24.06.2016 | Words by: Jack Dolan
Aligning one’s music with a visual aesthetic is a priceless tool. If you’re making pop hits, it’s a key part of the package you need to deliver but it’s also utilised in the most avante garde musical projects and across every genre in between. The relationship between image and sound can be utilised in several ways. In manufactured pop the image not only comes first but is often more clearly defined and the music becomes almost an afterthought. In other cases the musician is focused purely on the music he or she makes and someone else is drafted in later to design something that fits. Neither of these ways are wrong per say, but there is something particularly special when both are formulated simultaneously.
Someone like Prince or Bowie would be the most obvious examples of artists who put as much onus on the image they deliver as the music they create; designing their own costumes, collaborating with visual artists and even venturing into films that expand on their own personal mythology. For these artists the image and the sound grow together symbiotically. A few artists such as Pharrell Williams, Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington as well as Van Gogh and Nabokov actually find it impossible to separate the two because of a neurological condition known as synesthesia. Synesthesia is defined in the dictionary as “a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualisation of a certain color”.
It may be a bit of a leap to start comparing Kai Hugo (aka Palmbomen II) to late greats like Bowie and Prince but his music does share a similar sense of mythology where sonics and image inextricably intertwine. Videos for tracks like Cindy Savalas and Carina Sayles not only open with narrative and character introductions but even allow the music to subside at points throughout the track, giving way to more dialogue. Added to that, every track on the record is named after a bit-part character in the X-Files for reasons unbeknownst to anyone but Kai himself.
Kai’s universe takes you to a time that may or may not have been and cossets you with artificial nostalgia. The further you venture in, the more stark the modern world looks when you return. It brings to mind a quote from Proust; “Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” The same approach underpins Kai’s music; a fascination with supposedly outdated equipment and techniques, gives the producer his vintage sound but the way in which the elements are put together is completely his own. Lo-fi monotape hiss and analogue drum machines, just like the grainy S-VHS videos which Kai directs himself lull you into a false sense of familiarity. In this way Kai’s combination of vision and sound is one of the most accomplished out there today and particularly enticing.