Participants | Max Baillie, Vahakn Matossian

SONNEN are a new experimental electro-acoustic duo with Max Baillie on Viola and percussion and Vahakn Matossian on electronics. Think Colin Stetson eats Stockhausen.

Dancing the line between left-field, experimental music and music rooted in pop-culture, Max and Vahakn create a blend of powerful explorational sound journey and tangible concert experience for the listener with viola, percussion and electronics.

Max’s viola – heard both live and amplified is split and fed into an array of electronic resonators and phase shifters. Vahakn re-sculpts the vibrating strings creating sub-sonics and audible ghosts, creating careful analog synthesis and ‘touchable’ rusty-chain-rubbed and feather-soft sounds they call ‘grain rain’.

British-German violinist and violist Max Baillie is sought after as soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral leader in the UK and abroad. His musical life reflects his interest in the cross-pollination of musical styles, having led Bjork’s string orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall, recorded with guitar maestro John Williams, and dueted with Bobby McFerrin in New York. From folk tunes in the Welsh hills to major festivals across the world, Max leads a chameleonic life-embracing classical, improvisation, and appearances on stages big and small.

Vahakn Matossian also known under his DJ moniker ‘Harky’ live-twists the electro-acoustic world with left-field bleeps and percussion. Son of electronic music pioneer Rolf Gehlhaar (of the Stockhausen generation), he is one half of the GENTLE MYSTICS SOUND SYSTEM DJ duo. His radio show LOST TRACK on musicboxradio.co.uk pulls together other-worldly ‘music from the other side’ and regularly writes and performs with Noemie Ducimetiere in the band NOUM.

SONNEN sọn·nen take their name from the German word ‘to leave in the sun’, also mis-spelling of the German word ‘sons’ as a nod to their musical heritage and as a word which contains the multilingual root word for sound; Son. Sonorous, Resonate, Sonnet, Sonic Consonant, Dissonant, Asonant, Unison, Resound….

Just before the residency at Snape Maltings, Max and I had been planning, formulating and exploring musical ideas for about 18 months. We’d played a handful of small shows and a live radio spot on Resonance FM, we’d played for friends and loved ones in intimate settings, letting our creations be heard but with care, a gentle emergence for a sometimes delicate sound. We’d begun to understand each other in the studio during long improvisation recording sessions.
We would set up mics and preamps on the top floor at Lighthouse Studio in East London, run the viola through some effects and synths. Various string and percussion instruments would be at the ready – not always used – we’d begun to identify starting points, endpoints, midpoints, landscapes, chord progressions, feelings, abstract notions to explore, very particular ideas too. All were valid and equal… although some more equal than others. After playing, we’d speak at length about communication during a piece, visual, sonic, telepathic. We’d speak about who would be in the audience and how they may receive what we offer. We would speak about unique venues, silos, churches, bunkers; about favourite composers, pieces and why they are so. We play music to each on Focal Twin 6 BE studio monitor speakers hearing every scratch and sniff from the recordings.
Once we were invited to Snape, we started to plan what we wanted to accomplish. We seek a dualistic existence. We want to be free to make any sound at any time in any way, we want to explore what’s musically possible but we want rigour and reliability, we want to pull out the sonic microscope and reveal detail and duration and what it means to be an ant in a rainstorm, what it means to be the hammer-felt in a piano.
We decided to pack all the toys in the car, get a 4 channel sound system and means to record in multitrack and ideally a space where we are left alone as close to nature as possible (but with power and sub-bass speakers!). The plan was to explore our usual improvisation methods, but when we come across a development or musical notion that fascinates us, we would stop, tear it down, notate it and work on its structure and delivery. We must be able to re-call the magic and re-create it fresh every time.
The 3 first days of pure experimentation gave way to meticulous notation and repetition. We identified 7 possible ideas and made graphic scores for 3 full pieces: ‘Drumming Numbers’ a racing percussion piece relying on the resonant body of the viola as a drum, backed by a metronomic click of a D# in the negative octaves, reduced to a clicking saw-wave, structured by a series of punctuated drum breaks with off kilter timing; ‘Super String Blue’ explores the harmonics and double stops of the viola, re-pitched and excited by sound manipulation posed against the 2 metre long Super String, an instrument created by my father, Electronic Music pioneer Rolf Gehlhaar; and ‘Marsh Lullaby’, a piece not only made to send you to sleep but to accompany the drift there itself and the beginning of REM dreaming…
Vahakn Matossian