Robert van Heumen Composer Improvisor Laptop-Instrumentalist Sound-Designer
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ABATTOIR is Audrey Chen (cello & voice) and Robert van Heumen (laptop-instrument). Rooted in free improvisation and experimental electronics, they perform music where Chen's intense vocals and intricate cello playing are sampled, transformed and ripped apart by Van Heumen's vigorous laptop actions. Together, they are able to create a deeply sensitive communication infused with a boundless feeling of release and letting go.

From a review by Keir Neuringer, of a concert at STEIM where it all began:
"Devoted to not holding back when Chen performs, it was a pleasure to see her work so hard to match van Heumen’s often brutal digital transformations of her sound. There were several moments of pure psychedelia as van Heumen allowed untransposed, ungranulated repetitions of Chen’s voice to come through. I loved it when he took Chen’s keening voice and filtered it in such a way that, for a moment, it seemed that George Martin, the revered Beatles producer, had entered the room."

Hear the ABATTOIR album at Bandcamp.

Biographies | CD | Reviews | Images | Concerts | High resolution photo | Promotional text | contact: ABATTOIRwest28nl


Audrey Chen is a Chinese-American musician and performance artist born outside of Chicago in 1976. Using the cello, voice and analog electronics, Chen’s work focuses on the combination and layering of traditional and extended techniques. A large component of her music is improvised and her approach to this is often extremely personal and visceral. Her performance work incorporates sound, movement and visual/sculptural concepts. Chen performs solo and in collaboration with a wide number of musicians and dancers. Among musicians, she has worked with many great improvisers, including Phil Minton, Elliott Sharp, Aki Onda, Phill Niblock, Frederic Blondy, Jim Pugliese, Alessandro Bosetti, Mike Cooper, Mats Gustafsson, Mazen Kerbaj, Michael Zerang, Tatsuya Nakatani, Le Quan Ninh, Joe Mcphee, Susan Alcorn, Michele Doneda, Paolo Angeli, and Gianni Gebbia. Some current projects include: duos with Phil Minton, Frederic Blondy, Robert van Heumen, Katt Hernandez, Nate Wooley, a new trio project with Nate Wooley and C. Spencer Yeh, 3AandE: with Seamus Cater, Robert van Heumen and Nate Wooley and Trockeneis: with Andy Hayleck, Dan Breen, Catherine Pancake and Paul Neidhardt. Chen has performed in Europe, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Taiwan and the USA. She is currently based in Baltimore, MD USA where she is member of the Red room and High Zero Collective, an on-going series and international festival devoted to experimental improvised music.

Robert van Heumen is an electronic musician-composer using an extended laptop instrument to perform highly immersive and hyper-dynamic electro-acoustic music. As a musician, live sampling is his main tool. With a joystick and other tactile controllers, live sampled source sounds are gesturally manipulated and reworked within open ended narratives. Van Heumen is constantly searching for new strategies for live sampling and for the perfect balance between free improvisation and structured music. The laptop is used in an instrumental, tactile way, connecting action to sound like any acoustic instrument, and is used live as well as in the studio to generate sonic material for fixed-media works.


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Released in July 2009 on Evil Rabbit Records. Available on Fridgesound records, Subterranean Distribution and ToonDist.

Audrey Chen - voice & cello
Robert van Heumen - laptop & controllers

All music by Audrey Chen & Robert van Heumen
Selected, mixed and mastered by Robert van Heumen

Tracks 1 & 2 recorded live at STEIM's Local Stop concert on May 22 2008
Tracks 3, 4 & 5 recorded at STEIM on May 17 & 20 2008
Track 6 recorded live at STEIM's Local Stop concert on March 12 2009

Design: Lysander le Coultre (Strangelove creatives)
Photography: Monique Besten


Do a Google Images search for Audrey Chen and you'll find some very attractive photos of the young Baltimore-based cellist / vocalist looking very demure and elegant. But in the company of laptopper Robert van Heumen – who's turned in some impressive releases this year, including Whistle Pig Saloon (with John Ferguson), one of the strongest outings yet on the insanely fecund Creative Sources imprint – it seems she can turn into a veritable harpy, her yelps, gargles, growls and squeaks ripped apart with carnivorous glee by van Heumen's electronics. Yes, the album (and group) name gives you some idea of what to expect, I suppose, from these six tracks – it's tempting to listen to it as some kind of pro-vegan Meat Is Murder horror story, with Chen playing the poor cow; but that would be overlooking the extraordinary sensitivity of much of this music. Van Heumen's treatments are often raw, even vicious, but never rough and haphazard, and there's a great feel for structure and timing to Abbatoir's music. And if you only know one version of "Endless Summer" (Christian Fennesz's of course), you owe it to yourself to check out Chen and van Heumen's track of the same name without further ado.

Dan Warburton, Paris Transatlantic, Autumn 2009

Baltimore-based Audrey Chen is one of the most notable of the young cellists and Abattoir, her duo with electronics manipulator Robert von Heumen, is a full round of beautiful playing and surprising turns. Chen's dexterity as both an instrumentalist and a vocalist is fairly striking and with both voices she moves easily between the pretty and the ugly, not always in tandem. The acoustic strings and singing voice give a very human feeling to the CD, only to be undermined by Van Heuman's live processing. In his hands, Chen's voice might start to develop an artificial sustain and within seconds be swirling like water down a drain. Fragments of her cello playing seem to be preserved and regurgitated as blipping percussion. At other times, the electronic elements separate themselves fully away from the acoustic, giving the odd sensation of an unstable duet, sometimes merging into a complex solo and then dividing again into two. The guttural sounds both favor at times might prove difficult to some listeners, but the five tracks here are endlessly inventive.

Kurt Gottschalk, All about Jazz, 15 may 2010

After an disquieting start, modulating on shrill guttural vocalizations and innervated with noisy and improvisational acts, Robert van Heumen intervenes on laptops and controller. He generates instrumental arrangements, selected by highly noisy drones, with supplemental clicks, hums, sudden changes of volume and various other audio events. The vocal evolutions of Audrey Chen are really extreme, as is - in a decidedly unconventional manner - her cello playing, which is also consistent with radical outcomes, channeling bristly and very imaginative audio convergences. Digital brutalism in free form, vehement expressions, heightened efforts, wailings and atonal lamentations are all performed with uninterrupted breathing techniques - the electronic manipulation is relentless, full of powerful distortions, melancholic melodies and experimental combinations. Authentic, intricate compositions, obviously not designed to please a mainstream audience, or to sit quietly in cautious research styles.

Aurelio Cianciotta for

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ABATTOIR excerpt from STEIM CONCERT: Electronic Music Lab, 8 May 2010, Japan Society, NYC USA

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Selected ABATTOIR concerts in the past and future

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