Pan sonic

interview by S. Arden Hill


In Latin and in Greek the word "panasonic" means all sound or every sound.  The giant Japanese electronic corporation of the same name hordes this nom de plume.  This corporation I don't think can or have ever equated themselves or signified the ideas and connexions that the word panasonic suggests.  The Finnish sonic explorers, Mika Vainio and Ilpo Vaisanen and at one point Sami Salo, took it upon themselves to use the name panasonic for their ultra-minimal techno project.  It is a perfect name for these explorers, who signify and make those necessary connexions while using the idea of all or every sound to its full extent.

Pan Sonic and Unidentified ObjectQ: Is there a sound or color that goes with everything?

Mika:  I think of a kinda of white noise, because in theory it has all the frequencies so it work with everything same as in colors, the grey color because grey color has all the wavelengths as well because it is a mixture of all the colors.

[Panasonic released 2 full length albums, an EP and has appeared under this name in many live and compiled environments. Panasonic, at the end of 1998 informed panasonic they had to change their name ]

Q: 'A' and the lack of the letter?  Is it now pan sonic, permanently?  Or for this album specifically?

Mika:  It will be Pan sonic.  We can not use the Panasonic name any more or we will get sued by the company.

Q:  Panasonic was your name for so long, it is kind of funny that it is only now they are onto you.

Mika:  Surprisingly long, yeah.

[Regardless of the name change the sonic environment of Panasonic and their exploration of sound seems unaltered.  On April 25th 1999 Pan Sonic opened up for Trans Am in Minneapolis' 400 bar.  On April 25th 1999 I was educated on what the term Panasonic signified in the eyes of the Finns, as I stood in front of a stack of speakers and was excavated, plunged and mesmerized by every sound.  This was the greatest experience of my life.  What made if much more, was the fact I got to interrogate them before the show.]

Q:  Do you have any favorite colors?

Ilpo:  Orange

Mika:  Grey

Q:  Like the cover to the Osasto EP?

Mika:  Yeah that is okay, but it varies of course on how you look at it and how it's connected and where it is located.  That was more like silver.

Q:  Any favorite combinations of colors?

Mika:  It is difficult, any color can be great and connected with each other but it's all question of the tones of the color, in the end.  Any color can be really ugly or beautiful depending on the tone and how its connected to other tone.

Q:  Were you both material artists?  Mika, your little brother what's his connection?

Mika:  Me never, Ilpo has.

Ilpo:  I painted for three years, studied for four years.

Q:  Mika your little brother?

Mika:  My little brother, he doesn't do much for me really; he has made a couple of t-shirts and that is all.  We have done ourselves the design for our CDs and LPs.

Ilpo:  Also this guy Russell Haswell has helped us out.

Q:  What are the most effective colors?

Mika:  As I said earlier mainly how you use it and how it's connected, which connects in which situation, which way or in combination with other things.

Both have claimed or denoted more of a connexion to a physical or emotive atmosphere in their music more than a theory about it. Their music is colorful and textured, and has quite an impact on the body frequencies.

Q:  How important is silence in your music?

Mika:  It is quite important, I think it is more important what there is not, than what there is.  Like in classic Japanese where you are making homes and spaces, the most important element is the empty space.  When you put in something it's like you're sculpting the emptiness not the other way around; maybe in the sound of music the sound is the same.

Q:  Is silence impossible?

Mika:  Not for a human being, you can not reach perfect silence.  If you go into a perfectly silent phase you can hear yourself and the sounds of your body, your heart beat and blood pressure and so on.  Until your ears are destroyed.  Maybe then you 'll have a silence.

Q:  Is that possible?

Mika:  You just need a nail and hammer.

(At this point I volunteered to have my ears destroyed.  Both laughed and smiled.)

Q:  Do you want to talk about minimalism and minimalist techno?

Mika:  I don't think we are interested in minimalism for the sake of minimalism.  It has just ended up in our music as well the part of the music that we released.  Pan sonic the main reason why it is minimal, because we feel it is the best way to explore sounds in the end, that is the best way to explore the micro-structure of the sounds and the nature of the sound in a way.

Q:  Can you describe your music?

Mika:  We usually say "horse meat rockabilly."

Q:  But the tactility and texture?  How would you describe it to a deaf person?  Maybe as an analogy?

Mika:  Compare it to a food.  If our music was a food it would be well done Japanese sushi, raw fish.  That's how we would like our music to be, very simple and pure.  We are also trying to avoid using too much production which is comparable to using spices and preparing the food.  Sushi is quite similar to our music, just raw fish and a little rice.

Ilpo:  Food is good thing.  I was thinking of American food and American music, American music is very produced, so is the food it is highly produced, processed.

Q:  Talk about the process of framing and creating a synthetic environment through installation pieces?  Arctic Rangers?  20' to 2000?  Rude Mechanics?

Mika:   We both know Carsten Nicloai who is running the label.  I got to know him a couple of years ago when we made together or he invited me to take part in his installation, make a sound for his installation which was released later as Mikro Makro CD.

Ilpo:  Arctic Rangers was one guy who graduated from the design school Royal College of Art and his plan was doing a special package like the original model kits and he asked us to do the music.

Mika:  It ended up being really expensive.

Q:  How did you approach Rude Mechanics or the piece installed at Minneapolis' Walker Gallery?

Mika:  These people who are working in this gallery, they knew a friend of ours whose was working in London and they suggested us.  And here, (Minneapolis) I made a sound installation in Paris, in the Museum of Modern Art in Paris where I met Francisco Benoin who was the curator of this show (at the Walker).  I met him in Paris and he invited us here.

At this point Mika was distracted by one of my self indulgent requests (transcription of the track names from A available from:  So I had an opportunity to speak directly to Ilpo.Pan sonic yet again

Q:  Is b set to be released soon?

Ilpo:  It is out, but I don't know if you can get it here, it is out of England.

Q:  Is it similar to the material done on A?

Ilpo:  It is straight foward 4/4 beat like, more techno.

Q:  Is it danceable?

Ilpo:  Well what is dance?  It is hard to say, I like to dance to raga [or ragga?] music.  I suppose people like to dance to it because it is easy, because it is 4/4 beat.

Q:  You did something for Florain Hecker?

Ilpo:  I did a remix, on the last track.  He wanted me to do a remix.

Q:  And your solo endeavors?

Ilpo:  Not very much out.  Just now 20' to 2000 and then this coming EP (Jarru) should be out now, but the guy had some problems with his distributer so, it has been taking too long.  This summer I am going to record more material.

Q:  Can you talk a little about Ultra 3?  Are there any recordings available?

Ilpo:  There are some recordings, but that wasn't actually a music thing.  That was more like a performance thing.  That was me and two other guys.  It lasted like 4 years or something, we did only 4 performances.  That was exploring chances or coincidences.  We were using lots of our body parts.

Q:  Is it true you locked yourselves in a silo or tunnel for a period of time and blasted yourselves with low base tones?

Ilpo:  Yeah it was a garage, we were just 10 hours and we load low noise, 130 decibals like 1300 hertz, we couldn't get below that.  We did exercise a lot and fasted before that, so we were really cohesive.  It was really good, you really got into that, really, really far.  We covered our eyes and can not see.  One point was to have a physical feed back, like we had miked our hearts with contact mikes, so it was coming through the speakers.  It didn't work very well.

Q:  I heard a rumor that you had at one point swallowed microphones?

Ilpo:  That was sine (Ilpo and Mika), that was after Ultra 3.  One guy swallowed the microphones and the other played him (hitting him around the chest cavity).

Q:  Is it true that the sounds you used for A were actually recorded in a Panasonic warehouse, sounds from old Panasonic equipment?

Mika:  Not really no, the samples were using were mainly samples from our own instruments and from our own custom made synthesizers.

Q:  Mika, do you want to talk about corporate 09?  And other side projects?

Mika:  That wasn't my project, my part was really small on that project.  The other guy, it was totally his project, I just participated in a couple of tracks.

Q:  Was it in the same area of music as Panasonic?

Mika:  No it was more in the Eighties type of thing, I've never been that happy about that, but then again it wasn't my project it was the other guys project, so it was totally up to him.  There is one album available.

Q:  And Sirkus?

Mika:  That is the name of the EP, the name of the project is called Tekonivel.  There is a new EP on Tension Records, a sub label of Disko B.  But I recorded that thing three years ago already and they are only releasing it now, it's okay but it's quite different from what I am doing now.

Q:  The Panasonic Peel Sessions?

Mika:  No not been released.  There are actually two of them now, one with Alan Vega, both haven't been released.

Q:  And what about the F.M. Einheit and Panasonic collaboration?

Mika:  Hopefully later this year there will be a CD out, because we have been recording with him, over a year and a half ago but it's been delayed for some reason.  Maybe we go to his place and make some more recording and rearrange the CD, but it in a way has been ready but then again maybe because it has been delayed this long we will change something from it.  But I think it will be released this year.  We will go to play with him, to Japan in May for two concerts.

Ilpo:  We played now one gig in London.

Mika: before we came here we played with him in London

Q:  How did that go?

Mika:  It was great!

Ilpo:  Nice, he played like a big guitar....

Mika:  Metal sheets, hammer....  Real old style Neubauten style.

Q:  Resonance 107. 3 FM?

Mika:  The new radio station, they asked us to make something make up a test signal before opening the station, so we made them a 15 minute piece and they were playing that over and over for a couple of days, so they were just testing if it works, if the whole station works.

Pan sonic are available through Mute Records.  Panasonic's show was unbelievable.  In ways I feel sorry for those that opted not to go, as well as those that did not expect the intensity of their sonic rumbling.

Originally published in Stylus Magazine, Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada, Summer, 1999.  Reprinted by permission.

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