The Kilowatt Hour will be performing live:
The Kilowatt Hour ft. Franz Wright
Earlier this year I had the good fortune to meet and work with the American Pulitzer prize-winning poet Franz Wright. I’d been an enthusiastic admirer of Franz’s work for many years but with the publication of the volume Kindertotenwald I found I’d made a very personal connection with a uniquely intimate collection of prose poems. At the time of reading I’d no idea of the twists and turns my life was to take in the year to come, the ramifications of which chimed so profoundly with Franz’s work (having already written and recorded the title track for Died in the Wool and my interpretations of the poetry of Emily Dickinson), nor had I any notion that approximately one year later I’d be sitting in a studio in his home town in Massachusetts, recording his readings from that same volume.
In the early months of 2013 I’d written to Franz in the hope of piquing his interest in a possible project, which I could only describe in the most nebulous of terms. As fortune would have it, he was familiar enough with my work to embrace the idea from the outset. Unfortunately, he was in very poor health having been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Cancer is no stranger to Franz, he’d stared down its barrels once before, it was a fight he’d won against the odds, but here it was back again, lying in wait, biding its time, time Franz can’t afford to waste as he continues to write with formidable determination, honesty, courage, and a devotion to his craft, his muse, documenting his fluctuating moods, insights, intellect, sorrows, loves and bloody rage in these, his last volumes, the latest being ‘F’.
At the same time as I’d been speaking with Franz I’d also been discussing a spate of concerts with Stephan Mathieu and Christian Fennesz. It now seems inevitable perhaps that these two projects should’ve come together in what is currently a brief series of performances based on an outline for a composition I put together as recently as August 2013. The piece is constructed so as to allow for freely improvised input from Christian and Stephan anchored by Franz’s readings and my own compositional constructs. As I write this we’re still exploring the possibilities of the piece following on from our debut performance at the Punkt Festival, Kristiansand, Norway, September 2013 and Franz remains on the other end of the line talking to me of Jacob and the angel and a thousand other things that have, in truth, helped sustain me, as has his magnificent voice as it resounds around the venues and theatres of Europe.
The trio is known as The Kilowatt Hour.
David Sylvian, September 2013
The Kilowatt Hour, a new collaborative trio featuring Stephan Mathieu, David Sylvian and Christian Fennesz, has just announced a set of live dates in Europe this fall. The instrumental trio will develop material this summer to debut at the Punkt Festival in Kristiansand, Norway on September 7, followed by a series of dates in Italy.
Says Sylvian, “I feel very fortunate to be in the company of two musicians whom I’ve great respect for and whose generosity and companionship have enriched my personal and working life. We’re going to undertake a brief excursion together to see where it might lead. There’s no complacency, no shortcuts being taken. We’re looking to create something unique and exciting for ourselves and a fresh experience for those that attend the performances.”
The January release of Mathieu and Sylvian’s Wandermüde marked the first time these musicians came together, albeit from a distance: Mathieu built the album with material from Sylvian’s 2003 masterpiece Blemish, remixing and reinterpreting it using his practice of live processing. Fennesz makes a cameo via a guitar solo that appears on the final track, “Deceleration.” Like a heart caught in mid-beat, this ambient work has a stillness that never becomes stale, and a warmth that never embraces you. It indicates the sensibilities of all three men, but they’re quick to point out that this is just one guidepost to where the trio will lead: they will be meeting in Vienna this July to work on material, and all ideas are on the table.
“A basic guide for our performance is the idea of ‘eventlessness,’” says Mathieu. “Right now we aim at creating a composition which is fixed to a certain degree but leaves enough space to shape in a live situation. So, while we will present a piece, this will vary slightly from show to show.”
“I’d like to find material through improvisation,” says Fennesz. “It definitely is a risky project but that makes it exciting. It’s a bit like jumping into cold water.”
The Kilowatt Hour is the first collaboration between Fennesz and Mathieu, who have known each other since the ‘90s. The Austrian guitarist and German electroacoustic musician and producer both work in the broad fields of electronic and improvised music. Fennesz, best known for shimmering pop albums including Endless Summer, has also performed in exquisite free improv sessions with fellow luminaries like Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura. Stephan Mathieu, who began his career as a drummer, is a sound artist working loosely in two veins: the live processing of digital sources, and projects built on acoustic sources such as historical instruments and mechanical gramophones. His albums include the acclaimed 2008 release Radioland, and his upcoming The Falling Rocket.
David Sylvian has worked with both men over the last decade, and the trio will also mark a return to the ambient experiments that he has pursued on and off since the ‘80s, notably on Plight and Premonition and Flux and Mutability, his two albums with Can’s Holger Czukay. “The pieces I created with Holger were works that evolved very naturally without any recourse to the standard notion of ‘performance’ per se. What was captured was the tentative, the unsure footing, the meandering evolution of an idea before it became solidified in the mind, subject to the process of self-editing, practice and performance in the sense of something learned by rote and repeated with emotional emphasis. We obliterated the performative element wherever it threatened to creep into the improvisations. If I carry anything over from past projects maybe it’d be this practice.”
For Sylvian, the project entails taking risks: he will forego his most familiar instrument – his voice – and he will be returning to the stage for the first time since his 2007 tour. “What will actually transpire once we’re in a room together might be grounded in these early developments or something other might result from them and/or the chemistry between us,” says Sylvian. “Both Stephan and Christian have systems in place that they’re very familiar with. In this respect I’m something of an outsider as I’ve avoided working with specific set-ups most of my life. Each new project involves a learning curve, a process of starting over. I’m curious as to what my response will be to Christian and Stephan’s intimacy and fluency with their set-ups. If I’m honest I’d be disappointed if I failed to discover a new language with which to work.”
With no rules to restrict them and no plan beyond these concerts, the Kilowatt Hour venture out with nothing but their intuition and taste to guide them. The performances will be an adventure for audience and artists alike.