UNIDENTIFIED SOUND OBJECTS: "Keep it cheap, but rich of ideas -- or something"
Interview & translation from Finnish: Erkki Rautio / pHinnWeb
January 21, 2005 -- Unidentified Sound Objects is Sami Pennanen a.k.a. Sampen hailing from Helsinki, Finland. Unidentified Sound Objects is an eclectic and multidisciplinary unit, consisting of both sound and images.
Sampen started making music in the mid-1990s. The music he makes as U.S.O. could be described as a sort of confounding branch of sampladelia inspired by hip-hop sound and a global pop culture where such diverse styles as IDM, lounge and even acoustic folk collide head-on. The sounds are complemented by the artist's convoluted humour, wordplays, twisted spoken samples and alt. aesthetics. His visual expression goes along the same lines, brimming with references to all popular culture. Japanese manga comics and anime films mingle with kitschy every-day objects, while strange monster creatures frolic around as peculiar psychedelic ornaments. It's scary in a funny way, funny in a scary way.
In 1998 the Finnish cult label Bad Vugum published a split-7" featuring U.S.O. and Kemialliset Ystävät, the latter having been making waves lately in international underground music scene. The Unidentified Sound Objects mini-album Styrofoamafrocut was to follow on Bad Vugum in 1999. U.S.O. has also released one 7" on Autotehtaat label of Hämeenlinna, Finland; with countless appearances on compilation records and cassettes. For pHinnWeb's own micro label, pHinnMilk Recordings, U.S.O. has produced one remix for CTNERMX compilation, and now a full-length CD-R, called Richard D. Anderson Album. Sampen is also a trained visual artist who has participated in many exhibitions in Finland as well as overseas.
I can't exactly recall how I got to know Sampen in the first place, however, it all ended up with pHinnWeb hosting an artist site dedicated to the music and images of Unidentified Sound Objects. In light of the new album, here is a rare artist interview of Sampen. Welcome to the weird world of Unidentified Sound Objects.
- How did you start creating music? I have heard that you have a sort of hip-hop background...?
My hobbit background is more connected to how I became a visual artist. Creating music started with my intensive hobby of (listening to) that; slowly leading to the attempts to understand what I heard, through practical experimentation (that is, trying to play/create music myself). From a nice hobby it has mutated into an obsession which poses a threat to sanity and back.
- How would you characterise your own type of music?
Reaching that slot between listening and dance music where both congregations will feel uneasy.
- What exactly are "unidentified sound objects"?
I don't know, yet I hear them arriving:
- What kind of gear you create your music with?
A melodica and Mac laptop with varied software. A digital eight-tracker, a couple of guitars and cheap mikes. Ensoniq ASR-10. Some drum machines.
- You have recorded for Bad Vugum the now-legendary split 7" together with Kemialliset Ystävät and one mini-album. How did you get a deal with Bad Vugum?
In the traditional style of "Send a demo tape (it's been oh so long time ago), receive some encouraging feedback, send more material on a new demo tape created in the ensuing excitement; and finally receive a phone call asking: 'Would it be OK if we released your record' -- give a positive answer".
- Are there any musical paragons for you or any people who would have influenced you?
Paragon is maybe a bit too solemn term, but I am into many long-term eccentrics. For example such people as Lee "Scratch" Perry, Sun Ra, Serge Gainsborough, Aphex Twin and Momus.
- And what current artists are you most into?
Every one of them, and none of them -- this varies daily and by person.
- Your actual profession is that of a visual artist. How does art fit together in creating music?
I don't see them as disconnected areas but I work on Gesamtkunstwerk, total body of art. Both of these ought to be supporting each others but still stand on their own feet; sparring each other but not making each other stumble -- because then you will only hear referee's whistle. Both these consist of tinkering with technical gadgets, as well as handicraft too. Also taking a rest from a piece and re-assessing ideas work nicely when you're working on a totally different work.
I've had a soundtrack for all my personal exhibitions, so the audience didn't have to view even my static images in total silence. Also for my "e-mail reading performances" (see the explanation below in this interview) I have wanted for a long time to create something to look at; unfortunately the prices of video projectors are still high.
- Tell something about the exhibitions you've been involved with?
If you mean joint exhibitions, with those I've been having two principles: either I have hidden my already inconspicuous works somewhere in the more invisible corners of the exhibition space, around the corner or altogether outside the exhibition space; or then I have brought to the well-illuminated centre something which has been large-sized and which has emitted loud noise.
- And your own favourites or influences in the area of visual arts and expression?
There are so many of them. Instead a list of names I just mention some that have made the greatest impression lately.
I just saw Irréversible by Caspar Noe on DVD, which was better that way, since in the cinema it might have been a nerve-wrecking experience. Having seen Noe's earlier films I about knew what to expect, but the multi-layeredness of a basically simple story surprised me. An additional surprise was to hear that this film had been created fast, almost without a script. It's been a long while since I have seen a movie that keeps one mulling over it for a long time. The vision of Caspar Noe, pondering human possibilities, is a must!
The comic book Kekkonen by Matti Hagelberg is also a must, though in a different meaning of the word -- TOTALLY MUST!
It is also hard to stop browsing HipHop Files Photographs 1979-1984 book by Martha Cooper. It was as if I was fourteen again, spray stains on my pants, having Subway Art book on my lap. Or, it feels more like someone added long-lost photographs to my family album.
- Do you have some specific art philosophy of your own?
If it is good for me, but not necessarily for the others, let that be their own shame. That is not actually a philosophy of art but of doing; would this do: "Keep it cheap, but rich of ideas -- or something"?
- What about your live performances, and any interesting anecdotes about them? What have been the best and worst places to play, for example?
The following should be an example of all of these:
I played at an exhibition opening. My gear had been set on a table at the corner of a sideroom, and the PA was situated at the actual gallery. Suddenly I noticed among the bustling opening guests two young women standing by my side, looking impatient. After 5-10 minutes one of them bowed to me and asked: "Is it still going to take a long for you -- because I would like to check out my e-mail too?"
- You have collaborated among all with Janne Laurila of Office Building. Tell me something about this, also about your other collaboration projects?
Before Office Building's first live gig I consulted Janne about the possible alternative credibility caused by sun visor as a stage costume, contra, the possible scorn of audience towards the musical content of a performer dressed tastelessly. I was all for sun visor, and Janne reciprocated by playing drums at the first (over ten) USO gigs, about in every second song. Since that, Janne has been having better things to do.
On other collaboration projects one should mention the mystical Kompleksi duo of Tampere, for whom I have created some instrumental backgrounds to be Kompleksi-cated.
Then there are of course some remixes, some of them even having been accepted for publication.
- Your own Top Ten for the moment/all-time?
1. Beach Boys
3. The Fall
3. LCD Soundsystem
4. Twisted Krister
and on both charts no. 5:
- Your own future plans now?
Going to take a walk in the woods with my dog, returning in summer back to Helsinki, and in the fall 2005 an exhibition at Gallery Huuto!
- Your dog?
She is called Lotta, she is a weimaraner, soon three years old.
- How would you comment on the current music scene in Finland?
There are even smaller and smaller subcultures around different styles and sub-styles, gladly being still in some sort of speaking terms. Scenes whose boundaries are defined geographically.
Both stubborn people who go on their own (long and lonely) paths and half-baked imitatations of momentary trends -- at its worst both of these in the same act. Some holy bulls and cows.
- Do you have any idea of the future direction of electronic music and that scene?
Large record companies will wake up to the impossibility of their current operating models, will become reformed or will vanish. All radio stadions will invest in the expertise of their DJs and editors of music shows and the enthusiasm of those concerning their own musical spectrums. This whole mentioned spectrum will receive lots of "air time" on all stations, because:
So called "powerless play" principle will become widespread, meaning one should not play the same track too often -- at the most only three times a week. Some of the current so called big artists of mainstream will publicly apologize and remain silent for the rest of their lives. I will wake up to my own cry of joy.
I can't really answer your question.
- Your favourite question they never ask in interviews?
"What is it like beeing an insider in the Outsiderartseen?"
And my answer: "How the hell would I know!"
Thanks for the translation assistance: John Fanning
Copyright © (for the text) pHinnWeb 2005.