PROMPT AND CIRCUMSTANCE
Amnesia Scanner and Freeka Tet describe their approach to performing at Australia’s immersive music and art festival, Dark Mofo.
Aimless evolution sits at the heart of the longstanding collaboration between Amnesia Scanner, a Berlin-based, Finnish deconstructed club duo consisting of Ville Haimala and Martti Kalliala, and Freeka Tet, a French-born, NYC-based artist and musician. This collaboration promises an extraordinary fusion of Amnesia Scanner’s past work, characterised by their “intense sound and overbearing visuals that suck you into a hallucinogenic world”, and their new live performance. Together, these elements contribute to a newfound humanistic and self-described “band energy”. "There is a natural limit to how far you can go” explains Kalliala of spectacular festivals like Dark Mofo, and it is the definition of this natural limit that connects the group.
Since their inception, Amnesia Scanner has charcaterised their practice and collaborations as a process of world-building. Instead of meticulously curating raw material, they have developed a language to sift through the excess material surrounding them. This evolution, which began in 2014, has led to a shift towards something “less cryptic,” as described by Haimala. The intensity of their work and newfound clarity stem from a curious connection with the “prompt”, which serves as a human refuge. Through this prompt, the process of self-discovery becomes a journey of movement and elimination, offering a more humanistic path in a world inundated with material excess.
The encounter between Amnesia Scanner and Freeka Tet’s unfolded naturally. In 2018, they were introduced by a mutual friend at a festival in Mexico City, planting the seeds that would blossom into their first collaborative work. Haimala referred to it as encompassing “the world, the live show and almost all the non-musical things” that define their work together. Their latest project, Amensia Scanner’s third studio album STROBE.RIP, serves as a musical companion to their expanding body of work, designed to evolve organically through their live performances.
STROBE.RIP, released under Bill Kouligas’’experimental label PAN, catalyses a growing trend toward deconstructed and ethereal sound. Alongside artists like Arca, Eartheater and Yves Tumor, Amnesia Scanner delve deeper into this zeitgeist and its critique of consumerism’s alienation and excess.
The album’s ‘humanistic dimension’ is brought to life through Amnesia Scanners’ performance, characterised by their deep-fried baroque and quasi-angelic sound. Haimala explains, “Live performing has definitely made it more human. We built a filter that we could push our human performance through.” This process acts as a corporal bridge between their non-human instruments and the energetic tracks of STROBE.RIP, resulting in a transformative and defining experience.
Despite describing their approach to experimentation as “dredging and manipulating informational detritus from the internet”, Amnesia Scanners’ musical practice remains free from capitalism’s nostalgic tendencies. Haimala explains, “I don’t feel like we’re drawing any anchors like that. It’s more like trying to find our own language within the ever-evolving language of the internet”. Freeka Tet echoes this sentiment, referencing Grafton Tanner’s book Babbling Corpse: Vaporwave and the Commodification of Ghosts, to state that nostalgia “feels like cheating in a way. A bit like being on Pinterest too much and building something that you know will appeal to others."
For Amensia Scanner, Freeka Tet and their collaborators, text becomes a raw material. Jaakko Pallasuvuo (known famously by their Instagram moniker @avocadoibuprohen), a Finnish multimedia artist and long-time collaborator of Amnesia Scanner, designed the cover artwork for STROBE.RIP. The artwork features a salon-style arrangement of descriptive words against a white background. These words capture an image similar to a DALL-E prompt, an AI image generator that has sparked debates surrounding artificial intelligence and its role within our intelligently human world.
The track Scorpions, Bats & Spiders’ from STROBE.RIP delves deeper into the conceptual exploration of prompt over prose, or in the surrealist tradition, signifier over the signified. Haimala elucidates, “[Scorpions, Bats & Spiders] extensively employs AI tools, generating lyrics from a large language model, while the vocals themselves are artificially produced using various tools and inputs. The result is a collage-like composition that deviates from traditional song structures."
The interplay between Pallasuvo’s surrealism and Haimala’s dadaist description of “collage-like composition” unveils the newly humanistic dimension of Amnesia Scanner’s live performance of STROBE.RIP. This dimension arises from the semiotic tension between these two artistic movements. Surrealism wields raw material to speculate on a new world , while Dadaism employs raw material as a reality-based political critique. Amnesia Scanner and Freeka Tet share the goal of creating a language that transcends the alienation, excess and nostalgic fetish of consumerism, and this becomes a process of elimination. In other words, they define themselves by what they are not rather than what they are.
Amnesia Scanner and Freeka Tet perceive humanness in how we navigate through material and semiotic barriers. “What came strong out of this focus on the prompt was more than what it generated”, Freeka reveals, “but rather the process or format of prompting, which is the most human part of AI.” This perspective on movement is evident in the music video for the first single of STROBE.RIP’s, titled ‘Ride’. Directed by Ruby Aldridge and Freeka, the video follows the eerie journey of a cycling delivery driver. Presented from a first-person perspective, the landscape depicted is a familiar one, a crowded environment existing on the periphery of multiple phone screens. Freeka describes the concept as “the delivery person now delivering to himself. It’s a bit like our world where everybody is a delivery person, and all day long, we work to deliver stuff to ourselves or those closest to us.”
Amnesia and Freeka Tet, like any other ‘band’, share links and images in their group chat, often unrelated to the themes of their work, but nevertheless spark engaging conversations. This act of sharing material contributes to the creation of a collective library that prompts questions and avenues of inquiry, facilitating an aimless evolution. Haimala finds the collaboration with Freeka to be “super refreshing” as they bring a “very different lens to look at this world.” He expresses that it has “been a really nice journey and hopefully will continue beyond the record and this tour.”
Olivia Bennett is a Melbourne-based writer and critic (@olivia.thinks)
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