Photo: Avanto Festival :Helsinki 2001



Comae Biography

Formed in 1999 Comae is an on going electro-acoustic collaboration between Robert Hampson and Janek Schaefer, resulting from a shared interest in music/sound and architectural space/place. We are based in London, England.

Robert Hampson is the founding member of both Main [1990-present] and the guitar band Loop [1984-1989]. His initial motivation was to strip away the 'iconic' representation of the guitar. Using acousmatic and electro-acousitc treatments bound with organic/elemental source material his sound design projects have focused on the inner realms of undiscovered places, be they real or imaginary.

Janek Schaefer
trained as an architect at the Royal College of Art, focusing on the relationship between sound and place. Since then he has become best known for exploring an imaginative approach to sound production and retrieval most notably with the invention of his ‘Tri-phonic’ and ‘Twin’ turntables and his exploration of experimental cutting techniques. He was selected as 'Sound Designer of the Year' by Creative Review magazine [London] in 1999, and awarded an ‘Honorary Mention at the ARS Electronica festival in 2001.

Comae's hugely atmospheric work explores sound improvisation woven with abstracted elemental sources and vinyl deconstruction. Utilising electroacoustic and concrete composition, the primary function of the group is to construct and inhabit exploratory and exquisite sound environments within unconventional contexts. Taking their inspiration from science, deterioration and chance without a pre-set in sight their work is focused on stripping away and replacing the present.

Comae undertook an inaugral three week American and Canadian tour during October 2000, playing in NYC, Pittsburgh with Godspeed, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, Montreal [FCNM Festival] and Winnipeg [Send & Receive Festival]. We played widely at several European festivals including, Avanto Festival, Helsinki, Futuresonic Festival, Manchester, and Observatori Festival, Valencia [etc: see audiography]


'Comae' self titled CD

Rhiz Records, Vienna. 2001
Distributed by Mego Buy Here!

.....Play sample: Dichroic: [with Real Audio]

Track listing

1. Dichroic
2. Kyanite
3. Induration
4: Trine
5: Mere
6: Courou
7: Verglas
8: Pavane

Running time 60:00 min

The collaboration between Rhiz records and Comae marks an important milestone for the Vienna based label. The label was originally founded as a platform for artists working exclusively around Vienna's most important venue for electronic music (rhiz-bar modern) and the phonoTAKTIK festival.
After documenting the flourishing Viennese scene with festival compilations such as "Picknick mit Hermann" and "In Memoriam Max Brand", as well the collaboration with Mego label with the releases "tg11" by Radian and "Bioadapter" by Fennesz/Zeitblom/Rantasa, the Comae release is the first presentation of international artists on Rhiz. This connection was made a while back. Robert Hampson's Main project gave an important concert at the now legendary debut phonoTAKTIK festival in 1995 in which experimental ambient sounds were placed in strange locations around the city, which intensively used both the physical and acoustic architectural qualities of these locations.



Freewilliamsburg Webzine [US]: by Sk

Comae is the collaborative effort between Robert Hampson and Janek Schaefer, two giants of the British experimental-music scene. Schaefer, a trained architect, has been exploring the nature of sound through the medium of installations since the mid-nineties, and gained a degree of notoriety with his invention of the three tone arm, reversible, vari-speed 'triphonic turntable'. Robert Hampson is probably best known as the main guitarist and singer for Loop, but has recently staked his claim in the digital soundfile arena with his Main project and the occasional, improvisational collaboration. Comae is the end result of the meeting between these two minds, and is very similar to Indicate, RobertHampson's 1994 collaboration with Jim O'Rourke on Touch. Field recordings, deconstructed digital sounds, and the scratchy sounds of the triphonic turntable are pieced together in a non-linear and fragmented fashion that creates a sort of evolving narrative. The music can't really be described as ambient, as silence is the ambient backdrop for the cd's textural and tonal sounds. The music is more like a guided tour, with each new sound directing the listener through the ambient silence. It's an interesting experience that goes in different directions and circles back again, creating more of a scenario rather than a mood. This disc benefits from the dynamic execution of the sounds presented, and the reoccurrence of the sounds throughout. Most of the time it's not apparent what the sounds are exactly, and so as the discs spins, it's not always easy to create a mental picture of what's being heard. But along the way sounds re-emerge in different contexts, giving life to the individual sounds, which gives the listener that sense of recall neccessary for following along. There is an overall feeling of control and composition on the Comae disc. Robert Hampson and Janek Shaefer have created, from outside sources, a world in and of itself. Reference points are only found within and only when memory is revoked. Non-existant are the tonal experiments or hardware-crashing calamities found in the work of their fellow globetrotting, soundfile-manipulating cohorts. This disc perhaps proves that digital music can create and sustain new, musical contexts. Comae points the listener in a direction neither previously explored or even imagined. - SK

Other Music
Review list [US]: by Dan Hirsch

Cinema pour l'oreille--cinema for the ear. On their first collaborative project, thresholders Robert Hampson and Janek Schaeffer of Comae create something quite remarkable: a sightless movie. They turn off the picture and rely on sound to indicate a veiled narrative. There is a point on the album where we hear what sounds like waves breaking and receding--it's an apt visual metaphor for entire recording. Hampson and Schaeffer shift between planes of focus with such patience that the listener is hard pressed to tell where one sound ends and another begins. The composer Takemitsu (who loved and composed for film) once wrote an essay about "ma," the Japanese word referring to "the space between things." The members of Comae focus in on this interstice all the way down to the granular level, where it becomes evident that there is no separation between individual sounds, just space where their particles are interwoven. Avant-grandaddy filmmaker Stan Brakhage referred to this phenomenon as "the new romanticism." Through Hampson's past work has been with field recordings and Shaeffer's background is as an architect and an installation artist, they have honed their abilities to refer to an environment (natural or constructed) using only a minimum of means--as if employing computers to depict a snow-covered landscape where only the outlines of trees are visible. Comae's transparencies hark back to a time when industrial groups like Hafler Trio, HNAS, and P16.D4 were composing psychodramas from recorded elements of found sounds, improvisation, and the noise of faulty technology. Hampson's non-linear guitar work in Main no doubt had some influence on later guitar abstractionists such as Drumm, Toral, Fennesz and Roberts--if you're not familiar with Hampson's earlier work but have listened to these more recent comers, youll find the all-enveloping curtains of sound that are deployed on Comae familiar. Shaeffer's doppler recordings of his adapted, triphonic turntable (documented for Fat Cat) were marked by the haunting collision of past fragments in a way that recalled disintegrating traces of memory. This sense of something almost lost, like a fading photograph, hangs over the atmosphere of this record. One can imagine Hampson and Schaeffer as the astronauts in "Solaris" whose memories are brought forth and materialized by the haunted landscape of an alien planet.

The Wire Dec 2001.

On this release from Viennese label Rhiz, Main's Robert Hampson emerges from a 2 year hiatus to team up with trained architect/turntable renegade janek Schaefer. 'Comae' is defined as 'clouds of gas and dust surrounding the nucleus of a comet' or 'tufts of silky hairs at the end of a seed'. Sonically speaking, this serves as a neat analogy for much fo the contents of this disc. where dark, restless, amniotic ambience and drones tussle in various ways, over eight endlessly shifting tracks, with more abrasive, irregular, higher frequency squeals, rattles, scratches and pops. Over the course pf the album's 60 minute duration, despite some indifferent stretches, these two disperate elements play off each other very nicely indeed.
Judging from their different backgrounds, presumably Hampson provides the swirling clouds of ambience, while Schaefer rustles up edgy moises scattered around it. Like other ex-indie heroes Kevin Shields [My Bloody Valentine] and Sonic Boom [EAR], Hampson's post-Loop work throughout the 90's has taken the guitar towards more and more adventurous landscapes and disembodied sound zones. Schaefer meanwhile, is probably best known for his invention of the 'Tri-Phonic Turntable' - a multi-record, infinite varispeed, three tonearm record player - although he now uses found sounds recorded to minidisc. It seems likely, then, that these are the sources of some of the more outlandish, unidentifiable sonic events here, recalling the striking of matches, knives being sharpened, fireworks, blown fuses, old mechanical pianos. The constant punctuation of crackles throughout certainly suggests that there's been some serious vinyl abuse going on.
The opening track 'Dichrioc' kicks off with silence and odd bursts of speaker-distressing interference, before dissolving into what sounds like waves lapping at the shore of a subterranean lake. 'Verglas' offers skittering glitches, a pulsing, electricity substation throb, and a high-pitched, swooping whine. 'Pavane' has all the old time charm of a sepia photo, with alternately soothing and paranoia-inducing drone that gather overwhelming strength before fianlly burning out. This outing, if not earth-shattering, still breaks new ground.

Touching Extremes webzine (Massimo Ricci) [Italy]

COMAE - Comae (Rhiz) A duo consisting of Janek Schaefer and Robert Hampson (aka Main), Comae have already a primary place in my pantheon of "deep listening". Introduced by a marvellous cover - with colours that seem to anticipate the highly skilled sound spectra analysis of the two - this CD is a joy for the initiated, being just what you'd expect from the pair. In between "resounding silences" a crackle awakes you unexpectedly, starting long minutes of droning low frequencies. Then, soft if uneasy clouds of hissing, buzzing and electrostatic breathing prepare the listener to be directed towards strangely captivating no-man's lands, where eclipses and blue skies mesh sympathetically, therefore alternating anxious and peaceful thinking until returning to the initial silence. Catch this while you can, because it's wonderful.

Avanto Festival

The headlining act 'Comae' have long been renowned masters in their field. Saturday night's programme at the Kiasma Theatre takes the listener deeper and deeper into the indefinable layers of experimental music. Schaefer started out by making sound installations and got his breakthrough in the late 90's by playing self-built turntables with many special features such as several tone arms, records revolving eccentrically, etc. In his own way, Schaefer carries on the avant-garde turntablism traditions of Otomo Yoshihide, Christian Marclay & co. by producing new sounds on his decks instead of actually playing them. Robert Hampson, who belongs to an older generation, used to play in the legendary drone rock band Loop in the 80's. In the 90's, he took the deconstruction of the electric guitar much further than the minimalist repetition Loop became famous for, and started to produce, under the project name Main, a kind of anti-ambient, beatless electric guitar music that, in accordance with the traditions of musique concrète, totally managed to obscure the origins of the sounds. Hampson is an important figure who has paved the way for artists like Circle and Fennesz, who is featured on this year's Avanto compilation CD.As Comae, instead of playing guitar and the turntables, Hampson and Schaefer have abstracted their sounds a degree further by transferring them into the memory of their individual machines, which they then use to improvise. Schaefer and Hampson are united by their common interest in the spatial perception of sound. Although this kind of statement is often associated with the rhetoric of ambient music, their compositions force one to listen with utter care - something that only a few ambient classics manage to achieve. Comae’s sophisticated, quiet soundscapes are filled with details, unexpected turns and optical illusions. Experimental sound film at its best - without the actual film!

review list [Holland]
One of the highlights of the Earational festival held in 's-Hertogenbosch in October was the concert by Comae. Two persons on stage with a bunch of equipment (no laptop as far I could see), who produced an hour long of electro-acoustic music, fed through all sound effect boxes and played a mild volume. Fine tapestries of drone sounds, crackles and occassional recognizable environment sound. That same week their first CD was released. Comae is Robert Hampson (mostly known as Main, who gradually abonned guitar sounds in favor of more electro-acoustic and concrete sounds) and Janek Schaeffer (user of the tri-phonic turntable and architect). Upon playing this CD the good memory of the concert comes back to me. Densely layered environment sounds, treated by electronic means create an interesting and evocative music. More ambient than usual with electro-acoustic music, but also more serious then most ambient music, Comae delivers a very fine disc. The only problem I see is the extensive use of reverb. At times that sort of destroys it for me. I don't know why but it seems like they overdo things a bit here and there. Personally I like things maybe more clearer. Otherwise a fine disc. (Frans de Ward)

Metamkine [France]
En érudit astronome en herbe, on se doit de connaître deux ou trois notions d'astrophysique sur les comètes. La traînée stellaire (Comae en anglais) est le nuage de gaz lié à la destruction partielle de l'astéroïde (glace et poussières), particules qui se forment en périphérie selon une longue traînée aussi dénommée queue. Une combinaison de glace (le silence), de poussières et de particules (les aspérités) et de gaz (la chaleur), qui tout bien considéré, compose une allégorie précise des compositions du duo Robert Hampson/ Janek Schaefer. Maîtrise de l'espace, main-mise sur la densité atmosphérique, voilà ce qu'a à offrir Robert Hampson, sommité des musiques dark atmosphériques depuis Loop jusqu'à Main. Janek Schaefer,est quant à lui, un architecte de la texture sonore, géomètre de l'espace tridimensionnel, expérimentateur zélé (un 45 t. sur Hot air où un dictaphone posté enregistre les postiers !!!) et bricoleur génial (on lui doit le Triphonic et des assemblages de Turntables alambiqués -avec plusieurs bras de lecture- qui aurait ravis Erik M ou Frederic le Junter). On devine sans peine l'apport de chacun à la copie, où Schaefer rédige ses compositions instables, faites de bruits spongieux et excentriques, Hampson se chargeant de l'ultime mise en forme, ouvrant le confinement des pièces à l'espaceSß Ou comment sonne l'UniversSß Spectral et liminal.


Westzeit [Germany]

Daß Robert Hampson, wenn er schon kollaboriert, wie mit Jim O'Rourke als Indicate für Touch, Sorgfalt in der Wahl seiner Partner beweist, spricht für Janek Schaefer. Über die Entwicklung mehrarmiger Plattenspielermodelle und TapeRecorderPostings bekannt geworden, stellt Schaefer sein eher konzeptionalistisches Verständnis von Sound als Konkretes, den Monographien Hampsons entgegen, sodaß die Ressorts wie folgt vergeben wurden : Hampson übernimmt die Raumparameter, gestaltet über Tiefenschärfe im Sound eine präzise akustische Flucht um darüber Distanz zu erzeugen, deren Überbrückung von Schaefers weniger stark abstrahierten, aber oftmals noch spröderen Klustern im Vordergrund sich zu einer Oberfläche zusammenschieben. Über das wiederholte Aufbrechen dieser, und der sich daraus ergebenden Abfolge von Rearrangements, entwickelt sich eine Dynamik, die Ambivalent zur sakralen Unantastbarkeit und klaren Statik der mainschen Schutzkammer steht, aber Hampson selbst in seiner zugänglichsten Inkarnation als Chasm, nie nahbarer hat werden lassen...
Tim Tetzner/4punkte

Robert Hampson ūr en nŒgot av en veteran i den elektroniska ljudbranchen. Redan 1984 grundade han bandet Loop som han arbetade med fram till 1990, dŒ han startade det smŒtt legendariska Main, som fortfarande ūr aktivt. I nūstan tjugo Œr har han alltsŒ fšrsškt klūmma fram de innersta detaljerna genom finurliga manipulationer av akustiskt rŒmaterial. Janek Scheffner har experimenterat en del med mystiska vinylpressningar, men har framfšr allt gjort sig kūnd som uppfinnare av mūrkliga skivspelare och modifikationer av sŒdana, exempelvis Tri-phonic och Twin. I projektet Comae har Scheffner och Hampson sedan 1999 skapat atmosfūriska ljudstycken tillsammans. Musiken skapar de utifrŒn olika typer av improvisationer, inklusive nŒgot som de kallar "vinyl deconstruction" som fšrmodligen innefattar en eller annan Sheffner-byggd skivspelare. Denna sjūlvbetitlade skiva, som slūppts pŒ Wien-baserade Rhiz records, ūr en samling lŒtar som alla baseras pŒ en gemensam grundinstūllning till ljudskapandet, men det ūr en instūllning som presenteras pŒ mŒnga olika sūtt. Den stšrre delen av lŒtarna ūr rena ambienta stycken, ofta med lite mšrker-knaster inblandat, men ibland tar de steget fullt ut och skapar glitch/click-stycken, fortfarande i den ambienta genren, som sammanfšr nytt och gammalt experiment-elektronik-musicerande pŒ ett trevligt sūtt, nŒgonstans mellan elektroakustiskt skramlande och studsande och digital databehandling. Kšpvūrt fšr dem som kan bortse frŒn det vūldigt fula omslaget. [Belgium]

Geluidsarchitectuur voor gevorderden. Ouwe rot in het vak Janek Schaeffer verkent met Robert Hampson de relatie tussen ruimte en geluid. Opvallend aan deze release is de verscheidenheid aan invalshoeken. 'Dischroic' en 'Kyanite' opteren voor een wijdse indruk. Het ruisen van een elektronische ademhaling wordt af en toe verstoord door kleine crackles maar slaagt er niet in de onmetelijke ruimte naar behoren te vullen. 'Induration' stuurt een aangedikte vorm van voorgaande geluidsstroom door een afgebakend territorium, hoewel er nog een onmetelijke laag geruisloosheid boven de gecapteerde klanken huist. De vervaarlijk klinkende, donkere interrupties tillen de compositie naar een hoger niveau. 'Mere' kiest een andere formule. Via het in -en uitvoegen van al dan niet in reverb gehulde klanken suggereren Hampson en Schaefer een immer aanwezige grondlaag waaruit op willekeurige momenten aftakkingen opduiken. Na deze ingehouden klankbrouwsels zijn concretere vormen als die van 'Courou' dan weer een aangename afwisseling. (Sasha Van der Speeten)
Comae is a collaboration between Robert Hampson and Janek Schaefer, stemming from some live work the two artists did together. From that we have the Comae release on Rhiz, an 8 track CD in a digi pack sleeve.

Silence is punctured by crackles, cohering in pops and a note that leads to a low drone in Dichroic. Stray detail rumbles, a string is twanged, the drone is sustained throughout. It sounds like mechanisms are being wound, and there are little sighs, light particulate rain as the drone intensifies and develops with an oscillating layer. The body is taken up by a circular whisper, lightly brushing abrasion cycling with a popping detail. Building more towards breaths with catching electronic burps. Focusing into pulsating washes and a more consistent putter. Low bass pulses in Kyanite, barely audible as it gives way to a loose crackle and skip which allows the bass to come up a notch, vibrating after each stroke. Sparse, the added details periodic and gone; pulse, rumble. The rotations and micro pulses of Induration come across as being considerably denser. Though as strokes and glitches work into the burgeoning, buzzing drone it really does become pronounced. Glass chimes and clinks, strokes dip and return, drone swirls slow, filled with chirrup detail. Forming a rhythm with plinking contributions while the core becomes a choppy form, persisting through interrupts to come to an agitated finale.

Stripped down to a high pulse and low drone we have Trine, catching patters and strips keeping the level of detail persistent. The coherent mass seems to take on an overall pulse as the interaction creates a wave effect, peaks and troughs clear. Smoothing as it continues, but still with those abrupt source sounds isolate as detail in the sonic field. A low expanse opens Mere, distant bells tolling away. Resolving into the carried melody of a record playing on a summer evening, the notes mixing with the water on the lapping shore. Repeating in a loose loop as a cold bass wells up from behind. Smoothing to drone off, before rising with impressions of stray sounds, flare and clank. Static bursts rush in washing motions while catches trigger and echo, birds call and bass turns with buzzed tension.

Corou works with metallic echoes, low crackles and a constant puttering detail, oscillating drone forming a clean wave with higher sounds mixing in with the periodic solids. Verglas strips right down to crackles a bass string wavers, becoming drifting, constant and gradually more of a presence. A rotary line starting to purr in the background as the fore becomes more vibrant, cohering in a stuttering electronic signal briefly, a high edged piercing stroke comes through. Verging from diffuse and transitory to focused and solid. Which leaves the footsteps of Pavane, echoing amongst micro detail and pittered strokes. Sustained tone carrying, bringing a wetness to the echoes as well as plinks and plonks. Through the inclement foreground elements of faltering melody come to the fore. Bare wind takes over, stripping the levels for a period, notes coming as hints but with out substance behind them. Though gradually mild strokes and notes as drone breaks through and the sound levels rise once more; intensifying towards a hard droning buzz of crescendo, drawn out to perhaps the most pronounced level of the album.

Frecuencia Electronica (Puerto Rico) [Joge Castro]
The CD possesses 8 themes that include a concrete diversity of sounds and electroacoustics, composed in a very impressive and very clear way. Throughout the disc we experience a quantity of colors/textures in the concrete form of music. Manipulaciones of different objects, the alteration of field recordings and silent pauses abound. An air of calm abounds in the majority of the themes, which in different occasions is interrupted by Hampson with sudden cuts of sounds that "awake" upon listening to the Spatial dream of Schaefer. The duet maintains a balance of content, one that does not permit the fatigue of the ear in the listener with a combination of tension, space, color and silence. One of the few productions in the world of eletroacpustic music that maintains your full attention. The entire CD is very rich in details and the displacement of each sound in the aural space is impressive. Hampson and Schaefer have been united to create one of the most interesting contributions in recent years. I expect that they continue working as I eat. A classic. Highly recommended.

Brainwashed [USA] (Graeme Rowland)

"Where the fuck are you?" was the witty title of one of Robert Hampson's Touch Ringtones. Main fans could well ask him that very question. Apart from the odd DJing stint and half a 12" from his dub-beat persona Chasm courtesy of Fat Cat, he seemed to slip quietly away for way too long. He hasn't been idle though, and there's a new Main album due on the K-raa-k label in February. In the meantime, feast your ears on this wonderful collaboration with Janek Schaefer. I went to hear Philip Jeck and People Like Us play late last year and was pleasantly surprised when half of the unknown quantity on the bill, Comae, turned out to be none other than Mr Hampson and his laptop. The Comae CD, released by Rhiz, displays similar sound organisation tricks to the Main "Firmament" series, but the focus has shifted from guitars as sound sources to environmental recordings. Mostly these are merged into an organic whole where the origins of the sounds are completely recontextualised, but occasionally familiar sounds such as rainfall or crows cawing are hazily apparent. Comae accentuate the electron microscope feel of later Main recordings, taking found sound to alien environments. After sudden crackle eruptiung from silence, 'Dichroic' descends into revolving worlds within worlds where sound particles blink in and out of existance over vast cavernous shifts of dense drone-loop. Often there's a deep slow bass pulse as higher pitched sounds drop in and out and often attain a climactic resolution. Dynamics and relative volumes are broad and the stereo sound field is utilised effectively. The eight tracks merge into one another forming a seamless whole; 'Induration' cuts dead on a deep surging tide of sound as 'Trine' sets off a ringing backdrop for shards of spikey ethernoise to float on and rapidly sink into without a trace. The first part of 'Mere' seems to be the track in which both Robert and Janek let slip what they're best known for. It has a classic Main textured loop over which vinyl grooves crackle. Then it cuts abruptly with a rapid wave of noise and a more abstract second half follows. For a while it sounds as if they've caught a bee in a jar and the entrapped insect keeps ramming the glass in futile escape attempts, but at the same time an amplified close up of buzz from right under the bees wing echoes. 'Courou' builds up into a fairly dense track which occupies similar terrain to Janek Schaefer's Fat Cat album "Above Buildings". 'Verglas' opens with some starry high pitched brain tickles out of which an ever evolving drone emerges, and a strange machine rumbles. This is perhaps the most mind altering track as the windy drones are subtley rotated from speaker to speaker. 'Pavane' is haunting and windswept, a distant mutant piano echoing hesitantly through memory fog as massive iron doors slam. All is reduced to a dirty brown sludge before a resounding multi-hued climax rises from the murk, like a slow motion film of a castle collapsing in reverse. Comae was one of my ten favourite CD's of 2001, and the minute-long samples below really can't begin to do it justice - it has to be heard as a continuous hour long soundscape.

FCMN Festival : Montreal 2000