Fennesz, O'Rourke, Rehberg: The Return Of Fenn O'Berg

Fennesz, O'Rourke, Rehberg: The Return Of Fenn O'Berg

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Album: The Return Of Fenn O'Berg
Label: Mego

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While music's migration from stereos to computers is continually treated as a business story, loads of artists have been scrambling to give the trend an aesthetic subtext. From the recent spate of newly omnivorous mixologists (DJ /rupture, Soulwax) to the slap-happy juxtapositions of "bootleg" culture ("A Stroke Of Genius," "Smells Like Booty"), a good bit of electronic music has sidestepped talk of gadgets and business models to focus on what it means when music shifts toward the realm of boundlessly malleable data. No stranger to such semiotic concerns, the laptop trio of Christian Fennesz, Jim O'Rourke, and Peter Rehberg—collectively known as Fenn O'Berg—chimes in on the issue by guiding a tour through the internal workings and external appearances of an immense medium being squeezed into seemingly devalued sound files. The group's second album, The Return Of Fenn O'Berg, opens with a series of melodic ambient riffs overlaid with aural muck poured on in drips and waves. Glad-handing the tenets of musique concréte with software designed to mix and match, the trio makes a game of covering as much ground as possible, patching string sections, player-piano rolls, and caustic shards of sound into a collage as moving as it is abstruse. In the middle of the 14-minute "A Viennese Tragedy," a breathless orchestra sample swells and crumples as Fenn O'Berg buzzes around its core like a microscope circling a double-helix twisted with strands of old and new. Over the course of four long tracks, the album stays rooted in similar moments of disorienting beauty, playing like a celebration and a requiem for a medium unsure of its own standing. As the group venerates and destroys snippets of steel drums, Asian lutes, and timeless ragtime riffs, The Return Of Fenn O'Berg invokes the sound of conditioned musical trust grappling with a blank-slate environment in which boundaries of any kind are a thing of the past.

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