FAKE Magazine interview, August 1999

Interviewer: Wim van de Herik.

Wim: Can you tell me something about your musical background, influences?

Kaffe: I started playing violin aged 6 after being offered free violin lessons at school and having been turned on to strings and bows by the double bass player at a local production of gilbert and sulivan’s “pirates of penzance”. Became quite obsessed by this little vibrating wooden box, and did the classical thing till I was 16 . Stopped playing, and ran around for a while, got into all kinds of rock music and came back to the making of it by singing in a band .

Then the violin reappeared, and was asked to play bass in “the fabulous dirt sisters”(FDS)

Wim: I’ve read on your website that you did a lot on different musical areas, the stories behind it all?

Kaffe: The mid 80’s and the FDS and the local library’s record collection led me into all kinds of african and east European listening. Started to write tunes for the band, and managed to get to Senegal where I lived and played with some drummers for 3 months. Returned so inspired and with a new and clear understanding of the marriage of rhythm and sound.

Began to improvise and experiment more, and realised that through all those years of playing I had done little actual listening. Little listening to the details and the complexities and the textures of sound; and then the release of our 3rd album led me into the mixing desk and recording studio as an instrument. Hey, what you could do with sound with all those knobs. Here was the place to be able to make music with all that detail, with rhythm and textures and shape and all those other things inbetween.

The band split, and I got a tape op. job in an acid house studio where I was later engineering and doing pre-production work with rappers and dj’s.(1988) Got my own sampler and sequencer and was flung into a full time obsessed delirium of delight with this world I could play in. Reeled out of it to realise that I was not happy to use the keyboard as a means to trigger it, and at the same time discovered that there was such a thing as a midi violin. hey.

Got a grant to do a Masters in Music Technlogy at York university. Very weird to be suddenley flung into this institutionalised environment of programming and machines and few musicians. Certainly no experimenters/improvisors. But they got the midi violin attachment and I got to struggle with it . And this led me into composing big pieces where I was triggering samples (worked a lot with voice stuff at the time, all from purposeful or chance recordings) from the violin, and able to process them a little by how I played (bow pressure etc) or with pedals. Led me into doing gigs where I would be dancing around from one pedal to another so that choreographers and visual artists would be delighted by the performance of it all and say things like ” hey so did you write those movements and then the music was a result of that?! ”

Through this time I had also been invited to set up the Performance Technology centre at Dartington College of Arts (a fantastic college of the Performing Arts in SW England, actually has big connections with various schools in amsterdam. Mary Fulquerson and Katy Duck for ex. worked there for a long time etc.) for a year, but I ended up staying there for 4 and setting up a course and experimenting wth sound and prerformance and site and shape through playing and compostition with lots of students.

In 1995, I went half time to be able to have more time to perform my own stuff, so also moved to London (phew some urban reality) when in Jan’96 was invited to be a project artist at Steim. Here I was introduced to LiSa, live sampling software, and immediately knew that this was the gadget I’d been looking for all these years. At last I could play the violin but make big digital music realtime. I could improvise, start a show with an empty RAM, with no samples, leave all the precise fiddling in the studio behind, and do it all with the audience real time. Use the unique situation of each performance as raw material for the show.Now, what kind of music could this make? And well, I haven’t looked back since.

Wim: You worked with great musicians like Charles Hayward, Pansonic and Riz Maslen and more…your experience with them? what was the reason and have you planned more with them or others?

Kaffe: With Charles we had an amazing duo, where Iwas sampling and processing him or myself. We’d get very loud and steamy. It had amazing potential but we needed a 3rd to root it all. We are too alike really, 2 fiery sagittarian kids. We stopped playing together due to lack of time and other commitments, but when the time comes, will play together again I’m sure. It has much potential.

Performed with Pan-sonic, that was in the Rude Mechanic project in 1996(see discography for cd details). We were processing each other in a 6 hour thrash. I could barely see or stand up afterwards. Would be good to play with them again too. hey, for more time.

With Riz, we are planning to perform together next year in the US. I’ll just provide textures and funny noises. Sadly can’t play with her this autumn as I am in Australia.

Look out this year also for releases with Christian Fennesz, with performance artist Hayley Newman, with Andy Moor (the Ex), the weather music from the SYZYGY project and from whatever comes out from 6 weeks in the outeroutback with Alan Lamb.

Wim: You also worked as a lets say musical director, could you tell me more about that one?

Kaffe: Musical director?.

Well, I had my own duo and band and have written the music for lots of dance pieces, collaborating with the choreographer and sometimnes using sounds of objects used in show from which to generate the score. Most recent was Absolute Zero in Brighton, check out http://www.stalk.net/annetteworks reviews page under “absolute zero”.

Also for film, especially with Mandy McIntosh on Mobile home see Installations in www.stalk.net/annetteworks. Am about to collaborate with film director Meloni Poole on an interactive installation in the North of England in November, (look out for “a new house”) and am commissioned to make this time a greater than lifesize “sonic armchair” for the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital millenum Artshow, London. (see http://www.stalk.net/annetteworks, installations page “stokey” for sonic armchair mk 1)

Wim: What gave the you the idea to start working with samples? And what samples source do you use..you don’t need to mention names..

Kaffe: I use samples as they were and still are the quickest and most simple means for me to be able to grab and play with blocks of sound. I have never used anyone elses sounds as source. All my samples are made (now realtime) from the violin or other sounds I can pick up during a gig. You know don’t you that I make my samples during a gig? Nothing is prerecorded, and I process and improvise with what I get as I go. This has been the case for the last 3 and a half years.

Wim: What kind of instrument(s) do you prefer?

Kaffe: Stringed ones for the non-digital, otherwise a laptop with the right bits of software.

Wim: You appeared with a track on an female only compilation. I have read somewhere that the Law & Auder boss organized this, because he never released a track from a woman before. What do you think about his statement.

Kaffe: Buy the way I liked the compilation a lot. well it was quite odd to be on a cd that had such terrible 80’s looking WOMAN’S art work for a start. jeeze! and the title is terrible too. But it was great that he put it out, though Ii’m not interested in being released because I am female. The music should speak for itself, and sadly I think a lot of the stuff on this release is pretty dull.

Wim: What do you think about the position of women in music nowadays?

Kaffe: There are still not enough of us doing it for some ridiculous reason.

Wim: Tell me something about your way of working.. how do you create a song?

Kaffe: Well I don’t create songs. I make pieces through live sampling and playing with the place, timing, mood and energy of a gig, in the gig. The “best” of this stuff then appears on my cds. I write material for shows/films/theatre through jamming with LiSa and recordings of ideas related to the show. This then produces textures and shapes that I then begin the structure with, and push into little pieces. These then get taken to the performance/show venue, and I play with them with the performers, and in the acoustic of the space so that the whole thing develops as we find what works with them and the space and the spirit of the event. Glorious chance is a big part of it all of course.

Wim: Tell me something about Annette works… concept, idea..

Kaffe: Annette was my inspirational grandmother. I needed to set up a label to release my work, as I wanted to retain some hold of it I guess. And the idea of just releasing works made live through exploitation of electronics seemed like a good idea. So few of us do it. Now it still does seem essential, and we will be releasing other peoples work when we can. ie. when we have some time and find some $$$$!

Wim: Do you improvise a lot… in studio, on stage…

Kaffe: Yes. That’s how I make music. By doing it, by playing with it, by being physical with it, not by sitting around thinking about it. Of course that makes a lot of work for me, its a time consuming business, having to do it rather than sleeping for 3 days and getting up and going into the studio for 3 hours and recording something that you then remix/trigger in a gig situation. I know quite a few brilliant folk who work like that, but hey that’s not my game. Sound is a physical material and needs to be handled somehow. You never know what it might do/ you can put it in a situation to do next.

Wim: Tell me about the gigs I’ve seen:x-or, Rotterdam (with Andy)?

Kaffe: All improvised. the duo at X-Or was the first time we had met. The duo with Andy was the second time we had played together. That particular gig was pretty hard as we had had no time to sound check and couldn’t really hear each other. But, that duo has a lot of potential that we’re dead excited about. Look out there’ll be an astonishing release soon. Also Andy and I will be playing in Amsterdam on Thursday 9th September in town at some hospital squat restaurant. Will give you address later.

Wim: What do you think about the musicscene nowadays, does it inspired you a lot?

Kaffe: Music scene in london is tragic. There is nowwhere for someone like me to play. The way the word experimentation is used is hollow and means nothing apart from some kind of fashion gimic. London is full of concert halls or clubs with hundreds of desperate people trying and managing to make lots of money at it. The scene is therefore either on stage or dominated by the beat. I could stay around and make some kind of patch from which to play, but I’m asked to play in the rest of Europe or the US all the time, and I don’t really work like that anyway.

Kaffe: London is a great place to live (very dirty, very expensive, becoming more crowded every day ) and have my studio (which I have to move out of as the landlord is trippling the rent (so much for regeneration), anyone got some good studio space going?!); and for brief periods of respite,…… like now!

Wim: What sort of music do you listen to at the moment?

Kaffe: It changes all the time, but right now: all of the rereleased earth wind and fire stuff, a fab telex remix of very silly music, a millenium collection of 12′ pieces, Hitchcock’s sound tracks, Bach cello, Fear No Fall (a lowlands release), and the other noises that invade my auditory space, e.gg the film editors at work on a cowboy movie next door or the shower’s chorus in the swimming pool if all of them are put on at once.

Wim: Some words about the future…

Kaffe: More more more. I’ve only just started. Hey and folks, I’m a digital musician/composer, not a live sampling violinist. The violin is still there, but just another sound source. All that vibrates to sound with the audience in the venue at that moment is the material for music making. This summer I’ve been working with the weather a lot as a compositional ally, see http://www.newmediacentre.com/projects/syzygy/writers/kaffe.html

On this project I was working with 2 digital artists and some kite flyers and a programmer and we were reading light, wind, temperature and movement data, converting it into midi and I was using this to compose. Well I was setting up a system so that the weather would compose, and here at this site you can hear some of the results. There will be more from the eclipse ( we flew at a complete blackout festival in Plymouth for the eclipse) but that isn’t up yet, Then in september I’m off to Western Australia to play with Alan Lamb in the outeroutback for 6 weeks. We’ll have a 4 wheel drive truck, a heap of microphones and cables and wires and computers and DAT machines and solarpowered rechargers and water water water and a generator and a violin, all to make music out of the vibrations of telephone wires as they stretch across the desert in the changing weather of day and night. Plus 30°C in day, -5°C at night. So what might this make?

Wim: Much succes with the answers…Maybe it’s possible for you to send them back within 10 days. Greetings, Wim.

by Wim van de Herik
FAKE Magazine