Impressions of a performance at Rhiz – SKUG 1999

Kaffe Matthews’ live electronic and violin improvisation follows minimalistdrones, which dissolve into distorted and multi-layered miniature particles. What starts as an acoustic input is soon discarded in order to produce an electronic output. The sampler is however empty at the beginning of each session. The result is a “real-time exploitation of electronics in a particular place at a particular time” – Heinrich Deisl

Impressions (of a performance at Rhiz)

The space is darkened a little. A woman appears on stage, dressed in futuristic contact-wire-connections. Every time Hayley Newman moves in her acrobatic performance a lamp lights up and different sounds are made. Now the stage gets lighter. Kaffe Matthews and Christian Fennesz get started. Matthews uses violin and sampler alternately to play ever further expanding drones. At the very point where the static seems unbearable this breaks and changes into electronic KNARZEN. Exactly those transitions make one listen more attentively. In the second part Hayley, this time equipped with blinking high-heeled-shoes, mounts a table in order to perform a tap dance. A similar effect occurs. The rattling becomes multi-layered, superimposed and overturned. While Matthews is creating a basic structure out of the rattling and the violin, Fennesz interacts to it. Precise stoicism meets expressive devotedness. The audience is that excited by their first encounter that finally an encore is played.
“I start each concert with an empty sampler. The system LiSa, which was developed by Frank Blade and Michael Waisvisz at STEIM in Amsterdam, stores sources of sound which I then modulate live. LiSa is also controllable from the violin through MIDI-switches. However I need something to begin with. Tonight I was using noises from Hayley, the violin and later on from Fennesz.”

This violinist with a classical background was led into improvised music by percussion studies in West Africa after spending some time in a five-headed acoustic band. “That’s where I got, for the first time, an idea what sound could be like if detached from tune and rhythmical structures. I started to listen in a new and concentrated way as I had, up till then, been just concentrating on playing notes.”

During the late eighties she worked as an audio-engineer in London and decided to continue where she had left off without abandoning her technical know-how. “At that time “Acid-House” was the big thing. I was only used to acoustic instruments. The change to electronic wasn’t that straightforward. I learned a lot by performing this solo thing with LiSa, and also important collaborations with folk like Pan-Sonic, Butch Morris, and Charles Hayward. At the moment i’m doing mainly solo shows, which mean I can interact more with the audience and the particular space i’m playing in, and that is the stuff that really interests me when it comes to the making of it all right now anyway..

Acoustic/Electronics vs. Space/Time

The strong suspense of Matthews’ music is the result of the synergetic relationship between the violin as the acoustic starting point and electronic manipulation of the received signals.
“I feel I’m a bit old-fashioned about processing music. I have to feel the vibration of an instrument and the physical closeness beside the body. Basically I sense the vibrating sound of string instruments very intensively. To create such an atmosphere just by electronics or a flute is not possible.”

Matthew’s first release “Ann” (on her own label ” Annette Works”) could be a continuation of Tony Conrad’s “Four Violins” until dissonant sound frazzles break in at unexpected moments. Her second CD “Bea” can be considered a statement about electronically generated acoustic music where the multi-layered drone-sound breaks up a putative standstill violin tone in order to infiltrate into electronic sceneries, roaming around and getting served by different particles. Then seemingly set pieces appear from the background b ut die down. In between, twinkling overtones act as deposits, existing somewhere in the world between polyrhythmic and static drones. They develop their own life and you are tempted to step into sculptures of landscape, which stand in stark contradiction to any urban confinement .

The plan is to break through into meditative sound-deserts where standstill and change are mutually dependent. Kaffe Matthews is not so interested in restructuring, as in creating pure new sound where the bytes do not swallow each other, but where the sound gains scope for development in which Matthews shows delight and frustration. Matthews does not use pre-recorded samples for her CDs, which she produces and mixes herself. At each new session one is confronted with a totally new improvisation. “Bea” represents a cross-section of several live sessions during her 1998 USA tour. “Ann” provides recordings from the “2:13 Club” and Hollywood Leather in London and other venues around the UK.

Polaroids about the temporary state of being.

The most important parameter of Matthews creativity is the “here and now”. The technics of LiSa work as a tool and connecting link between the artist and the music. ” I like it if one does not know what to expect. If Hayley and Fennesz had not been here, the music would have been quite different. With them, however, we got dead noisy, which ws great. I also do have the impression that the audience here is used to this kind of music and so the RHIZ is a good place for it. I do generally use microphones too, which I might place in the audience, for example under a chair or at the bar. The big advantage of LiSa is that I am able to actually utilise the new place and atmosphere i’m playing in. To make music out of it. I can’t reproduce anything – it all happens in real time. I can’t fall back on recorded thoughts or music. So through that a new body arises out of the audience and myself every time. That body will then always be created again.”
So it is a body which asks for spontaneous reaction in different peculiarity from both sides. Every piece is telling an abstract story about space, time and the personal state of being. Memories are recalled. (“A hot bath”, “Bus with Olive Smee”) The description of locations works out as something sound immanent and trend setting. (“Manson13” “Red room 1&2”)

As opposed to many (mostly male) colleagues in her field, Matthews is not into demonstrating technical ambitions but more into letting the audience have access to a part of her private and personal experiences, which could be described as somehow brittle, euphoric even anxious. Far from any kind of psycho-babble, a big part of the emotional cosmos opens up in which a person can find a place with all its emotional up and downs. Furthermore it is not really necessary to reflect the discussion about depersonalised territories while being confronted with technical reproducibility. To hide behind the machine is not Matthews thing, it seems rather that she gives life back to the machines.

There is no need to mention that nearly every sufficient conversant cliche could be associated with Kaffe Matthews. However “cold” and “warm” electronics is not only a matter of opinion. The question should rather be to what extent psychical and physical “work-offs” could be compiled to technical ones. In that point Matthews scores definite in the first category, as she allows the listener to come incredibly close. So one could presume to get hold of a part of Matthews either live or frozen on a CD.

“To share personal experiences with the audience” – that’s her guideline!

Matthews will be performing at the “Among Others 3” Festival in Vienna. Look out for the detailed program on page 21.
[“cdAnn” and “cdBea” are available direct from

In preparation: Release of a collaboration with Fennesz and another with hayley newman ]

by Heinrich Deisl, translated by Rudy Pollack