Kammer Klang is a series of live music events at Cafe Oto in Dalston, east London, presenting curated programs of contemporary classical, experimental, improvised and electronic music. Founded by Lucy Railton in 2008, it is now run by musical director Serge Vuille. It is supported by the PRS for Music Foundation, Arts Council England, the Hinrichsen Foundation, the RVW Trust and more. I met Vuille for a Skype chat.
Let’s talk about those four categories: contemporary classical, experimental, improvised and electronic music. Labels are not so important to me. What I’m interested in is finding the links between them. What is contemporary classical?
I would say it is music that is connected to the classical tradition, probably including acoustic instruments, probably written as a score, composed by a composer and performed by performers – and in most cases those are not the same people.
So when we talk about improvised music, are we actually talking about a different category?
Some electronic music is written, some is improvised. What is relevant about Kammer Klang is more the audience: we bring together people from both practices.
How do you deal with commissioning new music and inviting new groups?
I am keen to invite young groups, but it is mostly down to the program they would be performing.
It is more about what people can offer than who they are?
Yes. I don’t often take on proposals without a strong external recommendation. We have just eight events per year. There are enough artists I know, that we generally do not take on proposals. I invite people who I know have a specific practice and specific repertoire. Then I discuss the repertoire with the artists. There is a balance across the season between experienced ensembles like Ictus, Plus Minus, We Spoke and Asamisimasa and younger ones like Distractfold, Soundinitiative and Perks Ensemble.
Two names stand out from the others that you have programmed: Martin Creed Band and Chicks on Speed. I actually know Martin as an artist and the Chicks as an electroclash band. In this case, how do you put them on alongside another ensemble? How does one group influence the other, or better, how is the audience influenced by the drastically contrasting styles?
For me, any two interesting things placed side by side are likely to reflect on each other and generate an added layer. I try to give a theme to each evening, but also to keep things open so that the audience can create the relationship for themselves. People can’t help but make their own connections. For Chicks on Speed, for example, considering they do really powerful performances, with light and projections, there was no way of staying on this level for the entire night, so I went the other way with a new work by Christian Wolff, which is really soft, reaching tones, but not amplified and definitely not loud. That evening will be about contrasts. In April, the Perks Ensemble will perform a piece by Michael Finnissy, a concerto for solo violin and ensemble, and in the second half we will have John Wall with solo electronics. I like this idea: when I went to a noise concert last year I felt people were listening to it as if it were a concerto. There was the same focus and attention on one performer. There was very little action and movement, but because of the volume, the tension in the room was similar to the level we feel with a soloist performing a concerto. This is the kind of connection that I like to make. It might come from my personal experience and I don’t necessarily need people to know why, as I am confident that they will make connections themselves. Their links might be similar to the ones I have made, or not. I don’t mind.
I guess it is similar to what Debussy does with his Préludes, avoiding prefacing the works with a title but instead writing it at the end of the score. In your case, you’re telling me instead of writing your inspirations at the back of a concert program… What about the change of direction in recent years, with the series passing from Lucy Railton’s direction to yours? Are you following the same path, or is there a totally different approach?
When I took over the series, I tried not to change the core concept and looking ahead to the future, I have invited Lucy back to the curating team for the next season. She has a really good knowledge of what is going on in all different scenes today, and I think we’ll make a good team. Structure changed. We organized it to be a yearly season, with all shows programmed in advance. It used to be programmed month by month, which has other qualities and more flexibility, but makes it harder to put together complex productions. It also helped with raising funds. I think it was not Lucy’s intention to have the series supported by funding at the, but over time it wasn’t sustainable, because there was a lot of work, and no income attached to it. I reshaped it to make it sustainable. I am still not paid for my admin work, but I did hire a production manager, Emily Moore, who is now co-director and who runs the production. This was a big step forward: the quality of the production got better and now we are more confident when we invite artists, as the team is stronger than it used to be.