The Berlin-based experimental duo on compressing IRL and URL emotions with their debut album Another Life, streaming exclusively on Dazed
Amnesia Scanner was literally born from an algorithm. The Berlin-based duo Ville Haimala and Martti Kalliala are telling me they entered the words ‘Renaissance Man’ – the name of their previous techno project – into an online anagram generator, and the code did the rest. The result, Amnesia Scanner, emerged in 2014 with a flurry of tracks, a Mykki Blanco production credit, and a 23-minute online mixtape, AS LIVE . The pair wrapped fractured but hard-hitting club beats around cacophonous, harshly digitised, and hyper-compressed sound design, inviting listeners into a strange, seemingly fictionalised future – albeit one reflecting our always online, almost technologically subservient modern existence.
Haimala and Kalliala are cautious about bringing their own experiences into Amnesia Scanner, instead acting like dredgers of the internet, revealing the detritus and decaying informational matter that has sunk to its depths. “The project is not about myself and Marrti,” Haimala tells me. “It’s not a personality-driven project. It’s a world.” With further releases, Amnesia Scanner’s fictionalised world gradually expanded to incorporate additional sonic and visual components, introducing collaborators like digital artist and director Sam Rolfes, who shot 2016’s “AS Chingy” video entirely in virtual reality using the video game software Unreal Engine. Like Amnesia Scanner itself, the video exists at the intersection between the real and the digital, detailing a nightmarish club scenario not a million miles from those of the hardstyle genre, a relentless, industrial strain of European techno and hardcore that Haimala and Kalliala take inspiration from.
Another Life, Amnesia Scanner’s debut album for avant-garde label PAN, is Haimala and Kalliala’s most conventional release to date. Created primarily in Berlin throughout 2017, they developed pop structures and hooks to rival Ariana Grande alongside their glitching and often violent sound design. The human voice of fellow experimentalist Pan Daijing is deployed in mangled form alongside the non-human voice of Oracle, the duo’s sentient software stack. Amnesia Scanner’s aesthetic-driven output chimes with our image-obsessed society. Describing the project, Kalliala says that “there’s a lot of material and a lot of information, but often it’s just on the surface”.
Throughout our flickering video call, Haimala and Kalliala discuss how they’ve incorporated freelance marketplaces like Fiverr into the creation of their tracks, which they call “cryptorave tools”, and what impact the migration of memes from URL to IRL is having on music culture at large. The pair also describe the tension between the terror and sublime – the “schizophrenia”, as they call it – of the present, and how bizarre YouTube channels dedicated to survivalism might reveal an essential truth about contemporary life.
Your work as Amnesia Scanner has always felt like it’s existed at a nebulous point between technological utopia and dystopia. There’s a thrill, almost a sense of liberation, to becoming lost in the information overload of your work – but, simultaneously, it feels disorientating.
Ville Haimala: I think the album is kind of a cartoonish or even more compressed spectrum of emotions that this day and age arouses – this kind of schizophrenia of hope and promise, and then the fear and terror of technology. The album isn’t meant to be my personal mapping of this, but I think I share a lot of feelings with it.
Martti Kalliala: I think Amnesia Scanner, when it started, was very internet-centric, in terms of where it existed and also the materials that we took from. But since then, it’s migrated from the URL into IRL.
How do you personally feel navigating these informationally dense networks?
Martti Kalliala: (I’m finding it) increasingly difficult. Personally, I’m drawn to alternative sites such as Are.na. It’s a social network for sharing online research, and it’s a tool that’s been useful for Amnesia Scanner. There’s also been this broad migration from broadcasting on social media to more private and smaller scale channels, whether it’s group chats or Slacks.
AS Angels Rig Hook opens with the words “an abandoned oil rig stands before the garden of eden, a garden is wild space with vegetation – it contains encrypted knowledge of good and evil.” Do you think the internet still has the potential to be a paradise?
Martti Kalliala: Usually when people refer to the utopian age of the internet, they’re referring to pre-social media, like the early 90s to the early-2000s. I don’t think a return to that is gonna happen. Aesthetically it’s interesting, because we’re living through this future that was promised. If you’re a child of the 80s, you were promised a dystopian cyberpunk future, and in a sense, we’re all living through that – but its aesthetics are very different. We’ve got Instagram filters and images of avocado on toast. It’s the image file of the era.
James Bridle’s been investigating the New Aesthetic since 2011 – this confluence of the actual and the digital in images, sounds, and text. Digital automation, the use of technology to perform labour, plays a crucial role in the production of such images. How does digital automation feed into Amnesia Scanner?
Ville Haimala: I think in a practical sense, there are a lot of different levels of digital automation. Instead of using synthesisers, we use instruments that try to imitate the real world, but then retouch them into an unrecognisable state. On the new record, we wanted to create a voice for the project – what we call ‘Oracle’. It’s not a sentient being, but a stack of software, and the end product coming out of it is this voice. Perhaps it’s got a little bit of its own will as well.
Martti Kalliala: This isn’t actually automation, but another important factor in what we’re doing is using platforms such as Fiverr to commission sound work. We’ve outsourced a lot of small things here and there.
What have you outsourced?
Martti Kalliala: Voice work, for example. For a long time, the question was, ‘How do we bring a voice into this, but avoid that dynamic of the beat producer and the vocalist? Whose voice is it, and how do we frame that voice?’ The way to do it was to somehow anonymise the voice. We could just buy these disembodied voices from the other side of the world and start to do things with them.
“The album is kind of a cartoonish or even more compressed spectrum of emotions that this day and age arouses – this kind of schizophrenia of hope and promise, and then the fear and terror of technology” – Ville Haimala, Amnesia Scanner
How has Oracle and the use of its voice impacted the record?
Ville Haimala: A lot of the things that Oracle does on the record is almost kind of mimicking pop tropes or gestures. Increasingly, pop music is built around memes. These hooks turn into memes, and artists apply their memetic hooks over and over again. Everyone’s happy with it. When we started the album, it was also about studying song structure and what happens if we package our very intense sonic world more traditionally.
Ville Haimala: Yeah, or if you listen to Migos or a lot of the current rap world, it’s almost like a sample pack that you can just drop. Modern German hip hop uses the exact same memes. There’s the guy that sounds like Migos, or the guy that sounds like Young Thug. I guess that’s always been the case to a certain extent, but now it feels like, with the technology there, everyone can do the exact same sounding Auto-Tune, and that interchange is way faster. Back in the day, there might have been cover bands who’d make a cover version half a year later, but now it takes a couple of weeks or days to adapt to whatever is going on in the moment.
Your music videos often deal with short, looped and very internet images. I’m thinking of the robotic dog being kicked over in “AS Crust” or the endlessly spinning race car in “AS Too Wrong”. What is it about these images that appeal to you, and why focus on such tiny, repetitive moments?
Martti Kalliala: I think there are two levels to it. First of all, they have this memetic quality – they’re immediately recognisable and legible. But both of them also have this kind of internet sublime quality – once you start to repeat them, there’s a beauty that emerges from the repetition. There’s something mesmerising or magical that makes you want to keep watching.
The last track on Another Life is “AS Rewild”. Rewilding, at least in conservation terms, is the large-scale restoration of ecosystems, sometimes involving the reintroduction of lost species, to a point where such ecosystems require little human management. Is there a subject of Amnesia Scanner’s rewilding initiative?
Ville Haimala: That name refers to this big movement of survivalism I’ve become interested in. There’s a YouTube channel called ReWildUniversity, which is people unlearning the current life and almost turning into forest monks. I’m certainly not into this alt-right bug-out culture, but people wanting to actively leave society has been super interesting to me. There’s definitely some of that angst and melancholia or excitement in some of the tracks. In “AS Rewild”, it’s almost like a release. Even on “AS Chaos”, there’s audio from one survivalist video. There’s this guy talking about how he finds peace in a moment when there’s chaos all around him.