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Hans Fjellestad - "Kobe Live House"

Los Angeles based musician and film maker Hans Fjellestad may have earned more column inches recently for his film work (his 2004 documentary on the synth pioneer Robert Moog has been widely praised) than his composition of late, but let's not allow the volume of an off-Hollywood career drown out the quieter tones of a growing and consistently interesting musical opus. Kobe Live House, is, as its title suggests, a live album, recorded in one unedited take over two sets at the Big Apple jazz club in Kobe, Japan. Equipped with a grand piano, laptop, synth and some custom software, Fjellestad - a pianist who studied composition and improvisation - brings a spontaneity to the album's seven untitled pieces that is as risky as it is laudable. If there's a simple way to approach a summation of Kobe Live House, it's under the tag of digital concrète. It sounds often as if Fjellestad is doing, in digital terms, what the early electronic composers did in analogue. Sounds are stretched, spliced and assembled with a rationale that's born of an improvising spirit. Yet the main interest of this album isn't to be found in some kind of retroactive return to analogue ideas, but the way that the compositions and their constituent parts are arranged. There's a pleasing amount of electroacoustic input here: the first track has, in its gurgling water sounds and whipped up winds, the organic feel of a melancholy that evokes Brian Eno's 'Dover Beach'. Elsewhere, Fjellestad pulls listeners into the (t)here and now - there are bits of audience sound in the mix, but the album is most successful towards the end of its second set in which (presumable) found sounds come into their own. The sound of some guy in a street singing to hiimself, 'Here comes the sun, na-na-na-na', is reminiscent of the use of the tramp's looped singing on Gavin Bryars's Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet. For Fjellestad, however, there's a less lachrymose conclusion. 'I confess, I'm gonna get me a beer,' the guy continues and there's a little tune thumped out by Fjellestad on blunt keys in celebration.

     - Louise Gray, The Wire

Fjellestad's startling experimental on Kobe Live House - recorded at a jazz club in Japan - is sharp and refreshing. The musical style ranges from fairly accessible piano lines to staggering, dagger assaults of synthwork. The blend of organic and electronic and mildly experimental and wildly avante gard makes for a bracing listen. The compositions range from dark, acidy piano jazz lines to violent expressions of fear and adrenaline, the clashing of musical elements in moments of force that would be nothing short of alarming to those not initiated into the wonderful, weird world of experimental music. Some jazz purists might balk at calling this jazz, but they would be wrong. It's not just jazz, mind you, but it's just as forward thinking and expressive compared to its surroundings as early jazz and its world was in its day. Fresh and truly the bearer of a jazz heart - avant acid jazz perhaps, but jazz nonetheless - Kobe Live House is strongly urged as a listen for fans of intelligent music." (Four and a half stars)

     - Kristofer Upjohn, Raves

Four factors have dominated the development of experimental music over the last decades: The increased portability of sound devices, the combination of electronic and 'acoustic' instruments, the handshake with visual arts and the closing of the gap between 'serious' and 'popular' culture. Applied to practice, Kobe Live House should therefore be the archetypical album in the experimental department. After all, all four factors are in full bloom on this release. Hans Fjellestad, who spends just as much time directing pictures as he does composing, simply packed his bags and took his laptop, flew over to Japan and played two sets of impeccably intense and irresistible electronics on one night. A master of multi- tasking, he added live performances of a piano in real time to the plethora of processed noise particles emmited by his synth and powerbook. The result is a wonderfully fresh piece of music, divided into seven segments, which flow seemlessly in and ouf of each other, but are well capable of holding their own when listened to separately. It is to be suspected that Fjellestad used video projections as a backdrop to the impro-composition, but these tracks have a strong visual component already: Sounds from the street, people talking, a monologue from a movie and heavy breathing are pierced by quantum-leaping keyboard sprints, precarious rumblings, light drones, a childlike cover of the Beatles' 'Here comes the Sun' and hints at rhythm. Sceneries change as fast as lightning, with dissonances dissolving into mellow harmony and almost timelessly drifting passages being torn apart by heavy aural artillery. Indeed, many professors will have problems following these arrangements, yet all the same, Kobe Live House, with its moments of utter romance, its breathtaking climaxes and wild stylistic collisions (there's a totally freaked-out dance between the piano and a basketball team, culminating in an anarchic free jazz session), this is as entertaining as a blockbuster: To some, the album will seem like a lot of loose ends. You may indeed feel befuddled by the sheer spectacle of sensoric sensations, but never call this a random affair - each single element is carefull placed and adds to the greater picture. However exemplary this record may be in terms of experimental history - above all, it's an inspiring piece of music.

     - Tobias Fischer, tokafi

Recorded live at the Big Apple in Kobe, Japan, in October 2003, Kobe Live House sums up Hans Fjellestad's work to date and sets the stage for his next adventures. Throughout this delicately flowing album, the keyboardist switches back and forth between piano, synthesizer and computer. Most avant-garde artists will either choose to perform an acoustic free improvisation concert or an electronic set at the computer. Fjellestad does both, remixing some of his previous recordings (and undoubtedly, new compositions) at the computer while improvising noisy romps on the synthesizer and delicate piano pieces. What strikes most about this recording is that he makes it all hold together. The structure of the performance rarely feels improvised, even though specific sections of it are. It feels as if Fjellestad wrote a meta-composition to frame his earlier pieces. Most impressive are the inclusion of 'Slow Motion Perp Walk' and 'Free Throw Prophet,' both heard in their original form on Red Sauce Baby, and here integrated to a wider, ever-shifting whole. The first set (39 minutes) unfolds smoothly and includes a delightful electronics-enhanced piano episode. The second set (27 minutes) is somewhat less convincing: Fjellestad turns to noisier content and transitions from section to section (or instrument to instrument) feel rougher and more tentative. Still, Kobe Live House is an impressive statement. It shows that composers of chamber and electroacoustic music can borrow the tricks of the experimental electronica crowd to reshape their music for a smaller live context.

     - Fran¨ois Couture, All-Music Guide

Fjellestad gives a virtual master class in Powerbook, piano and synth manipulation... The session encapsulates the ethos of 'man and machine' perfectly." (Four stars)

     - DJ Magazine

Anyone familiar with previous Fjellestad albums like Red Sauce Baby and 33 will know that he is wildly comfortable in the role of mad scientist improviser. Kobe Live House brings us further into Fjellestad's unique world and witnesses him attacking everything from the grand piano to the Nord Lead 3 synth and custom-made software instruments. KLH is a snapshot of a truly daring and sonically dangerous artiste.

     - IDJ

Norwegian Hans Fjellestad is on a roll: Moog, his documentary about the synthesizer inventor, won plaudits around the globe, the 37-year- old has signed with a big-time Hollywood agent and is set to direct the film version of Lords of Chaos, the acclaimed book about Norwegian death metal. He also makes abstruse experimental music, and Kobe Live House, a performance on laptop and keyboards recorded in Japan in 2003, provides a glimpse into his bizarre sonic world. Found sound and electronic chatter pile in portentous crescendos one moment, eccentric piano work surmounts the sounds of people playing basketball the next. Adding fractured melody and obscure structure to dissonant, dislocated fragments of sound, the response is at first intellectual, but on a more subliminal level, Fjellestad seems to have uncovered a new way of hearing the world.

     - Angus Batey, Mojo


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