Live Review: Fennesz, Keith Fullerton Whitman

27 February 2016 | 12:15 pm | Chris Familton

"There’s a melancholic sombreness that permeates most of Fennesz’s music..."

Carriageworks is the perfect Sydney venue for exploring the avant-garde and experimental side of both art and music. One member of the audience was overheard referring to it as Redfern’s Opera House. That combination of large sleek slabs of concrete and the ageing brickwork of a bygone industrial era. Room 40’s Lawrence English was the curator for this evening of electronic music from two of the scene’s most respected practitioners.

Keith Fullerton Whitman’s performance was a sensory overload of space and sound via its quadrophonic setting. With speakers in all four corners of the room and Whitman in the centre with a table of colour-coded cables, effect units and machines, he created an immersive experience that transformed the room into a deep-space, sci-fi world of bleeps, chirps, sine waves and sparkling melodies. It was like a robotic interpretation of a fireworks display with sounds overlapping, exploding and showering the entranced audience. Whitman provided a fascinating, transportive and strangely calming interstellar soundtrack.

After the room was cleared in order to rearrange the seating into a more traditional concert format Christian Fennesz (Austria) and Lillevan took the stage. Fennesz’s sound is a denser proposition. He trades in digital static, large monolithic swathes of textured sound that cascade and wash over the audience like synthetic waves. There was an ebb and flow to his set that created the effect of tension and release, accompanied by Lillevan’s live video projections that often enhanced the music but were also a distraction at times, preventing the listener from fully losing oneself in the music. Closed eyes seemed to be a common antidote from a quick survey of the room. The second half of Fennesz’s set was the more rewarding, once he picked up his guitar and began adding heavily processed melodic lines and grand, dense chords. It gave the music an organic grip and grittiness that grounded the more sonically abstract sounds. There’s a melancholic sombreness that permeates most of Fennesz’s music – like a drifting, lonely soul in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Like Whitman’s preceding set, there was also a sense of comfort and ultimately hope that lingered after the machine music had faded.