Andrew Fenchel, director of Lampo, started presenting concerts under that name in 1997 and incorporated as a nonprofit the following year. Early productions were mostly free jazz and improv, but by 2000 he’d moved into a slightly different niche, where he’s since proved invaluable to local fans of avant-garde and experimental music. Fenchel has booked many revered veterans, like iconoclastic multi-instrumentalist and tinkerer Rick Potts, who helped found the Los Angeles Free Music Society in the early 70s; Japanese electronic musician Yasunao Tone, who has roots in the Fluxus movement of the 60s; and the late composer Maryanne Amacher, whose sound installations often used overtones induced inside the listener’s ear. He keeps track of current developments too, and hosts prominent younger noise artists like Robert Beatty of Hair Police, C. Spencer Yeh of Burning Star Core, and Jessica Rylan of Can’t. In 2002 he presented the Chicago debut of the great French electronic-music composer Eliane Radigue, and in 2004 he was the first to book extraordinary Norwegian singer Maja Ratkje in the States (as part of Fe-mail, her duo with Hild Sofie Tafjord).
From 1999 till 2007 Lampo concerts took place at 6Odum, but sharing the space with Semaphore Recording began to create logistical problems, so Fenchel found a dedicated venue in River West for his 2008 and 2009 seasons. He lost that venue late last summer, though—the landlord, who’d been donating it to Lampo in exchange for build-out and electrical work, needed to start charging rent—and after another scramble the organization returned this spring with itinerant concerts at Columbia College, the Gene Siskel Film Center, and the Graham Foundation.
Audiences for this kind of fringe music are never large, but the Lampo crowd is devoted, and Fenchel has managed to keep ticket prices down—generally less than $15—through dedicated grant writing. It’s amazing that he can make ends meet, given that he brings in artists from around the globe, usually for one-off concerts, and Lampo has no other source of revenue (like, say, selling drinks at shows) to offset the associated expenses. Perhaps more amazing, Fenchel maintains a casual, inviting atmosphere at Lampo concerts, even though he’s presenting difficult music that demands rapt attention.