PRINT November 1997



What is currently being marketed as “electronica” represents the music industry’s belated attempt to capitalize on a moribund rave culture and its techno-hippie aesthetic. The hype over Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, et al. ignores more significant efforts to extend and outstrip rave’s musical resources: on the one hand, vanguard junglists like Plug and Squarepusher stutter and fracture techno’s relentless 4/4 throb to create music of dizzying rhythmic complexity. On the other hand, electronica outfits (e.g., Oval, Autechre, Microstoria) abstract techno’s melodic and harmonic material with an interest in pure sound.

The Finnish duo PANASONIC takes this latter route to the extreme. Emerging from Finland’s rave scene in 1993, Mika Vainio and Ilpo Väisuanen settled into a converted sauna and, with homemade analog synthesizers and drum machines, began turning out astonishingly spare electronic music. Panasonic’s third release, Kulma (Mute/Blast First!), retains some connections with dance music (a metronomic pulse marks time on about half the tracks). But it also invokes seminal works of electronische Musik in the classical tradition. “Jakso,” “Aines,” and “Kurnutus” (all titles are in Finnish) experiment with the endless possibilities of the electronic signal in a way that recalls György Ligeti or Karlheinz Stockhausen. Each of Kulma’s tracks revels in the pristine dirtiness—the buzz, crackle, and rumble—of its source: electricity surging through filters and modulators. Even the techno-ish tracks seem more interested in the timbre and texture of the beat than in its booty-shaking properties. The quivering beats on “Kylma Massa” are as far from hand-on-calfskin as can be imagined. And the austere “–25” might be a transmission from the Lapland tundra. This is strikingly inorganic music; yet the intention is not to alienate but to call attention to the vital electric, magnetic, and radioactive fields in which we already find ourselves.

Christoph Cox