Petri Kuljuntausta: ‘Nordic Prince’ on Yokomono 3 Album (Staalplaat, 2005)

December 20, 2005

In autumn 2005 I got a phone call from Berlin. Geert-Jan Hobijn, the owner of Staalplaat, asked if I am interested to compose a work for the next Yokomono album, Yokomono 3. Geert-Jan’s idea was to try something completely new, and cut two grooves for two pieces on one album side. The needle will mix these two tracks / grooves indeterminally. I was excited about the idea of getting new things out from the old vinyl album format. On the phone Geert-Jan was thinking about the second composer and who that could be. He had couple of names in mind. It was finally Mika Vainio who got the job.
The idea was this: One groove is normal and the piece on that groove starts from the outer edge of the album and needle goes to the center of the disc. But the second piece and groove start from the center of the disc and the needle travels opposite way, from center to outer edge. When you play this record these two grooves will be mixed together indeterminally. That’s because these two grooves cross each other every 1.8 second (duration of one round) and it is not possible to say what is the direction of the needle after the crossroad of the grooves.
I completed my piece Nordic Prince in November 2nd, 2005, uploaded the file to the server and sent link to him. Here is the text I wrote to the Geert-Jan:
The name of my piece is ‘Nordic Prince’ after the name of the huge boat that was constructed on the original YLE’s (Finnish Radio) archive tape. At first I created a pure environmental composition based on the sounds recorded at the Hietalahti shipyard in Helsinki. The next step in the process was that I played that piece through my feedback system, and controlled the colours & textures of feedback sounds live (this is my basic technic in live concerts too), and recorded the final result. The final piece is 7′ 23″ long, so it is ca.20″ over the duration that you proposed — sorry about that. I hope this is not a problem…

Here is more information about the project, this text is from the Avanto festival’s program book:

Vinyl Killers With FM Antennas


Two years ago in Avanto, the Dutch-German sound art project Staalplaat Soundsystem gave a live performance called Avantilator – composed for 100 office fans. Some things do not change in such a short while, and we can still endorse our blurb of that time: “Within the current mood of worshipping the latest technology in media art, Staalplaat Soundsystem provides a breath of fresh air, reminding us of the 100-year tradition of noise-making machines and junk art, in which “mad” inventors and various kinds of artists operating in the margins of the art world meet.”

The works by Staalplaat Soundsystem (Geert-Jan Hobijn and Carsten Stabenow) are usually brilliant in their simplicity, the first impression leaving no room for technological mystification. This is exemplified by such installations-cum-live performances as Composition for 8 Refrigerators (and we are not talking of compact little ice-boxes here, but full-size chest freezers), Composition for 104 Washing Machines as well as Avantilator, which even a child understands immediately – sometimes, in fact, even better than adults. “All these installations were made with the same low tech working philosophy, making an installation look so simple that you think ‘I can do that’. What we do is to forget the very specific tasks they are made for, and see what they can do; dance, sing, kick, very oft I have the feeling it is telling me what its wants to do”, Geert-Jan Hobijn has written.

What matters also, of course, is the sounding end result, which, like Staalplaat’s roots reaching back to the early 1980s, has a distinctive industrial inclination to it.

SSS’s most popular piece has been, despite all of the above, a series of performances entitled Yokomono, whose technical realisation is complex enough to warrant a lengthy elaboration. Its basic idea is to use a performance setup consisting of so many unpredictable technical components that it is, in practical terms, impossible to control the whole system. Avanto is now staging the premiere of the latest incarnation in the series, Yokomono 03.

The yokomono are Japanese electronic toys, battery-powered miniature cars, with a record player’s needle on the underside and a small speaker inside. SSS employs a fleet of ten yokomono cars retrofitted with small FM radio transmitters inside them and with antennas on their roofs. The sounds transmitted by the tiny cars are received by ten battery radios – in flaming red, like the cars. The vinyl records are placed on a table, and the miniature cars are set to drive in a circle on them. One of the uncertainty factors is that the cars are battery-powered: the batteries don’t last for very long, and, eventually, the speed of the cars as well as the frequencies of the radio transmitters begin to fluctuate, resulting in the transmitters skipping from one frequency to another. Another factor is the shoddiness of the cars’ cheap styluses; SSS calls them “vinyl killers”.

The confusion is confounded by the nature of the records the vinyl killers are playing. For “DJ gigs” like this, SSS has released two Yokomono vinyl records featuring their favourite artists – pioneers of experimental music like Phill Niblock and Charlemagne Palestine, as well as names familiar from Avanto such as Ilpo Väisänen of Pan Sonic, Radian, Goodiepal, Fennesz, and Carl-Michael von Hausswolff. Each of the artists was asked to produce five sound loops of exactly 1.8 seconds. This is the duration of one revolution of a long-playing vinyl record. Moreover, the records have been pressed using locked groove technique, i.e. the needle of the turntable, or in this case of the toy car, will lock endlessly on one single 1.8-second groove of the record.

For the Avanto Nightclub, SSS decided to compile a thematic Yokomono vinyl release. The theme: Helsinki and its environmental sounds. The other half of Pan Sonic, Mika Vainio, a resident of Berlin like SSS, was commissioned to produce a seven-minute composition. Petri Kuljuntausta from Helsinki was, in turn, asked to provide a composition of an equal length responding to Vainio’s piece. The sound material to be used for the compositions, field recordings from the turn of the 1960s and 1970s made at the Hietalahti shipyard in Helsinki, was discovered in the special effects archive of YLE Finnish Broadcasting Company. These sounds have a personal dimension for both composers: Vainio spent a part of his childhood living near the dockyard, while Kuljuntausta has used sounds recorded from inside ships’ hulls as material for his earlier works. Yokomono 03 will be pressed using an even more exotic method than the previous ones. The grooves holding the two compositions by Vainio and Kuljuntausta cross with each other for their entire duration. What this amounts to is that every 1.8 seconds, the needle may skip from Vainio’s piece to Kuljuntausta’s composition and vice versa – for as long as the batteries last.

The other side of the record features the traditional loops of 1.8 seconds, commissioned from Blixa Bargeld, Merzbow, Main, Alexei Borisov, Donna Summer, G.X. Jupitter-Larsen, Andrey Kiritchenko, Zbigniew Karkowski, Un Caddie Renversé Dans l’Herbe and Ditterich von Euler-Donnersperg, with five loops from each featured artist and their own sound environments. Avanto is the co-producer of this unique release, which will be on sale at the festival venues!