Vinyl Killers With FM Antennas
Two years ago in Avanto, the Dutch-German sound art project Staalplaat Soundsystem gave a live performance called Avantilator – composed for 100 office fans. Some things do not change in such a short while, and we can still endorse our blurb of that time: “Within the current mood of worshipping the latest technology in media art, Staalplaat Soundsystem provides a breath of fresh air, reminding us of the 100-year tradition of noise-making machines and junk art, in which "mad" inventors and various kinds of artists operating in the margins of the art world meet.”
The works by Staalplaat Soundsystem (Geert-Jan Hobijn and Carsten Stabenow) are usually brilliant in their simplicity, the first impression leaving no room for technological mystification. This is exemplified by such installations-cum-live performances as Composition for 8 Refrigerators (and we are not talking of compact little ice-boxes here, but full-size chest freezers), Composition for 104 Washing Machines as well as Avantilator, which even a child understands immediately – sometimes, in fact, even better than adults. "All these installations were made with the same low tech working philosophy, making an installation look so simple that you think 'I can do that'. What we do is to forget the very specific tasks they are made for, and see what they can do; dance, sing, kick, very oft I have the feeling it is telling me what its wants to do", Geert-Jan Hobijn has written.
What matters also, of course, is the sounding end result, which, like Staalplaat’s roots reaching back to the early 1980s, has a distinctive industrial inclination to it.
SSS's most popular piece has been, despite all of the above, a series of performances entitled Yokomono, whose technical realisation is complex enough to warrant a lengthy elaboration. Its basic idea is to use a performance setup consisting of so many unpredictable technical components that it is, in practical terms, impossible to control the whole system. Avanto is now staging the premiere of the latest incarnation in the series, Yokomono 03.
The yokomono are Japanese electronic toys, battery-powered miniature cars, with a record player’s needle on the underside and a small speaker inside. SSS employs a fleet of ten yokomono cars retrofitted with small FM radio transmitters inside them and with antennas on their roofs. The sounds transmitted by the tiny cars are received by ten battery radios – in flaming red, like the cars. The vinyl records are placed on a table, and the miniature cars are set to drive in a circle on them. One of the uncertainty factors is that the cars are battery-powered: the batteries don’t last for very long, and, eventually, the speed of the cars as well as the frequencies of the radio transmitters begin to fluctuate, resulting in the transmitters skipping from one frequency to another. Another factor is the shoddiness of the cars' cheap styluses; SSS calls them "vinyl killers".
The confusion is confounded by the nature of the records the vinyl killers are playing. For “DJ gigs” like this, SSS has released two Yokomono vinyl records featuring their favourite artists – pioneers of experimental music like Phill Niblock and Charlemagne Palestine, as well as names familiar from Avanto such as Ilpo Väisänen of Pan Sonic, Radian, Goodiepal, Fennesz, and Carl-Michael von Hausswolff. Each of the artists was asked to produce five sound loops of exactly 1.8 seconds. This is the duration of one revolution of a long-playing vinyl record. Moreover, the records have been pressed using locked groove technique, i.e. the needle of the turntable, or in this case of the toy car, will lock endlessly on one single 1.8-second groove of the record.
For the Avanto Nightclub, SSS decided to compile a thematic Yokomono vinyl release. The theme: Helsinki and its environmental sounds. The other half of Pan Sonic, Mika Vainio, a resident of Berlin like SSS, was commissioned to produce a seven-minute composition. Petri Kuljuntausta from Helsinki was, in turn, asked to provide a composition of an equal length responding to Vainio’s piece. The sound material to be used for the compositions, field recordings from the turn of the 1960s and 1970s made at the Hietalahti shipyard in Helsinki, was discovered in the special effects archive of YLE Finnish Broadcasting Company. These sounds have a personal dimension for both composers: Vainio spent a part of his childhood living near the dockyard, while Kuljuntausta has used sounds recorded from inside ships’ hulls as material for his earlier works.
Yokomono 03 will be pressed using an even more exotic method than the previous ones. The grooves holding the two compositions by Vainio and Kuljuntausta cross with each other for their entire duration. What this amounts to is that every 1.8 seconds, the needle may skip from Vainio’s piece to Kuljuntausta’s composition and vice versa – for as long as the batteries last.
The other side of the record features the traditional loops of 1.8 seconds, commissioned from Blixa Bargeld, Merzbow, Main, Alexei Borisov, Donna Summer, G.X. Jupitter-Larsen, Andrey Kiritchenko, Zbigniew Karkowski, Un Caddie Renversé Dans l'Herbe and Ditterich von Euler-Donnersperg, with five loops from each featured artist and their own sound environments. Avanto is the co-producer of this unique release, which will be on sale at the festival venues!
In addition to Yokomono 03, which will be performed at the UMO Jazz House, Staalplaat Soundsystem will give an instrument workshop for children aged 9 to 12 at the Ateneum Art Museum. The results of the workshop will be performed by SSS together with the young participants of the workshop at the Kiasma Theatre under the title Staalplaat Soundsystem & The Helsinki Filharmechanic Youth Orchestra. The performance is a part of Kids' Avanto, introduced in more detail on here.
Staalplaat Soundsystem will perform at the Avanto Nightclub in UMO Jazz House on Friday, November 18th.
Staalplaat Soundsystem & The Helsinki Filharmechanic Youth Orchestra will perform at Kiasma Theatre on Sunday, November 20th at 19:30.