have – Chris Watson, for example, who’s also on the same label.
PD: While we’re on the subject of the Touch label, the last few releases you’ve been involved with on Touch have been on 7 inch vinyl, as well as digital download. Is that mostly being done for aesthetic reasons, or because of an economic aspect, where vinyl is something unique, a physical experience that can’t be ripped and downloaded?
F: It’s more an aesthetic aspect, because it’s not a good business for the label to release vinyl. Actually, they lose money doing that. But they really want to do it. And maybe with the download, they can get money back in… it’s really because of the love of the medium, you know – vinyl is just sounding different.
PD: You’ve got that particular warmth and sometimes a bit of crackle that comes from it…
F: Yeah… I’m not such a vinyl freak – but the Touch people are, and I’m happy to do it.
PD: On the Amoroso release, where you took Charles Matthews’ organ music, you used a light hand on the processing – a lot of the original sound of the organ is coming through – did you do other takes of it that were more heavily processed?
F: I did, but then I realized that what Philip Jeck was doing [with the same Matthews audio] was already so heavy, you know – big hardcore distorted sound and I thought I’d better do something that’s a little bit contrary to that.
PD: So you and Jeck knew what each other were doing?
F: Yes, I got an early mix of his contribution so I knew what he was doing.
PD: But you didn’t work with Jeck on a compositional level. Are you interested in doing that?
F: Oh yeah. Could be interesting. We played together a few times live. I remember there was one festival in Portugal where we met and we decided OK, we’ll do this together, and it was really great.
PD: The release is called a tribute to composer Arvo Part. Is that one of the compositions of Part that Matthews was playing? And did you try to maintain the same sort of aesthetic?
F: Yes, that was the composition, yes. I did. I was trying to keep, somehow, the main harmonies of this composition, the main chords, and I guess I transposed it, but it was still the same harmony changes. Because I thought that was the essence of the composition.
PD: When you’re in the studio, let’s say you’re working on some guitar audio you’ve recorded – what’s your workflow like? Do you tend to concentrate on the audio you already have, or do you do overdubs…?
F: It can be anything. Sometimes I just use an acoustic guitar just as it is because I want to have it like that. But sometimes I use a guitar sound as a basis for experimentation.
PD: When you worked with Ryuichi Sakamoto on the Cendre release, what was the collaborative process like? Were you treating audio, or did you each bring your own elements of audio to the work?
F: For example he might send a piano track. And I did some overdubs on that, sent it back, and then he would work on that again and send it back to me. So it was basically always sending back and forth, adding things and mixing things.
PD: So you were sending audio back and forth over the Internet? Or… on reel to reel tape?
F: [laughs] No, not that. We just uploaded stuff on our servers, and exchanged like that. But then we met in the studio in New York and finished it.
PD: And what was the recording process like, live? How much was improvisational and how much was scored?
F: I developed new material that goes together with his piano playing. So I really composed music for what he sent to me. I was playing new stuff and recorded that. It was almost scored, actually. It was really designed and composed stuff.
PD: And once you had the material recorded, what was the post production like – mostly neatening, editing –
F: Editing, lots of editing. We met in his studio in New York and Ryuichi’s got these fantastic speakers, German speakers, Geithain? Unbelievable. You hear everything.
PD: Sort of a microscope for sound.
F: Absolutely. So that was the process there, when we just listened back to everything and tried to polish, tried to edit here and there. Added a few things.
PD: About “On A Desolate Shore A Shadow Passes By” – the digital release – you have some very, very clear guitar, almost unprocessed. Together with your handling of the Matthews audio on Amoroso, does this represent a trend for you, of a lighter touch, less processing?
F: I don’t think so – it just felt right at the moment, and… I’m still interested in heavy processing [laughs]. But also at the moment very interested in classical recording techniques, like how to use a good microphone in a good room. And how to record an acoustic instrument in a perfect way. So I’m reading all those books and trying out all those things, so it might have been influenced at this time. But at the same time I’m still very much interested in digital processing.
PD: But now you’re starting to explore capture techniques – expensive condenser mikes, tube preamps, things like that? Any favorites? Are you using vintage equipment?
F: Yeah, I do, actually. I have a pair of Telefunken V-72 preamps. They’re fantastic. I do use old Siemens filters also, sometimes.
PD: What is it about the Telefunken preamps? What do they do to the audio for you?
F: It’s valve preamps. I have the impression they make it sound almost 3-D, you know? There’s more room, suddenly. But I also just got this wonderful little API mixer. Sounds just as good as the Telefunken. Maybe even better. API is a classic console company, like Nieve.
PD: I’m going to finish up with the desert island question I’m asking everyone at Mutek. Let’s say you were on a desert island, with lots of fish, coconuts, lots of leisure time. No electricity. Would you still make music, and what would you make it with?
F: [laughs] Of course I would want to make music, and I would use a guitar. Just an acoustic guitar and I’m fine.
Special Thanks to Dimitri Nasrallah of Mutek for arranging the interview