VH But also with Tao Bao and Ali-Express [Alibaba’s regional and international B-to-C commerce platforms], we were interested in their relationship to authenticity and how, with Amnesia Scanner, it wasn’t clear if what we were releasing was really made by us or if it was a bootleg. We had an affinity for this marketplace that doesn’t distinguish between what’s “real” and what’s “fake.”
MK And I think working with Pan, the decision to have the vocals in Mandarin… Personally, I’ve become more aware of “cultural imperialism” and the fact that we live this almost fully English-language existence—perma-ESL. And yet Amnesia Scanner is not an Anglo-Saxon project, so it was like, we might as well include another language—the world’s most widely spoken one—if it happens naturally.
LI Right, of course. Going back to the Alibaba reference, though: I remember when Alibaba first showed up. It was almost like this blackbox market space where you didn’t even really understand its origin and you could order, like, literal barrels of research chemicals and fentanyl analogues. You didn’t know if it was legal or illegal, a scam or real. It was sort of a site of projection, in the same way that Amnesia Scanner’s wider aesthetic puzzle is for the viewer.
MK Yeah, totally. And this was also the time when Silk Road was still up and the distribution of physical material goods on the Internet was still somewhat illegible. This definitely informed the ways in which we distributed our music.
CB Is there anything regarding how these platforms are evolving that is particularly interesting to you now?
VH In terms of distributing music, there hasn’t been a more depressing time. In part this is because people’s relationship with music is being changed by platforms like Spotify, which condition people to think of it as something that should be this tame, functional thing that plays in the background to boost whatever you want to do—”work” or “chill” or “relax”— and that’s kind of like… I mean, if house and techno are rigid, that’s really rigid. If you listen to the most popular tracks on Spotify and compare them to like a hardcore sound, they’re actually a really strange kind music. Or at least they’re tracks that aren’t from…
VH Yeah, exactly. It’s like, who is this whispery, white voice that sings these tame EDM ballads? And how did we come to this? Is this what the algorithm thinks is the most unifying music? Or what people actually enjoy? It’s kind of fascinating and scary at the same time.
LI I know you guys say that with Amnesia Scanner there “is no puzzle to solve,” and the project is just supposed to be an open space of engagement, almost like some virtual reality wherein everyone can find their own conclusion. At the same time, I can’t help but notice that this whole time you’ve been playing with a Rubik’s Cube, solving it almost subconsciously, and I wonder if, when it comes to the language and sounds of Amnesia Scanner, there’s not some game of pattern recognition that underpins it all? I’ll also say that now that we’ve shut off video in this interview, it’s unclear whether you’re playing with a Rubik’s Cube or loading bullets in a magazine…
MK Yeah, well there was someone who was saying Amnesia Scanner sounds like “school shooter” music, whatever that means, so let’s go with that image of the Rubik’s Cube (laughs). But regarding intention and our process, it’s similar to how design practice has changed recently. In earlier times, theory was generally understood as driving praxis. For us, it’s the opposite—or rather, there is no theory. We make these intuitively driven aesthetic experiments, and then whatever sticks has become part of the project. Over the past six years, we’ve had very few conversations where we’ve conceptualized something first and then executed it. In a way, our albums are sort of these aesthetic gravity wells. I think the reason why so many Amnesia Scanner interviews are so disappointing is that there is no clear conceptual register that I think a lot of our other work so clearly has.