ED2014 Interviews ED2014 Music ED2014 Week1 Edition

KlangHaus: Site responsive sounds

By | Published on Thursday 7 August 2014


There are plenty of great gigs at the Fringe, but few will feel quite so perfectly placed within this genre-bending festival as ‘KlangHaus’. It has many of the elements of a gig – a great band for starters – but which ramps things up several notches, creating a unique audio-visual experience. The band is the experimental art-rock outfit The Neutrinos, collaborating here with artist and designer Sal Pittman and, to an extent, with the very walls of Summerhall itself, to create a “360° visceral, enveloping experience challenging conventions of the live gig”. We caught up with three of the band – Karen Reilly (vocals), Jon Baker (bass, keys, effects) and Mark Travis (guitars, effects) – to find out more.

CC: So part gig, part art installation – what can an audience member expect from the ‘KlangHaus’ experience? How does it work?
Jon: You might feel like you’re walking through a Spike Jonze film. Or it’s like experiencing a gig from the inside. We’re all onstage together with the audience. We move about together, we sing up close, you can see our breath.

CC: Where did the original idea come from for this production?
Mark: We made our album ‘The Butcher Of Common Sense’ in the unexplored parts of a defunct GDR radio station in Berlin. We became so fascinated with the state and sound of the spaces, the corridors, lobbies and rooms full of listening equipment, that we started to record the building: sight and sound. We harvested the songs from the rooms. We find ourselves drawn to bleak spaces, we are often the only colour for each other.

CC: How did the collaboration with Sal Pittman begin?
Karen: We’ve been working together since 2005 when Sal put together a crazy collage website. Then we worked on videos and she’s been our ‘Stanley Donwood’ ever since. Only she’s got a bit more hair and she’s slightly prettier. We share a similar off-kilter macabre sense of humour.

CC: How does it work creating a show like this?
Jon: We like to call this work ‘site-responsive’ if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. We try to imagine the soundworld from our first site visit: listening to the acoustics of the various rooms – in this case we’ve got twelve and they’re all markedly different – trying to feel the architecture and the geometry of the building. Collaborating with the building is essentially a playful process and one of cooperative exploration, discovery and honing around a shared aesthetic or vision. The core musicians and team involved in this project are long time associates and very experienced, responsive and passionate about the work

CC: That building is Summerhall’s Small Animal Hospital. How important is that space for realising your ambitions?
Mark: Originally we were planning to come to Edinburgh and make a show in a house where the audience would come to visit, stay as long as they wanted, and get to hang out with us; we may even get to play some music. We’ve done that version of KlangHaus before, doing four shows a day. But as soon as we saw the Small Animal Hospital we knew that we wanted to adapt the show, because the rooms reflect so much of where we’re at sonically and visually. And this seemed like a natural progression after our residency at London’s Horse Hospital. Animals feature strongly in the work we’ve been making, as do the recurring themes of mortality, consciousness, anesthetic… The silent screams of small souls.

CC: How does performing a show like this compare to performing a standard gig?
Karen: It’s wider, unpredictable, bloody weird, sonically exciting, you don’t know where the sound is gonna come from next. We get to travel with the audience through the space, we’re right up close to them, surrounding them or right in the middle of them, and that feels really special. In fact our approach here, in many ways, was born out of a frustration with the conventional gig format – drive, set up, play, pack up, drive home – and the desire to challenge and grow up as artists. The most significant and obvious difference, of course, is the use of the space and where we perform within it to create intimacy, power and mood. The next is use of the acoustic. You know that terrible scenario of battling with a huge windy acoustically difficult room, like a function band in a massive barn or church hall. Well, if we have a room that is tall ceilinged and with reflective surfaces, we play quietly, no amplification, to create magic. Or blast the room with sonic terrorism so create a mass noise… we use the architecture and respect the sound waves because they are fact.

CC: Is the technical set up complicated?
Jon: It’s not always complicated for KlangHaus. We can (and have) made entirely acoustic shows and we’ve got a few moments in this one. Having said that, we were up until 4am making the sound and vision work for this show, so yes the sound and vision plot is pretty exciting. Most of the performers are controlling remote sounds in other rooms using various means and we have had some superb technical assistance from both our own crew and the people at Summerhall.

CC: Do you have to experience this music in the live environment, or will you release it as an album too? Or maybe as a video project?
Karen: We are always aiming to create a genuine, visceral and meaningful musical experience – to bring music, sound and song to life in a particular space is a vital part of that experience and of the process of creating new material. Live is where the songs really start to breathe and grow. Putting those ideas into fresh environments forces them to; adapt, mutate and develop resonance. For this Fringe ‘KlangHaus’, for example, we have developed an unreleased song that goes way back but, somehow, is just right for this show.

‘KlangHaus’ was performed at Summerhall at Edinburgh Festival 2014.

Photo: David P Scott