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Christian Fennesz

Take a listen to Ferment_action_OZmotic on Christian Fennesz’s album Aireffect. This is along the lines of what I’m thinking of as fractured ambient. Maybe a better name for this is noise ambient.

This is part the process I engage in when I’m forming ideas: close listening to stuff that I like. It gets inside clarifies my own way of doing things. Pretty common approach, really. But a lot of people don’t write it down.


Brian Eno described ambient music as being “as ignorable as it is interesting.” This piece is interesting, but ignorable? I’m not sure.

The piece begins inside what sounds like a faltering airplane engine. A tearing sound after 20 seconds forms a boundary between that and (in order of appearance) granular raindrops; a chirping metal sound; a rusty, clockwork machine; and a bassy synth replaced immediately by a metallic scraping.

Bass synth balloons out from there, followed by a pedal-tone (guitar?), and obsessive morse code bleeping. These elements recede and emerge.

All this in the first two minutes of a six minute piece.

Can we call this ambient? It’s certainly textural (as ambient music tends to be). It’s also interesting. Ignorable? Probably not in a quiet space where it would stand out.


Moving on

Around the 2:23 mark we get a sloshing sound and synth pads, followed by what sounds like cutlery on plates, dog barks, bell-of-the-cymbal strikes, a bit of farting static, and at 3:37, a gong repeated three times, accompanied each time by a change of harmony in the synth pads.

Sounds like he’s moving toward something more conventional…

Large bass synth at 4:10 with random drum synth-produced woodblocks and metal, and another bass note at 4:23. More drum synth, and more bass at 4:36, 4:45, 4:54, 5:00, followed by huge synth pad swells that consume the bass. Continue drum pad, add static, dial down synth pad, end with static. The granular raindrops from the beginning never go away.




Is this ambient? There are clearly marked sections (the gongs starting at 3:37, the bass synth at 4:10), and a variety of different sounds that don’t evolve. This runs against type. But the slowly evolving sound structure – the gradual addition of similiar types of sound (metal) in the first 2 minutes – reminds me of ambient music.

So I’m thinking of it fractured or noise ambient. The evolving sound (granular raindrops, metal sounds) is interrupted (fractured) by sounds alien to the existing, noisy structure. These sounds – gongs, bass – are more conventional, and send the piece in a different direction. Previous elements remain as what can be thought of as an ambient structure.

I know I’m pushing it. It’s as easy to reject this as ambient altogether, as it is to call it fractured or noise ambient. But taking a close look at stuff that might be described as ambient – textural, or timbre-based music – and trying to squash it into an ambient box – is one way to clarify for myself what it is I’m trying to make.



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