Freak Scene: Fennesz’s Venice is a Gateway Drug

July 19, 2013

It's hot in New York. Stifling. Squinting even when you're wearing sunglasses hot. Going out to get coffee, I saw people in shorts (makes sense) and some in jeans (does not make sense, seems crazy). I balked at the jeans wearers, but then realized that everyone was sweating uncontrollably anyway. Sometimes it gets muggy enough that it doesn't matter what you're wearing anymore because everyone is just immediately super gross. Complaining about this kind of heat is built into the DNA of the existence of this kind of heat.

Music, besides being a good way to dredge up forgotten memories, is also a great partner to weather. Every summer, without fail, the second it gets too warm—they key word here being too—I break out Fennesz’s Venice, an album that expands on the drone-as-pop-music sensibilities he explored on Endless Summer. Venice, is, to me, a more interesting album.

The deal with Endless Summer is that in making it, Fennesz changed the way a lot of people listened to experimental music. It wasn't exactly difficult, but it wasn't conventional either. Endless Summer used glitchy burbles and static as a way of shaping emotions; Venice takes those same ideas and stretches them out into a goopy mess of humid tones and smears of digital scribbles. Those burbles that felt so prominent on Endless Summer are still there, but they're layered and tangled and mixed into this great mass of beautiful drone. Sometimes it sounds like a swarm of mechanical bees, other times it sounds exactly like the cover looks: a couple rickety boats, bobbing serenely in crystal clear, knee deep water. It's often hard to make a case for instrumental music's ability to conjure concrete images, but with Venice, it feels like Fennesz had very specific imagery knocking around in his head.

The fact that Venice is able to paint such vivid pictures with sound is key. When it was released, I was a freshman in college, desperately looking for something in music that would blow my world apart and completely change my perspective. Venice sounded so pretty to me that it took years for me to realize that my concept of prettiness wasn't necessarily the same as everyone else's. At various points, people have told me that Venice stresses them out, or that it's kind of creepy when David Sylvian's wobbly baritone comes out of nowhere on "Transit." It actually is creepy—there was a period in my life when the only way I could go to sleep at night was to put Venice on, and "Transit" woke me up every time to the point that I had to make a separate "sleep version" of the album without it on there... The point is, as much as Fennesz's music feels tactile to me—listening to it often feels like sticking my head into a waterfall—it's not like that for everyone, and even as it was changing the way I listened to music, it was turning a whole lot of people off too. In that sense, it's a great "gateway" experimental album. If you like it, there's a whole world of this stuff out there. Not much of it is as good as Venice or Endless Summer, but that's okay. There's a lot to explore.

I've listened to Fennesz's music fairly constantly since discovering Venice. I might go a couple weeks without it, but I always come back. I'm on my second listen of Venice today alone. I've got it on loop. I feel guilty about how hard I'm working my air conditioner right now, but it's making this heat almost tolerable. The clicking drone it makes is adding a little to the sound of Venice, mostly by muffling its subtleties. In most cases, I'd say this sort of outside noise has a negative effect on music. We listen to albums like Venice for the singular artistic statement they provide. But the beauty of Fennesz is that even with all these intrusions, it's malleable enough to feel like it's supposed to be part of the outside world, whatever that might happen to be.

From The Collection:

Freak Scene
Freak Scene: Fennesz’s Venice is a Gateway Drug