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A band that’s nothing if not daring invites the public to attend musical experiments in the Kaistudio: a portrait of Ensemble Decoder.

Ensemble Decoder has been among the most innovative and unpredictable representatives of the international contemporary music scene for several years now. In intense exchange with composers of the youngest generation – three of the ensemble’s musicians also compose themselves –, they produce unique, energetic sounds and impress traditional concertgoers and trendy clubbers alike.

Decoder Ensemble
Decoder Ensemble © R. Stoehr/ L. Strohm

We always wanted to transfer the band idea to contemporary music

Sonja Lena Schmid


The band was set up as a free formation of seven musicians in 2011. The members have distant connections with the Musikhochschule in Hamburg, but they have closer associations with a very different world: »Back then, we thought about who we wanted to make contemporary music with in Hamburg«, says singer Frauke Aulbert. »What unites us is probably rock ’n’ roll«, she adds, and thus introduces a central aspect of the ensemble’s self-image: Ensemble Decoder sees itself as a band.

»We always wanted to transfer the band idea to contemporary music«, cellist Sonja Lena Schmid explains. »We make all the decisions together, we also play amplified or electronic instruments, we feel a strong attraction to the idea of performance – and we have a frontwoman«.

Ensemble Decoder


This frontwoman, Frauke Aulbert, is a vocal artist who explores all the sounds between classical singing and exotic techniques with her range of four octaves. Three of the band members – Alexander Schubert, Leopold Hurt and Andrej Koroliov – are composers themselves, but they also play electronic instruments, the electric zither, piano and work with digital moving images. Cellist Sonja Lena Schmid in turn, and Carola Schaal on the clarinet, combine their artistic talent with a palpable delight in performing – a clear contrast to the increasing incorporeality of Western art music.

Alexander Schubert/ Decoder Ensemble
Alexander Schubert/ Decoder Ensemble © Gerhard Kuehne


Ensemble Decoder doesn’t use a fixed room: at the outset, they realised their projects in different clubs and alternative concert venues such as Hamburg’s Uebel & Gefährlich or in the Berlin club Berghain. In the meantime they also play at major international festivals such as the Warsaw Autumn Festival or the Klang Copenhagen Avantgarde Music Festival. And they choose the venue very carefully to fit their programme in each case, regarding the surroundings as part of the performance. But Hamburg remains the breeding ground for new projects: »Everything that we tour with was originally born right here«, says cellist Schmid.

Kaistudio 1
Kaistudio 1 © Michael Zapf


Now Decoder is moving into the basement of the Elbphilharmonie with its own concert series »Below Deck«. »The lower deck, officially known as the Kaistudio, was originally intended for experimental formats and educational projects«, says Schmid, »and up to now it has mainly been used for the latter. We are now among the first artists to introduce experiments to this space«.

The simple white Kaistudio is the only hall in the Elbphilharmonie that doesn’t have a moulded skin. No honeycomb structure in the plaster, no gills of smoked oak. Instead there is an unexpected view of the river Elbe, the opening to the port.

Text: Elisa Erkelenz

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