Fennesz – Black Sea (Touch, 2008)

There are only a handful of records that I really associate with highly specific memories: Black Sea is one of them. I found myself going through Christian Fennesz’s back catalogue again somewhat recently and was struck by the power of one particularly distinct, though perhaps somewhat boring, association with this album especially.

It would have been 2011, and one evening in October or November time in my first term of uni I was at the bus stop waiting for the bus home after an afternoon on campus. I don’t remember the beforehand, only that it was a cold evening already, and dark. That old cube of tortured see-through plastic with its low green seats in the shadow of the University Hospital offered little comfort whilst I stared out across the old roundabout and into the lights of the campus, waiting.

I can see it like it was yesterday. There’s someone at the other end of the stop sat quietly, the cars slide by regularly, my breath is an intermittent mist slipping into Autumn air, and I’m listening to Black Sea.

Such a mundane moment, yet this one commute singled out from the rest defined solely by the carved soundscapes of Fennesz’s swimming guitar and drones and static and crumbling electronica. The two are one, fused indelibly in my mind in some random, coincident convergence.


There’s a particular track on this record, “Glide”, that I’ve loved since that time. An endless crescendo of fretful drone buzzing, a sweeping vista of emergent and ascending sustains that boils in this dawning force. What once started as a suffocating and calamitous miasma inches beautifully towards a diffuse height, plateauing out of its subsequently endless hopefulness into the placidity of stillness. It is truly epic, and one of my all-time favourite Drone pieces.

That bus stop and that moment are clearly fixed in my mind when I hear “Glide”. Actually on my recent revisitation the memory first returned in earlier “Perfume For Winter”, with its low-key chords and cleanly synths floating across crests of slicing static, as well as successor “Grey Scale”. The latter is one of the more intimate guitar moments here on the album actually, very stripped back and muted, wetly processed, as though the strings themselves are damp and suppressing the sound as a result.

There’s something about the drama of the record and the power of the atmospheres it conjures that animates, and probably why such an unremarkable instant of time is otherwise remembered. The opening title track is also a cerebral tour-de-force, blowing open the first few minutes in scouring glitch tones before dissipating out into a timeless, formless foam of thrumming guitar drone bliss. The totality of its extent would make any twilight journey more interesting.

By the time finale “Saffron Revolution” comes to close the loop we’ve been through a lot. It gurgles and gargles and burbles eerily, before being overcome by an inimitable electronic fizz that lances at first before broadening into a saturated horizon of countless possibility, tinged with a hopeful air.

I think it speaks to my time at the end of my education aptly: standing on the edge of terra firma, a lifetime of the scheduled and predictable teaching coming to an end, and only an uncertain and indomitable sea ahead lapping at my ankles. I may not have known it then, but Black Sea was catching on something in my subconscious, that one particular night whilst I caught the bus home.

And there it has stayed.