Panasonic - Dinner with Mr. Ed

Simon Rust Lamb, Fix Magazine

Driving through the dark woods of Germany's Black Forest, nothing penetrates the murky darkness for ages. When at last something glows in the dark, it quickly disappears in the rear view mirror. For a brief moment, that light becomes vital, so bright and important, before it fades; the next light has an identical effect. Minimal techno has that same vibe. Instead of overwhelming the listener with a cacophony of sounds, the consistent beat and periodic melody or sound induce an effect just like the lights in the Black Forest. Cruising through the void of minimalism, Panasonic have joined the Swans on their European tour. From the small German town of Bo, Mika Vainio, exposed a little more light onto the creative endeavors of Finland's musical pride, Panasonic.

Finland has no internationally renowned musical environment. Hell, most people would be hard-pressed to locate Finland on a globe. Despite the absence of an acclaimed dance music setting, Mika and his partner, llpo Väisänen, have managed to cull his tastes from distant lands to develop the sound of Panasonic. Originally driven through the dark realms of industrial/noise, Mika worked with a band that followed the pioneers Einstürzende Neubauten and played with similar found instruments, radios, tools and metallic objects. Obviously, this experience has not entirely left him as Panasonic's creations still have a dark, harsh vibe. Rather than completely embracing the digital make-over, Mika and llpo utilize predominantly analog instruments in conjunction with the machines custom created to their order.

Even with these machines, the creation of a sound inside his head doesn't always come to fruition. Mika expressed his frustrations regarding that subject but works around it by taking an improvisational approach to song-writing with llpo. "Quite often, when we start work on a new track, we don't have any idea. We just start turning the knobs and then, when we find interesting sounds, we start to build track around those sounds in a way. Somehow, quite often those things are leading us in a way."

Mika further described their custom equipment, "We have this synthesizer, this one big box that has twelve oscillators on it; you can connect them to each other and modulate them together. We have this other thing, this small synthesizer which is built to an old typewriter -- we call it 'typewriter'. Wehave several drum modules to make rhythmic sounds which we are using with an 808. He [their friend Jari Lehtinen] made us this oscilloscope that we use as a rear projector. He's building us this large synthesizer that will have eight oscillators and a cross connection board, like the early '70s, late '60s synthesizers."

The sounds that Panasonic emits tend to have some noisy bits to them; Mika sees them beyond their pure noise element -- "Somehow, I like a certain power they have, these so-called noise sounds. I feel they have a lot of weight and energy in them. You can make noise things in so many different ways. Only depends on what kind of things you make - it can have so many different meanings."

This off-beat, harsh take on music has led to respect from other musical tastemakers. The Swans' Michael Gira, a master of harsh music in his own right, caught Panasonic at a show in London and offered them the support slot on his European tour. Björk nodded her head to them by granting them a remix. Other such opportunities followed from the Golden Palominos, Muslimgauze and Tactile.

Their love of analog sounds carries consistently into most of the machines Panasonic employ to make their dark tunes. Following in the tradition of almost all analog equipment lovers, Mika cites the organic feel of the machines as the primary reason for using them. He goes on to add, "When we make tracks, we have these certain ideas in our minds, but we still don't expect people to understand in that way. Someone feels that they are cold and inhuman; except for us, many of the tracks are still quite warm and humanlike. Of course, some of the tracks are quite emotionless and cold, but there are also quite warm tracks as well. I don't like to tell anybody how they should feel about our music."

Even though Mika didn't want to tell anyone how to listen to Panasonic, he did try to explain how he considered their music. "The best description for our music is raw horse-meat rockabilly. I think it works quite well in a way. We like our sound to be really, really unprepared because the more you put sound effects and studio tricks, quite often it's more difficult to really find out the raw nature of the sound." He continued, "We eat raw horse-meat and raw fish. It's kind of away, the same thing we like to do with the music. That way, how you can get more out of it, get the real taste or the real sound out of it."

A diet of raw horse-meat? Responding to the inevitable... Mika added, "It's just, a thing we do sometimes. We are actually not eating meat that much but sometimes we like to make these really brutal meals... You can order it from the butcher." Panasonic round out their dinner with Mr. Ed with boiled potatoes, dark sourbread, raw onions, beer and ice cold vodka. It all started so rationally, after eating rare beef, they decided it would be good to try preparing meat the same way people eat salmon, covering it with salt and letting it sit in a fridge overnight.

A similar raw edge pervades Panasonic's live presentation. Rather than performing and jumping about like that silly-haired bloke from Prodigy, they opt to stay true to their harsh, minimalist nature. On stage the band is illuminated by blue light and stand behind their equipment, intently tweaking knobs and levels. Another creation from their engineer friend provides the one changing visual. "We have this oscilloscope which is connected to a video projector. It's just a simple white line on a black background which reacts to our frequencies and the sounds that we are making. That's the only visual thing but I think it works really well."

Regardless of any listener feedback, Panasonic continue to change their sound and explore different realms within a predominantly minimal universe. Osasto was a hardcore EP -- very fast, driving stuff with the odd sound appearing now and again. Kulma has slowed down a bit and ranges from straight minimal techno through some noisy, down-tempo noisy dark experimentations.

Mika claimed his current interests leaning towards a unusual mixture, "We are not at the moment making much techno anymore. We are really into old, old Jamaican dub and ska things -- even the old rockabilly things."

Certainly, wherever the band goes next, they will follow the noisy, dark trail of minimalism wherever it leads. The changing element in their music promises to be the nature and frequency of the lights that spring up along the way.

Copyright © 1997 Simon Lamb

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