FENNESZ + SAKAMOTO: Flumina (Touch)


Posted on Feb 3rd 2012 01:12 am

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Fennesz + Sakamoto: Flumina

Touch 2011
24 Tracks. 124mins06secs

Amazon UK: CD | DLD US: CD | DLD Boomkat: CD | DLD iTunes: DLD

Flumina is the third collaboration between Ryuichi Sakamoto and Christian Fennesz, following Sala Santa Cecilia (2005) and Cendre (2007), and, with twenty-four tracks spread over two discs, it is also by far their most extensive. The project began when Sakamoto was touring in Japan some time ago; opening each one of the twenty-four shows of the tour with a different improvisation, each played in a different key to cover the complete steps of the western tonal system, and documenting them all, he then sent his recordings to Christian Fennesz in Vienna for him to add textures and ambiences before the pair reconvened in New York to mix the record.

Very much like their previous work, where the balance between Sakamoto’s modern classical piano compositions and Fennesz ambient soundscapes fueled the creative process, Fennesz here replicates Sakamoto’s minimal melodic treatment and sparse performances, the difference being that, on Flumina, the compositions are all extremely bare and pure, at times sounding more like sketches than fully developed pieces. Instead of treated guitars distortions, Fennesz opts here for much more restrained atmospheric soundscapes, built primarily from electronics and synths. He still uses guitars extensively, but he chooses to work from much softer sounds sources and processes them so heavily that they retain very little of their natural aspect once incorporated into his overall soundscapes.

Sakamoto’s improvisations are all extremely intimist and delicate, at times almost grinding to a halt or going through intensely quiet moments, at others building from note sequences which, whilst arranged into clusters, are so complex or disconnected that no melody as such can develop. His pieces are like miniature impressionist narratives, their angles purposely blurred and out of focus to leave space for the mind to wander, and this is how Fennesz approaches his parts too, emphasizing Sakamoto’s performance with restraint rather than completing it. It is therefore easy to get lost in this record, the relative absence of distinctive features resulting in the whole record sounding somewhat uniform and indrawn, especially considering that it stretches over two hours, making it easy to miss some of its most wonderful moments, of which the cloudy aspect of 0320, the pastoral feel of 0327 or the medieval tones of 0424 for instance are only the tip.

This is rather quite a shame as individually, each one of these creations is utterly exquisite and tastefully set, Sakamoto’s sparse and elegant improvisations beautifully showcased against Fennesz’s impressionist backdrops. There is no doubt that as a pair, Fennesz and Sakamoto form an intensely creative partnership, and that they instinctively know how to respond to each other. The downfall of this record may be that they ultimately have stuck to the original idea a tad too closely and lost sight of its overall harmony and balance.


Fennesz | Ryuichi Sakamoto | Touch
Amazon UK: CD | DLD US: CD | DLD Boomkat: CD | DLD iTunes: DLD

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Comments (5)

5 Responses to “FENNESZ + SAKAMOTO: Flumina (Touch)”

  1. Andrewon 13 Feb 2012 at 6:00 pm

    Wow one of the lowest numbered reviews I’ve seen from you. Must be not that great of an album. Maybe could have used some editing! See Alog.

  2. themilkmanon 13 Feb 2012 at 10:52 pm

    I think the problem with this album, at least for me, is that the concept became the primary factor here, and that, as a concept, it doesn’t actually bring much. As you say, editing could have probably helped making the album more interesting, but, as much as the music actually is very good, I never managed to keep interested for the whole of one CD, let alone two. I gave it many tries, but always lost interest about two third down the first CD. I did try to split the listening process over two days, but even that didn’t really make it more attractive in the end.

    It is a shame as I really value Cendre as a truly wonderful record, and had high hopes for this one. Perhaps, if they had step away from the original concept, and done some serious editing, this album would have ended up being much more interesting than it actually is. This is only my opinion mind…

  3. Andrewon 13 Feb 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Yeah that makes sense. Cendre was a great album through and through. It had a lightness and a depth that kept me listening over and over. I’m probably going to get this one but probably not the actual disc. I’m kind of waiting for it to show up on Spotify. ;)

    Actually that brings up something I’ve always wanted to ask a music critic, and that is how do you go about listening to an album you are going to review? Headphones? In the car? On a great sound system? On a cheap system? Over the course of a few days or just a single listen and then the review? It seems like no one ever reviews the reviewer. Just curious I guess.

  4. themilkmanon 14 Feb 2012 at 1:10 am

    Ah, that’s an interesting question. I think everybody has different ways of going about reviewing a record. I am lucky in that it is not actually my job, so I can take as long as I want to listen to something, and it usually take me a good few listens before I can get ‘into’ a record. Sometimes, the more I listen the more I like, sometimes it’s the other way round. I always listen through earphones, usually at work, while doing something else, so it’s a matter of whether the music grabs me or not. When I sit down to review, I listen to what I am writing about on headphones, going backwards and forwards, joining the dots that have appeared during previous listens, and it’s always at night, but it’s never a straightforward process. I also get easily distracted, which never helps.

    I am lucky enough to be able to spend most of my working day listening to music, and I do consume an awful lot of it.

  5. Andrewon 14 Feb 2012 at 6:02 am

    Hey thanks for the quick reply! Now that sounds like a great job. I listen to a ton of music as well. But it is usually in different environments and hardly ever straight through. It surprises me that you listen to albums you plan on reviewing while doing other things. For some reason I thought a reviewer would sit and completely concentrate on the music for the entire duration and then begin writing. And usually only one time through. I’m always fascinated by how people listen to music. And how different pieces can mean different things to different people. The music is the same, but the environment always changes. And then there’s always the artist and how they envision their music being consumed. Or maybe they don’t and they just create it and there you go.

    Anyway I’m rambling. Thanks for the reviews on your site. You’ve turned me on to some great stuff. Cheers.