Fennesz at Holocene - 03/11/2020
The prolific Austrian guitarist and soundscape artist made a rare visit to Portland on Tuesday evening, and showed a Holocene audience that ambient music is often beautiful, but it does not have to be calm, nor does it need to be quiet.
Before Fennesz took the stage, he was preceded by two other electronic artists. Portland's own Visible Cloaks were the most active of the evening's performers, as they utilized a number of hard-to-classify instruments, and played over movement-responsive visuals. Onstage sculpture-building provided a unique and very entertaining live element. Early parts of heir set recalled Does It Look Like I'm Here?-era Emeralds maximalism, and the projections behind the performers would build and drip away as they jammed. Eventually, they dropped the pace and projections switched to an almost synesthetic visualization, sharing with the audience a phenomenon which few people actually get to experience.
After Visible Cloaks, Britton Powell set up his own musical gear and double projectors. A composer hailing from New York, Powell's set very much encapsulated the city's energy. His performance opened with building gong matched with ocean scenes and then bled into heavy drone over industrial cityscapes. Points early on in his composition felt noisy, almost crushingly-so, as a palpable sense of claustrophobia or impending doom seemed to set in like darkness. Sounds then transitioned into rapid percussion as Powell took the audience down into the New York subway system and then back up to bustling streets, and finally to Times Square. Was this sonic/visual match-up meant to symbolize the rat race of daily life, or perhaps just rats? Whatever his intent, this portion of Powell's set grew a sort of frenetic feeling. Strobed images of Carrie Bradshaw and bright advertisements only added to the wild energy of his set.
Finally, Fennesz took the stage. Immediately he launched in to two towering pieces (the second of which was Agora standout In My Room), building synth layers into ear-shattering compositions. These songs felt almost post-rock in nature, like Mogwai - massive and very, very loud. The noise of these two openers felt beautiful, though, and elicited tears, perhaps from joy, or maybe from volume-induced pain. Fennesz then dialed it back a bit, picking up his guitar before he channeled a bit of Grouper, looping distorted chords over his synths. At one point, he was momentarily interrupted by some technical difficulties, but then got back into creating guitar-based melodies which washed over the crowd. This is how he eventually wound down the set, which felt both beautiful and aggressive at once. Of the three performances, Fennesz's set was the most ambient and epic, and though it was intense at points, it also conveyed serenity.