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The Photographic Unit

“It’s a gig, in an art installation, in part of a building you’ve never been in before” - an interview with the Klanghaus

14 July 2017 Will Rathbone

Klanghaus: 800 Breaths is the follow-up to last year’s On Air, the result of a long-standing collaboration between art-rock band The Neutrinos and visual artist Sal Pittman. Taking a space in the Royal Festival Hall that is normally off-limits to the public, the show transforms the space into an immersive gig-cum-installation show, delivering an unforgettable live experience. We spoke to band member Karen Reilly and Sal Pittman about the show’s origins and exactly how the entire process comes together.

London Calling: Hello Klanghaus! Thank you very much for speaking with us today. For the uninitiated, please could you tell us a little bit about yourselves, and the show?

Karen Reilly: Klanghaus is a collaboration between building, music and light. On a very simple level it’s a gig, in an art installation, in part of a building you’ve never been in before. It’s promenade, so you walk through it. People have said they feel like they’re in the middle of music, or a music video because the lighting is so gorgeous.
 
Sal Pittman: It’s a film without a narrative. You leave the audience to fill in the gaps by giving them glimpses of ideas and thought processes. It’s very dreamlike. It’s nice for an audience because they’re not being told how to feel – we’re giving them a sound, some imagery and a space and they can feel whatever they personally feel. It’s a real privilege.


Image courtesy of The Photographic Unit
 
LC: This is your second year at the Royal Festival Hall – how was it returning to the space and devising a new show?

KR: It’s really interesting because we always thought we’d never return to the same building, but we’d built such a good relationship with the Royal Festival Hall, the Southbank Centre and the staff that we thought we had to go back, push the limits and make the show even more extraordinary. The building is so rich in history that for us to come up with a new theme was easy.
 
SP: 800 Breaths comes from the average number of breaths you’ll take in a 50-minute period. For the imagery, I thought about breathing at altitude, or underwater, and what you need to assist that. I was looking at really old technology such as aqualungs, and old vintage imagery of diving and physics experiments with electricity. All these little abstract images and thought processes started to form a picture. What’s lovely about this building is that you can always find a new story somewhere and build a beautiful picture from that.


Image courtesy of The Photographic Unit 

LC: How did the project come about in the first place?

KR: It came about when we went to Berlin to record a new album. We couldn’t find a studio, so we found a space and took loads of equipment in. The building turned out to be this extraordinary radio station. It really sparked our imagination and we became obsessed with buildings.
 
That obsession was one part of it, and another came from being in a band for years, playing lots of gigs, and starting to think: “this is such a conservative format. Music can really transport you and change your life, so surely there’s more to a music experience than this?” At the same time art galleries and museums were doing late night events, and were looking for different types of artists and musicians to go along and do stuff. We asked a gallery if we could muck about with a tunnel they’d just put in, and hide behind the walls, and so that playful exploratory element came in.
 
SP: Mark came up with the name Klanghaus when we were in Berlin. We all came up with names and he decided to be Herr Klang. We originally wanted to take the subsequent album and imagery back to perform it in that building – to take it back to it’s source – and it became Klanghaus because of that.
 
LC: How do you find your buildings? Are there any you’d like to work in?

KR: After we’d realised we had this love of buildings we imagined being explorers and finding amazing spaces, but actually people approached us and said: “I think I’ve got a Klanghaus”. That happened in Colchester, and we went and played in a bus depot. There are couple of dream buildings: friends have said we have to go and do something in the Sydney Opera House, and one of the London theatres, I think it’s The Queen’s Theatre, goes down three or four levels so we’d love to get in there. I think The Barbican need a Klanghaus!


Image courtesy of The Photographic Unit
 
LC: How do the songwriting and imagery fit into the process?

KR: Some songs are written for the space, and it’s really lovely writing so specifically. Then, because we have a large back catalogue, there are songs that fit perfectly, but need a bit of re-writing to match the acoustics. We’re always trying to use the acoustic to its advantage.
 
SP: It’s very symbiotic – we develop the space together, we research it and then we go off and work through ideas. Then we take all those ideas into the space and form the show that way. It’s very reactive and very instinctive. It’s seamless how the sound and vision work together.
 
I’m a bit obsessed with soundtracks, and the way the piece develops becomes very soundtrack-like within the space. It’s a triumvirate of sorts – building, music and art all coming together, and we’re all responding to that at the same time and bouncing off each other.
 
LC: Who are your musical influences?

SP: I’m really inspired by soundtracks, and I listen to a lot while I’m working. I love Bernard Herrmann, and recently I’ve been listening to the Nocturnal Animals soundtrack. There’s the great Sound of Cinema show on Radio 3 that I listen to all the time, and I listen to Kraftwerk quite a lot. I like things that give you a real landscape while you’re working. You see space, and work towards that.
 
Klanghaus: 800 Breaths is at the Southbank Centre until July 23. Tickets are £25.
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