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The Human Centipede Award for Defying Basic Principles of Autonomy

By Joel Elliott | 16 December 2012

Fenn O’Berg: In Hell

It’s no surprise that these three would be involved in one of the strongest, most consistently entertaining documents in a genre—laptop improvisation—not exactly known for its roof-raising qualities. After all, Christian Fennesz and Peter Rehberg were two of the principle collaborators on Afternoon Tea (2000), one of the first albums to really solidify the laptop as an improvisational tool in itself, and Jim O’Rourke always has a foot in whatever experimental camp you care to name.

It took four albums to really get there but In Hell nails that synergy that had never fully coalesced on previous efforts. Ironically, the album is entirely a record of live performances following the far inferior studio album In Stereo (2010), though perhaps that’s appropriate considering how much the group relies for its success on pulling apart sound in real time. One of the main challenges of this kind of music in comparison to instrumental improv is how to draw on an undoubtedly immense database of samples and effects at the right time. Little oddball moments (a Mahler-esque orchestra, random radio stations) crop up only with the utmost restraint, and utterly seamlessly. But more importantly, despite the often chaotic collisions of elements—a languid picked guitar with frantic electronic squeals overtop in “Christian Rocks” for example—everyone seems to operate with one mind. Call it a folie-a-trois: the music is irrational and without discernible structure, but all three musicians are so convinced of its integrity it sounds like Top 40 from some distant time.