BY Abi Bliss in Reviews | 10 DEC 13
Featured in
Issue 13

Surround Sound

Beyond techno. The many sides to Berlin’s PAN records

BY Abi Bliss in Reviews | 10 DEC 13

‘Sometimes I want to read about, say, “phase transitions” in relation to the growth and form of things in nature, and sometimes I want to listen to music in a club at 3am, and sometimes I want both things simultaneously,’ muses Lee Gamble, a British DJ and producer. ‘This state seems to drive me into wanting to make something musical, when in my brain, creatively, these things collide and seem incongruous.’

Gamble is one of the biggest names on PAN, which is somewhere between an art project and a record label. PAN was founded in 2008 by Bill Kouligas and has emerged recently as one of Berlin’s most talked-about imprints, encompassing noise, experimental electronic music, free jazz, techno, sampled jungle mixtapes, and sound art. PAN occupies an in-between space in Berlin’s music community, quickly building an influential aesthetic without conforming to any one particular sound.

‘I saw it as a way to develop a visual project,’ says Kouligas, ‘whilst at the same time making a platform for a wide range of music that I had already been involved in, both as an artist and curator.’ Last year, PAN had a booth at abc – art berlin contemporary, in the ‘bazaar’ section curated by New York’s Artists Space.

Many of the musicians on PAN cross over into the art world. The artist James Hoff’s record on PAN, How Wheeling Feels When the Ground Walks Away (2011), exists primarily as documentation of a sound installation, commissioned by Performa, New York, consisting of – according to the label – ‘various historic riots, from the concert hall and music venue to the sounds of modern warfare.’ (Hoff is also a co-founder of the New York non-profit Primary Information, which publishes out-of-print artists’ books; PAN helps distribute Primary Information material through its website.) Mark Fell, represented on PAN via his projects Sensate Focus and his long-running duo with Mat Steel, as SND, makes visual art as well as music; his live performances are often a synthesis of sound and video. Eli Keszler, an American experimental percussionist on PAN, builds complex, fragile sound sculptures with wire and motors, which he triggers with his manic, focused drumming. The German artist and experimental electronic musician Florian Hecker, whose key 2003 Mego release Sun Pandämonium was reissued by PAN in 2011, was included in dOCUMENTA (13).

PAN also reaches deep into the history of sound art, with some old-school names: the underground American sound artist Joseph Hammer, who began work in 1980 with the Los Angeles Free Music Society, and the British electroacoustic composer Trevor Wishart, who also hails from the same era. Hammer’s woozy sound collage I Love You, Please Love Me Too (2010) is one of PAN’s best releases to date – it sounds a bit like what would happen if you melted all of your vinyl records down into their plastic essence.