Tuesday, 5 April 2011

In Bed With Kaffe Matthews

Kaffe Matthews has watched a lot of strangers jump into her bed over the last few years. In fact, the London based musician and sound artist has built bunks from as far afield as Shanghai and Quebec for curious bedfellows to snuggle into. Now, with Sonic Bed_Scotland, which forms part of The Tolbooth, Stirling’s tenth anniversary Le Weekend festival of experimental music, curious participants can hear and feel the reverberations generated through a series of eight speakers contained within Matthews’ latest customised contraption for her ongoing Music For Bodies initiative.

This began with Sonic Bed_London, a commission for Hernoise, a group exhibition of female artists that took place in South London Gallery in 2005.

“That was the first bed,” “says Matthews, pulling up a chair in Tolbooth’s meeting room while her bed is sanded down in the attic upstairs, “and I never thought it would go on in the way that it has. But it succeeded in doing exactly what I set out to do with it, which is to give people who wouldn’t normally enjoy experimental music a way in. It’s a very simple idea and I don’t think it’s a particularly unique idea, where the music is made, not just to listen to, but to feel.”

Further commissions for beds in Shanghai, care of the British Council, Quebec and Taipei, followed, with Sonic Bed_Scotland actually being developed in Bangor in Ireland. Crucial to each bed has been material drawn from their immediate location. Different types of wood have made for different kinds of construction. Different scales of economy have necessitated different timescales in terms of building and composing for each bed. Most significantly, different environments have necessitated different sonic responses from Matthews.

For Sonic Bed_Scotland, commissioned by Le Weekend with support from the Performing Rights Society Foundation, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and Scottish Arts Council New Joint Commissions scheme, Matthews has collaborated with artist Mandy McIntosh, while sounds have been generated from working with Uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson and Highland and Borders piper Chris Gibb. Matthews first worked with McIntosh, who will design the bed’s upholstery, a decade ago on her first move into sonic furniture, when an armchair wired for a soundtrack culled from the inside of an aeroplane was installed in empty flats in Glasgow and Hackney for a project called PlaceMadeMobile. It was here Matthews first spotted the potential for developing the project.

“Old women and kids would queue for hours to sit down and listen to something that was basically noise,” Matthews points out. “It was stuff they would never tolerate through speakers. I’d got to the point where I didn’t just want to perform in warehouses in front of people who were already into this stuff, but to reach people beyond all that.”

With electronic composition and piping seemingly artistic poles apart, working with Henderson and Gibb, both precocious young stars of the international piping scene, has been an eye-opener for Matthews. In respect to how Matthews sees the pipes working in straight lines, the vibrations of Sonic Bed_Scotland will move up and down the body and side to side. In the London bed, they moved in curves.

“The pipes are like analogue synthesisers,” she says. “You can’t repeat. It’s always going to be slightly different every time, because the pipes are all about tuning and pitch, which I don’t normally work with. There are moments that come together that are so lush it’s almost unbearable, then there are others that are really discordant.”

Matthews’ first musical endeavours were as a fiddler with Essex Youth Orchestra. After stints as a drummer and an engineer on early acid house records, both of which have clearly influenced the Sonic Bed project, she worked with Sonic Arts Network and London Musicians Collective. At around the same time, Matthews was discovering the then burgeoning drum n’ bass scene developing in Hoxton’s underground spaces. Providing a clue to Sonic Bed_Scotland’s physical roots, Matthews would go out dancing on her own. Where such beat-driven vertical euphoria was one way of experiencing experimental music en masse, Sonic Bed project’s static, horizontal stylings is similarly intense.

As well as the Sonic Bed project, Matthews has applied her techniques to everything from a resonance FM soundscape to a recent collaboration with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, sampling new work by Jonathan Harvey, then improvising live with the recording’s core components.

Long term, Matthews aims to make two or three beds a year across the globe, and has ambitions in ten years time for a large-scale retrospective bringing all the beds together to allow the public to move between them in a kind of hi-tech anthropological bed-in.

“I want to make twelve beds,” says Matthews, “and make them an integral resource for communities to have completely different experiences with.”

Kaffe Matthews with Jariath Henderson and Chris Gibb, Sonic Bed_Scotland, Le Weekend, Tolbooth, May 23-30, performance, May 26.

The Herald, May 2???


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