In Christian Fennesz' career, the moments of greatest inspiration are easily recognisable (his albums on Mego and Touch, from 1997's “Hotel Paral·lel” to “Black Sea”, and, of course, his personal highlights, 2002's “Endless Summer” (2002) and 2005's very dark “Venice” ), but his career is also very long and consistent, and if one wants to make an assessment, one must take into account the number of albums (and sporadic EPs) by the Austrian composer. In fact, his body of work is already a complex mosaic, extended in recent years by all sorts of collaborative efforts (with Ryuichi Sakamoto, eRikm, and Mika Vainio) and even group albums, like his recent jazz and improv adventure “Knoxville” (2010), and “Till The Old World’s Blown Up And A New One Is Created”, on m=minimal, in the company of Martin Brandlmayer and Werner Dafeldecker. What I mean by this is that although Fennesz still has this aura of the individual and conscientious artist who periodically releases masterpieces made with a laptop and manipulated guitars, he channels his creativity in a thousand different ways, and at this point his collaborations, and his work for film, are even more important for his consolidation as a creator than his solo studio albums.
“AUN - The Beginning And The End Of All Things” is a soundtrack commissioned by director Edgar Hontschläger for a documentary, as it says in the credits, telling the story of mankind's quest for the future; how humans, over the years, have persistently sought progress. It goes over the different stages of evolution of the firm conviction that we know as “civilisation”. But Hontschläger's starting point isn't only positivist (in the sense applied by the Age of Enlightenment, science and capitalism), but in this search, this longing for the future, he includes a spiritual message: without beliefs, there is no future, because a strong set of beliefs is the basis of every community that thinks about eternity. Among those beliefs, beyond the material is the spiritual (call it soul, in a Christian sense, or simply the consciousness of being, in a Buddhist sense), and most of all the awareness of existing in harmony with nature. The director's message is that there is no progress without balance, and that humanity is at a crossroads right now: either we press on with the positivist spiral, or we readjust the balance and compensate for wealth by taking care of our surroundings and our spirit, also basic for the progress of humankind.
This explanation is necessary to comprehend the music: Fennesz applies the director's ideas and composes fifteen progressions (though technically, they're twelve pieces, as “Haru”, “Trace” and “Aware” are from “Cendre”, the first of his two albums with Ryuichi Sakamoto) with a deep spiritual meaning. It's music for the soul and experimental at the same time, in a tremendously delicate but perfectly proportioned blend. One could say that Fennesz’s best material has always been that: a perfect balance between adventure (in the way he uses glitch and processes the guitar on his laptop, and the acoustic contamination of the piano and the refinement of white noise) and the subtle, ghostly appearance of melodies that bring his academic work closer to pop. But the first impression “AUN” leaves, and which becomes stronger as the minutes go by, is that we're dealing with his lightest, and therefore most evocative album ever. The textures are weightless, suspended in the air, and the digital decoration is reduced to the minimum. For instance, “Himitsu”, where Fennesz sounds as close to Brian Eno as he's ever done, and on “Aun80”, while it's clashing with the ambient preceding it (created with the sounds of the koto, water and electrical current, in a meeting of ancestral Japanese tradition and contemporary methods), he also sounds naked, reduced to the bare essence. The whole album is like riding on a magic carpet over perfect natural landscapes.
The Japanese theme of “AUN” isn't coincidental. Edgar Honetschläger explains that he started working on the film using certain anthropologic considerations of the recently deceased French anthropologist and ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss as his point of departure, as well as his own fascination with Shintoism, one of the few remaining animistic religions in the First World, which sees a soul in every element in nature, living or inert, and which therefore strengthens his view that there is no progress if humanity and nature aren't balanced. Thus, Fennesz goes into an imagery of quiet temples, luxuriant gardens and driven snow, impregnating the soundtrack with a miniature delicacy, like the needlework on a silk kimono, or the exact proportions of a Bonsai tree, perfectly capturing the soul of a country and an idea (Japan and the confluence of the ancestral and the ultramodern), as “Venice” suggested solitude and the slow sinking. Initially it may seem like “AUN” is a title of minor importance in Fennesz' career, but it isn't: it's one of the big ones.