Mahler Remixed, Zankel Hall, New York – review

Goodness gracious.

The attraction, in the intimate chamber buried beneath Carnegie Hall, began at 10pm. It attracted a presumably adventurous crowd, not the usually blasé habitués. The modest audience, not incidentally, shrank considerably as the presentation progressed.

Christian Fennesz, a pop-rock specialist from Austria, was introducing a vast electronic soundscape reportedly predicated on impulses derived from Gustav Mahler. In the process, he clutched a guitar, aka Fender Stratocaster, that could be seen if hardly heard.

His music – term used broadly, advisedly and wincingly – entailed deafening roars, blasts, riffs and rattles (mostly roars) that dulled the senses as they bludgeoned the ears. Some aficionados obviously appreciate this sort of thing. One hopes they understand it. For others, comprehension remains elusive.

The Mahler connection, in any case, required explanation via pretentious technobabble in the programme magazine. It heralded “an intricate wash of reverberating melodies disrupted by heavy distortion and glitch artifacts”. Fennesz, we were told, “hides melodies beneath layers of fuzz”. The sonic ambience reflects “a crackly, ambient, microtonal texture . . . and harmonies [that] don’t so much progress as evolve”. A “slice” of the adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth is supposed to “momentarily brush off the pervasive blankets of noise”. Unfortunately, we missed the brush-off.

The composer did not “remix” alone. He collaborated with the Berlin-based video-animation-media artist Lillevan, who, it was claimed, “combines and politicises existing film images and fragments”. For Fennesz he concocted a dizzy series of quasi-abstract projections, some seemingly nature-oriented. The moving images assaulted eyes and confused perceptions without suggesting a direct response to the concurrent drones and rumbles. The printed apologia cited an archaeological process of “uncovering pre-existing footage” that leaves the discoveries “cracked and caked in dirt”. Ah, so.

The event was supposed to last 90 minutes, but it stopped 15 minutes early. That was the best part. Those who stayed to the end applauded politely. It was hard to tell whether the response conveyed genuine admiration or mere relief.

Badness gracious.

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