Live: Fennesz / Somadrone
Andrew’s Lane Theatre, Dublin
6 May 2009
The latest incarnation of Somadrone is as a duo comprising its architect Neil O’Connor with Glenn Keating, both playing synthesisers. Somadrone opened for Fennesz, creating submerged tribal rhythms for the crowd of around 100 to enjoy. This concert felt like an initiation or a baptism, with dense, layered rhythms and textures abluting believers. These serious musicians crafted two long pieces, heavily based on drones and note loops, with strange, rounded, muted sounds contrasted with sharp-edged sounds, deconstructed steel-drum echoes and shimmering rhythm fragments. It felt like a tropical reef, populated by a few of the most exotic, colourful fish, but dominated by hammer-head sharks. Their light show was limited to the spectrum of blue-green, matching these strange aquatic textures.
The main act was altogether more powerful and primal. With laptop, Fender stratocaster and effect boxes, Christian Fennesz was a pagan high-priest. The audience were rapt, many standing still with eyes closed as the digital Pontifex Maximus invoked a wall-of-noise that was relentless. If you were not a believer, you might have said remorseless.
Fennesz feeds his guitar through his laptop, looping it, adding beats and white noise, glitches and washes. The effect is mesmerising, very much like an abstract expressionist painting or Rorschach test. The listener can feel alienated, beaten even, yet something of beauty will emerge from the depths, transfix you and then sink away. These moments were like the opening of the spacecraft door in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, attraction and repulsion exquisitely balanced.
‘There is a strong hypnotic power in noise-music,’ Fennesz has said, ‘and that’s something I don’t want to leave out of my music.’ Like Sisyphus, but here rolling hard rock influenced by My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth and the Beach Boys, Fennesz climbed to the top of the mountain again and again. He deployed bass notes that echoed in chest cavities, high-hissing hums, jackhammer beats, transitions that sounded like shortwave radio static, but all to comprehensive and comprehensible effect.
His final piece began slowly, textured and gentle, a hum that became the harbinger of storm, just there over the horizon, and then it was on us, the clatter of stones moved on a beach, a note held through high-voltage electricity pylons, an awesome sound. The audience worshipped this manifestation of a cruel yet wonderful god.
Published on 1 August 2009
Seán Ó Máille is a freelance critic, photographer and full-time secondary teacher in Dublin.