Fennesz + Sakamoto - Flumina

DCD - 24 tracks

Photography + cover design: Jon Wozencroft
Mastered by Fernando Aponte

Track listing:

CDOne, 12 tracks

01: 0318
02: 0319
03: 0320
04: 0322
05: 0324
06: 0325
07: 0327
08: 0328
09: 0330
10: 0401
11: 0402
12: 0404

CDTwo, 12 tracks

01: 0405
02: 0407
03: 0409
04: 0411
05: 0415
06: 0417
07: 0419
08: 0423
09: 0424
10: 0425
11: 0428
12: 0429

The 24 pieces of "Flumina" are based on piano compositions/improvisations which Ryuichi Sakamoto had recorded whilst touring in Japan. On that tour Ryuichi played a piano piece in a different key at the beginning of every show, always having a "Fennesz Sakamoto" project in mind. After 24 shows he had 24 tracks in 24 different keys, covering all 24 tonal steps of the western tonal system. Sakamoto sent the tracks over to Christian Fennesz and he worked on them using electronics, guitars and synths. They met in New York then and mixed the album together with Fernando Aponte at KAB Studios.

This is their 3rd collaboration released on Touch, after the live recording of 'Sala Santa Cecilia' [Touch # Tone 22, 2005] and 'Cendre [Touch # Tone 32, 2007].


Fluid Radio (UK):

Blue; a darker blue; pink; orange. Short stabs of paint, like light stabbing at squinting eyes, quick as water. Vertical lines cross river and sky, and a single ember-red eye is quietly shattered into a comet-tail of shards. Two figures in a boat, one sitting, the other standing and pushing gently with a pole. Unhurried as the dawn. Light flows, a constant stream, liquid-like.

I am looking at Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise�? (1872), and I am listening to Fennesz and Sakamoto’s “Flumina�? (2011). Twenty-four tracks, their keys corresponding to the twenty-four steps of the Western tonal system, spread across two one-hour discs. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s piano came first, recorded live while on tour in Japan. These recordings were then sent to Christian Fennesz in Austria, who added guitar, synth and electronic elements, before the duo met in New York to mix and master with Fernando Aponte. As might be expected from such a working process, the piano takes on lead melodic duties for the vast majority of the album, with the other instruments supplying various textures, ambiences and harmonic layers.

With their shimmering flurries, leaps up and down the keyboard, and theatrical use of pauses, hesitations and notes left hanging in free-fall, Sakamoto’s compositions strike me as being reminiscent of Ravel – no bad thing at all in my book. Fennesz’s contributions, subtle and unobtrusive though they may be, nonetheless infuse the whole album with a hazy blue light. ‘Background/accompaniment’ gives form and shape to ‘foreground/melody’, allowing it to recede slightly, taking a step back from the listener, into reminiscence and dream.

At just over two hours, “Flumina�? could have easily felt like overkill, either boring with too much of the same or losing coherence through an overabundance of ideas. Fennesz and Sakamoto avoid both of those traps, and again the working process probably helped here. Each piece sets out from the same point, maintaining a mostly fixed relationship between piano lead and ambient accompaniment, allowing for a degree of innovation and experimentation while ensuring that all twenty-four tracks still sound like they belong together. To my mind disc 1 is slightly more conventional and melodic, while disc 2 leans towards darker and more experimental territory, while containing some of the album’s most lyrical moments. The difference between them is nevertheless a subtle one – there is a formal and tonal unity across the whole album that marks it as a single work, rather than two self-contained collections that could have easily been released separately.

This is Fennesz and Sakamoto’s third collaboration for the Touch label, and their creative partnership shows no sign of running out of ideas. “Flumina�? is their most ambitious project so far, and yet it is also their most restrained and refined. In an age of a thousand EPs and three-minute YouTube clips, it takes skill and imagination to keep the listener engaged and entranced across two hours, to deliver a work of such length and such substance. “Flumina�? is a vividly beautiful release, a moment of silhouettes and quiet light in the early dawn. [Nathan Thomas]

Norman Records (UK):

This is the third full on collaboration between these two heavyweights of your neo-classical ambient genre or whatever you want to call it. It came about when Sakamoto played an improvised piano piece in a different key to open up each show of some world tour or other. He then sent the tapes to Austria where Mr Fennesz had his wicked way with them. It sounds almost exactly like you would imagine a collaboration between these two would sound. Sakamoto plays deliciously glacial piano stabs - leaving plenty of room between the notes for Fennesz to add haunting guitar and synth tones. Tracks like Track 3 (they don’t have titles) are surprisingly atonal but on Track 4 the whole majesty of Sakamoto’s playing is visible in a stunning haunted piece of blissed out ambience. There is something really distinctive about Sakamoto’s playing - you can tell it’s him even if you were blindfolded and had your ears wrapped in a sheath. He errs on the side of quick stabbed notes throughout - seemingly at random but obviously lovingly crafted. Fennesz does his thing with care, creating subtle backgrounds and cushions on which the piano can sit without ever getting in the way. It’s a double CD and it goes on forever, not that you’d mind - it’s truly compelling stuff. [Clinton]

Tinymixtapes (USA):

Sometimes two things or people come together to create something greater than the sum of the individual parts. Think peanut butter and jelly, Simon and Garfunkel, or alcohol and bad decisions. So it is with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Christian Fennesz — they just go together.

Following up on their 2005 live EP Sala Santa Cecilia and the 2007 album Cendre, Christian Fennesz and Ryuichi Sakamoto will release another collaborative album via Touch on December 6 titled Flumina.

After three years without a release, Sakamoto found himself pondering another collaboration with Fennesz. With this idea in mind, Sakamoto set out on tour, opening each performance with a piano piece played in a different key. After 24 performances, Sakamoto had a set of compositions and improvisations comprising all 24 steps in the Western tonal system; the groundwork for another melding of music had been laid.

Next, Sakamoto sent the piano recordings to Fennesz, who played with the pieces, adding in guitar, synths, and electronics to transform them into something altogether new. The two finally met up in New York to mix the album together and Flumina became the end result.

Pitchfork (USA):

Released in a month which most music nerds spend pouring over year end best of lists and gorging on a buffet of unheard, exotic and often wildly disparate music, Flumina is basically the equivalent of a weeklong juice cleanse. While any collaboration between electronic producer Christian Fennesz and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto has always veered safely into minimal territory, this is easily their most ascetic thing yet; across two discs and two hours, it maintains an almost religious focus on the subtle, slyly shifting interplay between Sakamoto's wandering piano melodies and Fennesz's woolly atmospherics, never peaking or troughing in any dramatic or otherwise notable fashion, and in fact never moving too far from the style and sensibility that it establishes in its very first minutes. Whether you consider this discipline or laziness might depend entirely on how long you listen for, and how.

As with all of their collaborations-- as well as a lot of their individual efforts-- the emphasis here is on subtle shifts and interplays, and the rewards therein. Flumina spends the vast majority of its two hours vacillating between holy moments of harmony and others that are subsumed by an undercurrent of atonality and portent. If I were to try to illustrate the pattern by which Sakamoto's cascading piano notes and Fennesz's pulsing and gauzy guitar lines swarmed around each other, I'd guess I'd draw three parts responsiveness for every two parts of randomness. It's a thing that always threatens to unravel but never does.

There's a thrill to that, but there's also an inherent formula, and if these tracks feel more like formal exercises than structured compositions, it's because, well, they kind of are. Flumina is actually a concept record that Sakamoto hatched before going on tour earlier this year, and the concept itself is every bit as elegant as you'd expect from someone of his restraint. Beginning in March, he opened each live show by playing a new composition in a different key. By the end of April, he'd accumulated 24 recordings, each in a different key, thereby covering every tonal variant in modern Western music.

According to Sakamoto, these tracks were composed from afar with a Fennesz collaboration in mind. That's a lovely thought, and the fact that the record was released so soon after speaks to their mutual admiration. And yet, if one can complain about anything on an album as diffuse as this, it's that Fennesz isn't foregrounded often enough. While something like 2007's Cendre benefited greatly from an occasional splash of his cotton-wool electronics, there are very few moments like that here, and frankly, it needs more. Those who listen to Flumina actively for its full two hours might also miss that extra element. If you listen to Flumina like I do, though, passively or in short bursts, you're ultimately left with variations on the same thought: This is still an inspired combination. [Mark Pytlik]

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