Have you met... Chris Heenan and Christopher Williams

Text and pictures by Maria Santos

Today we are having a music interlude in this section. This time I would like to introduce you to Chris Heenan and Christopher Williams, the curators behind Certain Sundays.

Heenan (Washington D.C., 1969) and Williams (San Diego, 1981) first met in California, but their careers followed different paths before they bumped into each other again in Berlin, where they decided to work together in this project.

Both organizers (also composers and performers themselves) conceived Certain Sundays as a monthly salon focusing in experimental music and sound where the audience would be highly encouraged to participate.

Hosted at Sowieso, this series of interdisciplinary presentations based on lectures, recordings, improvisations, live performances and different ways of interacting with the public, is now at the end of its second season. Many exciting personalities from very diverse fields of practice such as Catherine Christer Hennix or Edward Shanken have been invited since their beginnings in October 2009.

There are still two dates scheduled before the end of this year: next Sunday with Helen Mirra and Ernst Karel at Kunst-Werke, and December 18th, introducing John Butcher and Karen Brookman. Coffee, cake and a rather inspiring presentation followed by a discussion will be served during the course of these cozy evenings. Stay tuned, because Certain Sundays may reappear in 2012.


What is the original idea behind Certain Sundays?

The original formula is 50% music 50% discussion/presentation. Our idea was inviting musicians and sound artists to talk about their work and integrate some sort of performance. With this event format we intended to cover a gap in the Berlin music scene, since there are no real places where people can really talk about music out of an academic circle. There is already a particular scene, but our idea of curating this project is much more open. Basically our mission is to contextualize the over-saturation of interesting stuff that is going on in Berlin.


How did you come up with that Salon format?

Salons are usually an informal coffee and cognac kind of thing but we didn't want to have alcohol involved We came up with this this coffee and cake package deal. Anyone can come, it's 5 euros including coffee and cake and the conversation can just flow. It's on sunday, a little later than tea-time but still before dinner, and is more interesting than going to a regular café.


Why did you chose Sowieso as a regular location?

We decided to do it there because we founded the atmosphere really comfortable for this kind of discussions. The street factor is also very important, some people randomly walk by the café and feel curious about what is going on there, and they spontaneously join us. We provide serious presentations but not in an intimidating way. This kind of informality that is very inviting.


What is your curatorial approach?

We are interested in artists who work in many different fields, hence is complicated to label them but they are mostly working with sound. Normally is someone from Berlin and someone from outside. We also try to bring people who would never be invited to present in Berlin. Like Shawn Hanson, a kind of obscure and conceptual artist from Kansas, or Philip Corner, who is a grandaddy of experimental music.


What is your criteria to choose your presentors?

They might be composers or musicians but not exclusively. We bring very diverse people related to music, like Karen Brookman (in December), who is not a musician at all but due to her experience running the British record label Incus, her creative vision has as much to do with musical life as any musician. We normally pick people who are able to make an interactive presentation and establish a dialogue with the audience, who will talk about their process and show their own techniques or their vision. People who will connect their works with other themes, other people and other realities beyond their immediate environment.


What about this certain Sunday at KW?

Only for this Sunday we are hosting our Salon at the attic space of KunstWerke. Helen Mirra, a sound artist who also works with visuals, is having an exhibition there. She will be showing some films while her partner, sound artist Ernst Karel, will be presenting an 8-channel sound piece called Swiss Mountain Transport Systems. This is a good opportunity to listen to a complete version of this piece. Concerning the venue, we are aware that it is kind of tricky to keep the vibe and the atmosphere still cozy with 150 people in a gallery situation, but we will try to remain informal.


Did you get any kind of financial support?

This year we have received funding from Hauptstadtkulturfonds, Initiative Neue Musik, Deutscher Musikrat, and the Kulturamt Neukölln. Before that it was really hard and kind of random, we always had to watch out who and when was in town. Organizing events under these circumstances is really exhausting and requires more work, besides interfering in the curatioral aspect, because you are limited and can't really do what you want.

We both would like to continue with this project, the problem is that we really need a financial structure to guarantee some continuity in what we are doing, and our main funder doesn't fund the same project two years in a row. Next year we may do a few shows and we are hoping to find some private donors We think this is a very good concept, and to just let it go would be a shame.


How is the interaction between artists and audience?

The whole idea of artists talking about their work can be intimidating to non-specialists. But we create a situation where they all feel welcome.

The audience is quite mixed, there are people who know what the artist is speaking about and people who don't. There are of course, different levels of response, but people usually speak very enthusiatically. It's good for artists to get a little bit of that, to know if they are being clear and everybody understands their discourse, even when they are outside of their immediate circle. It's common in the art world that artists speak to an audience who already know their codes. But here there is nothing too intimidating and we are allowing people to say “I don't understand it”.

The idea is to break down hierarchies between specialists and nonspecialists. It's funny how by putting this event in Schillerkiez in Neukölln, in a public place, it changes the way that people react.

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