PAN began with a very clear-cut aesthetic—a series of ten releases crafted from found black and white images, overlaid with geometric designs silk-screened in colour on a transparent PVC sleeve. Musically the records, though diverse, also mined the same experimental analogue niche. Holding onto their left-of-field decree, however, PAN has since visually and audibly expanded, taking on more electronic sensibilities with records such as the re-pressed Sun Pandämonium LP by Hecker, Keith Fullerton Whitman's Disingenuity / Disingenuousness, Thomas Ankersmit and Valerio Tricoli's electro-acoustic collaboration, Forma II, and the label's most dance-friendly effort to date, Intersex, from Berlin-based Heatsick.
At the other end of the spectrum PAN has documented sound art installations by James Hoff and Eli Keszler, in addition to archiving significant material from Musique concrete, outsider and/or avant-garde artists such as Ghédalia Tazartès, Trevor Wishart and Frieder Butzmann. But what ties all the incongruent threads together—aside from the structural format of each record—is the care and personal stamp Kouligas and Politis place on every one. PAN isn't just a label and these aren't just records, it is "an ongoing project," as Kouligas comments "a whole process," with each item or "object" existing as a complete audio-visual package, and treasure to own.
In a quaint Neukölln café not far from PAN's current HQ in Berlin, RA's Holly Dicker met up with the pair to dissect the label's aesthetic, picking out some of its key sleeves along the way.
Bill Kouligas: Initially I wanted the artwork of Pan to offer some depth, because each record has more than one dimension—the artwork and the music, with different meanings depending on the release. The label is not just about sound, so it was important for the packaging to offer something more. But also to be an affordable product because at the end of the day they are records and do need to be out in the market, so we tried to work within the realm of classic packaging, hence the plastic sleeve, cover and insert.
Kathryn Politis: We liked the idea of having different layers. We played around with a few options, like using boxes and a selection of inserts. The idea to begin with—the first ten—was to make a series that would all relate to one another as a set. At that point we imagined after the first series then going for a second, but it didn't work out like that. We started enjoying the process of it more than the planning, so things became less concrete. But we continue to work within the same format of a silkscreened PVC sleeve which features some form of typography and geometric design.
Bill Kouligas: I often work with people I know either personally or whose work I'm familiar with. It is an inspiration for me—to know the person, know their work. I met Steven Warwick (AKA Heatsick) in London six years ago and we've been close friends since. We made music together; he was also doing experimental music. These lines on the Intersex LP we put out by him are influenced by Concrete sound poetry, which is also something Steve is influenced by.
Kathryn Politis: Grids, cross-pollination and the reference to braille—these were the elements Steve and I had talked about incorporating. He started working on this music project pretty much when we moved to Berlin, so we were witness to the first steps. That could be why I have a certain affection towards it. The insert—that's his handwriting. It feels good to keep it on a personal level; it adds to the value of the object.
Bill Kouligas: Each update [of our design] usually comes in three or four records. I would like all of them to correlate in some way even though they could in fact be extremely different from each other on musical terms. Andre Vida is a saxophonist and has played with legends from Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor to Jamie Lidell. His free jazz record, Brud: Volumes I-III, came out at the same time as Heatsick's house influenced / electronic record. Andre collaborates with Heatsick as well sometimes—so it could be anything from people who work with each other, to simply the design elements that links each batch.
Kathryn Politis: In a few cases the artists or musicians we have worked with have also contributed in some way to the artwork of their own release; for example we re-worked Andre Vida's musical scores to feature on the PVC of his release, and he was given permission from the Ethnographic Museum in Krakow, Poland to use the images which appear on the cover. John Wiese, himself also a designer, collaborated on the artwork for his recent release Seven of Wands, based around the aesthetics of the label. There is normally a shared understanding between us and those that we collaborate with.
Bill Kouligas: Eli Keszler is a percussionist who also works with electronic handmade instruments. He made a large-scale sound installation based on long strings—a sound sculpture—and then composed a piece for an ensemble with trumpet, guitar, drums and cello to play along with it. So Cold Pin was the documentation of the installation along with the piece he wrote for it. James Hoff is not a musician, he is an art curator and a sound artist, and this record documents a sound installation he did of field recordings of riots. We made only 200 copies because that is a gallery edition; it is not like a record you would find at Hard Wax or something. It is basically an art object from his exhibition.
Kathryn Politis: In general the artwork is often influenced by the music, and we try to work within the concept of the record. It's not about visualising the sound as such, but there is always an indirect, perhaps ambiguous reference.
Bill Kouligas: I am trying to not release stuff that may be too similar; I'm interested in covering a wider range of music. We are happy to build up a small audience who might like most of the output and who are interested in what we are doing—what the label offers as a whole. It's not necessary to be labelled as "noise" or "experimental," it's more open than that.