„Once we reach a breaking point, there is an unstoppable vehemence that resonates and insipires unexpected, multiple, and random outcomes – which are possible through the catalyzing force that is chaos.“
The duo Amnesia Scanner dwell in a manic mix of musical genres and visual styles. Their multimedia art is fueled by the intensity of the socio-political climate and turns a dark, global outlook into a cathartic celebration. Showing that mesmerizing art comes from a place of indifference, despair,and the urge to turn chaotic circumstances into something coherent and meaningful.
How to simulate a spiral? That brutal struggle of the mind, for example, provoked by crushing betrayals following a climactic end of a toxic relationship. During the disturbance, a disoriented psyche abandons all logic, everything scrambles. Mental gears shift, all rationaleuprooted as absurdity thrusts itself forward into an internal manifestation of chaos.
A spiral is one way to think about the world at its breaking point. Disorder is the overarching aesthetic of Amnesia Scanner’s second album, Tearless. It is not only in their music; there is a uniform chaotic energy fused into the supporting artwork and live performances that capturea shared anxious sentiment inlightof our all-encompassing and pressing concerns.
When the Berlin-based architects-turned-musical-duo Ville Haimala and Martti Kalliala (who make up Amnesia Scanner) began working on Tearless, they wanted to use this latest project as a way to process the overwhelming feelings they had about the climate catastrophe and collapse. Released during the height of the global lockdown this year, Tearless navigates levels of despair, attends to the emotional turmoil from the world, and surrenders to its trepidation.
Haimala and Kalliala discussed their latest project with me over a video call using a description from a friend when she first heard it: Tearless is a „break-up album with the planet.“ An appropriate comparison, since the tradition of the pop break-up album is what Haimala and Kalliala model their music production process after–pulling from the structure, craft, and skill of a pop record.
Pop music is not the first thing that comes to mind upon hearing Tearlessor Amnesia Scanner’s inaugural album, Another Life. In their whole musical trajectory, Haimala and Kalliala devised a distinct, uncanny sound, which is often placed within the experimental realm of music. Kalliala mentions that this process originates from a „genuine appreciation of the art of pop.“ Haimala adds, „Even though people read it as a conceptual work, it is much more aesthetic.“
Their admiration for pop music comes from understanding the genre as a referential compass. Kalliala describes pop as „an aesthetic register that they gravitate to […] in terms of the functional dimensions of pop music: interesting, relative, formulaic, and fun for everyone.“ However, they have no intention to „smuggle something into the pop sphere,“ Haimala says, „[Amnesia Scanner] just wants to make good songs.“
To deem their self-defined, mutated and weird style as something that can easily be co-opted by a market-driven music industry is unrealistic. Yet, there are similarities to the production techniques of commercial music – Haimala and Kalliala mesh recognizable characteristics from genres like metal and reggaeton into their track arrangements. Tearless features boundary-pushing club producer and songwriter, Lyzza; Peruvian vocalist, Lalita, who appears on several songs throughout the album;and the industrial, nu-metal metalcore band, Code Orange. The collaborative process is much more spontaneous and intuitive than incorporating elements from music scenes that are hot right now.
Beyond incorporating varying musical styles used on Tearless, a theatrical performance titled Anesthesia Scammerpreceded the album release. The live performance was a deliberate effort by Haimala and Kalliala to build a particular universe around this project that would energetically evolve in front of an audience. „It never existed as a pure music project,“ Kalliala explains, „It was always a project that demands or suggests a world. It was clear that it should expand into an environment.“
The ‚through-the-looking-glass‘ feel of the live performance, much like the album, simulated the experience of being guided down a rabbit hole alongside an Oracle, who simultaneously appears on the album amidst the frenzied energy of each track. Crafting something macabre was not how Haimala and Kalliala wanted to achieve this. With a larger-than-life production including jumbotron stages, XL scaled animated projections, dystopian animatronics that look as if they came from a horror sci-fi film set, and a cast of surrealist-inspired performers–all of these elements construct a world that is lively, entertaining, and almost cartoonish.
These mediations of another world are apparent with the opening track title for Tearless, “AS Enter”. The album devises a simulation that descends into the obscurest corners of the mind. Regarding the stylistic cohesion of the project, Kalliala explains that „it’s allrelated,“ and compared it to game design, where there is „not some coherent narrative,“ but a „hot-rodded quality.“
The idea for Tearless was to push an aesthetic to the max, to play on a rock cliche: saturated, overly exaggerated, and carnivalistic. They reference another interview where they both described their approach as a „deep-fried, double deep-fried“, way of working with extreme ends on the performance, visuals, and music production spectrum. The visuals accompanying the release for Tearless evoke a sort of frazzled aesthetic as well, including a comic book cover conceived by the Berlin design studio PWR, who creates most of Amnesia Scanner’s visuals.
Working from the post-first world war collage works by German artist Otto Dix, PWR caricatured that alkaline ubiquity of the era and fits well within our current atmosphere of radical and transformative shifts. To understand this work as jilted progression exposes an idealistic reconciliation of our current state by championing full-throttle acceleration until we reach a breaking point (or breakthrough), then chaos ensues.
Kalliala expresses apprehension in thinking about political issues in such an abstract way, „Pushing things to logical conclusions so we can build something beautiful in its place is not realistic because it would suck.“ Rather than establishing Tearless as a political statement, Hamilla says, „It’s more of a way to get those emotions out of the system, a processing of feelings before you can start thinking constructively towards positive development. [Tearless] came from a need to sweep that dark place.“ In this way, it is triumphant for its functionality as a break-up album: to reconcile with the truth, get over it, and move on.“ [It is not] a romanticization of collapse or celebrating it in a nihilist way, we are in the same boat as everyone else,“ Kalliala adds.
Chaos appears to be the prevailing theme for Amnesia Scanner. „It was chaos that brought us together,“ explains Hamilla when explaining how they came to collaborate with musicians that operate in such different pockets of music, „Quite spontaneous, [we were] just trying something out.“
Most often, chaos carries negative connotations because it is cannot be contained or controlled. Yet chaos, when embraced as a dynamic and fertile energy, can help us face those inescapable (and uneasy) parts of our reality. „It’s a difficult term because [chaos is] not used properly,“ says Kalliala, „It’s so complex that you can’t model it–but there are patterns, duty, and the potential to exhibit something productive.“
Once we reach a breaking point, there is an unstoppable vehemence that resonates and inspires unexpected, multiple, and random outcomes–which arepossible through the catalyzing force that is chaos.
Text: Jazmina Figueroa
Images: Courtesy of Amnesia Scanner
This story is taken from the current Numéro Berlin issue on Kreativität, which can be found in shops or ordered online here.