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Fenn O’Berg: In Stereo (Editions Mego)

Fenn O’Berg always take me by surprise. For the uninitiated, Fenn O’Berg is a collaboration between Mego founder Peter Rehberg (a.k.a. Pita), Christian Fennesz and Jim O’Rourke. In their respective solo projects, their output can range from extreme noise to severe ambience and anywhere in between. For being a highly improvised project, Fenn O’Berg does not succumb easily to the temptation of disorganized noise. Instead, these explorations are supremely measured and balanced, despite having a touch of the free spirit of improvisation. In Stereo is broken into 6 discrete segments, but they aren’t in order necessarily. “Part III” kicks things off fading in from a murmur, fading in from silence and carried by an escalating oscillator. At times In Stereo gets more aggressive in dynamics and comes on strong, but many of its six parts have the sound of low bit-rate lossiness, fluttering through laptop manipulation to lend it an odd, recycled quality. It lacks a bit of the magic of their first two collaborations (ten years ago) and seems a bit more limited in scope and scale, but perhaps this was by design. It does live up to its title in using generous use of the horizontal space, but the sound primarily comes off as ultra-processed and restrained, like underwater data. There are exceptions, though, such as the rackety drum kit and piano of “Part I,” falling halfway through the album; a good use of positioning in the playlist as it’s a welcome bit of brightness amidst the murky surroundings. But despite the more limited palette, it’s hard to not get slightly taken with the swirling sounds of “Part VII” or the melancholy detritus of the opener. While the magic may be obfuscated when compared with their earlier work, it’s still there most of the time, peeking out from around a sharp corner. Crane your neck and your ears and you might just find it.

Watch/listen: In Stereo Part IV

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