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Fenn O’Berg - Magic & Return

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Artist: Fenn O’Berg

Album: Magic & Return

Label: Editions Mego

Review date: Jun. 30, 2009

For the uninitiated, Fenn O’Berg is a “supergroup” consisting of Christian Fennesz, Jim O’Rourke and Mego proprietor Peter Rehberg, a.k.a. Pita. They first came together in 1997 at the Nickelsdorf Festival, and then toured throughout 1998 and 1999, which supplied the trio with the music on The Magic Sound of Fenn O’Berg. Although Fennesz and O’Rourke were renowned as guitarists, all three players improvised using computers. (This wasn’t always popular with audiences; in Rome, O’Rourke was given an acoustic guitar and forced to play a short set before anyone could leave the building.) Given the current prevalence of laptop improvisers, it is easy to forget that they barely existed in 1999. With this music, Fenn O’Berg were breaking new ground, clearing the way for live electronic improvisation. Magic & Return contains every recording by the trio – their two LPs and two additional tracks – and serves to whet the appetite for a potential reunion in 2010. The Complete Fenn O’Berg would have been premature.

The Magic… disc has a rather episodic structure. Created in real time in concert, the music combines electronic tones, instrumental sounds and samples. All three players work together on each track, with Rehberg’s penchant for noise and Fennesz’s melodic ambient approach occasionally rising to the fore. O’Rourke’s eclecticism generally acts as catalyst; his fingerprints are all over the humorous and surreal juxtapositions, such as the woodblock solo midway though the industrial noise piece “Shinjuku Baby Pt 1.”

Each piece’s setting plays an influential role in the production. “Gürtel Eins” and “Gürtel Zwei” are pulled from the trio’s stop in Fennesz’s hometown of Vienna, and consequently reveal his influence, whereas “Shinjuku Baby Pts 1 & 2” from Tokyo are noisier affairs.

The best track is “Fenn O’Berg Theme,” one of the longer pieces at over 10 minutes. It’s based around a John Barry orchestral theme (thankfully, without any Shirley Bassey vocals), giving it structure and coherence.

The Return portion of this reissue (a.k.a. The Return of Fenn O’Berg) was recorded live in 2001 at concerts in Paris and Vienna. “Floating My Boat” opens in alarming fashion with a techno rhythm track that eventually morphs into familiar territory, continuing where Magic left off. The pieces are longer and more developed than those on the debut LP. There are senses of their different styles, but you can sense these three auteurs are working harder to produce a coherent music. The best track is the longest, the unpromisingly titled “A Viennese Tragedy.” Using similar materials, it recreates the sense of drama and the coherence achieved on “Fenn O’Berg Theme.”

Reviewing The Return of… for Dusted in 2002, Michael Crumsho declared it the best electronic album of that year, and the passage of time backs him up. Both parts of Magic & Return stand up well and retain our fascination. The music here doesn’t just have historical significance; it’s also beautiful, engaging and amusing.

By John Eyles

Other Reviews of Fenn O’Berg

The Return of Fenn O'Berg

In Stereo

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View all articles by John Eyles

Find out more about Editions Mego

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