Pingipung is a Hamburg based label that stretches far beyond its German HQ with its musical remit – releasing transnational collaborations of folk, psychedelic soundscapes and deeply spiritual music. Field recordings and historic expressions merge with electronica and futuristic experiments in sounds, creating fusions and hybrids of global significance.
“The story of Pingipung begins like that of many other labels: Nobody wanted to release our own music, so we had to put it out ourselves. And of course we were hungry for new sounds and styles. 17 years later we are still hungry.” Heiko Gogolin
Andi Otto co-founded the label and his album VIA was a masterful global tour and encapsulates the style of the label so appropriately, Andi is a producer and musician from Hamburg and has developed a sensor-extended cello at STEIM since 2008 with which he tours worldwide, especially to Asia. He researches about ways to connect the musician’s body and electronic sounds in new ways on stage. However, as a DJ he sticks to the classic turntables and is passionate about vinyl. Andi has written a PhD thesis on the history of sensor-based musical instruments and teaches in universities and art schools in Bern and Berlin.
A landmark release for the label was VIA in 2007 and presents Andi’s music under his actual name instead of the ‘Springintgut’ moniker. It consists of hundreds of mostly incognizable microsamples of vocal, instrumental and percussive snippets found on vintage Indian movie soundtrack vinyls. There are the mesmerizing vocals of MD Pallavi in two tracks and her South Indian singing style erupt in a virtuosic, percussive solo on both Bangalore Whispers and the title track VIA.
Andi and MD Pallavi have worked in a studio in Bangalore during summer 2016 and presented the album in live concerts during their Japanese tour in April 2017. Throughout the album, Otto’s string instruments cello, harp and psaltery are woven into the beat structures or play the themes of the tracks (Kyoto Pebbles, Bandini Beach). In the STEIM studio in Amsterdam Andi Otto had the chance to record the local engineer Sybren Danz with his self-built modular synthesizers as well as a Roland System 100, one of the greatest classics of analog synths (Everybody Needs a Modular Kraut Session, Dharti Cash Puke).
European artists have also appeared on the label. Pingipung and Future Nuggets worked together to release Cosima, a Bucharest based artist, with two wonderfully poignant songs. Cosima Opârtan is widely known as one half of Raze de Soare (Future Nuggets). As a solo artist, she files her music under the genre widow pop – “melancholically reaching out to the past and the future in one gesture”.
Cosima has a background as an architect which she shifted to designing sonic treatments for various spaces such as sound studios. She is also a founding member of the Queer Night, a series of itinerant parties engaging the local LGBTQ+ community and part of Corp. a Bucharest based platform dedicated to supporting and promoting female and female identified musical talent. Ploaia has been co-composed and produced by Ion Dumitrescu, known to all Pingipung aficionados for his 7″ as Ion din Dorobanți (Pingipung 056) who also runs the Future Nuggets label. On the flip side, the two team up with Horațiu Șerbănescu, an artist from the Future Nuggets roster releasing music as ‘Plevna’.
Umeko Ando (1932-2004) was a folk singer from Japan. She was a representative of the Ainu culture on the Hokkaido Island in the north of Japan. Only in 2008 have the Ainu officially been acknowledged as indigenous people who are culturally independent from Japan. The record is an example of how their music has been passed on through generations in the underground Ainu communities while it was oppressed by the Japanese hegemony. Their cause and the music is deserving of a much wider audience.
Ihunke is her first album which was recorded with the Ainu musician and dub producer Oki Kano in 2000. It was released on CD in Japan only and is finally available on double vinyl with informative liner notes. Ihunke followed the single Iuta Upopo (Pingipung 58, incl. M.RUX Remix) and quickly sold out. The 16 Ainu songs on Ihunke are delicate and ethereal, built on Oki Kano’s patterns played on her tonkori (a 5-string harp). Umeko Ando develops her repetitive, mantric vocals, often in a call-response manner.
Oki Kano is one of very few professional Tonkori players who performs worldwide with his Oki Dub Ainu Band. “It was a lot of fun to record with Umeko Ando,” Oki Kano says. “Many Ainu hesitate to break from tradition – if Umeko hadn’t been so flexible to work with the younger generation and recording technology, this album would never have happened. Our sessions were intense, and we were proud and happy about making such beautiful music.” Remixes of Ihunke were by M.Rux, DJ Ground, El Buho Mark Peters, Gama and Andi Otto.
“In the last years we’ve listened to a lot of reissues and were eager to do one ourselves,” Heiko says. “But it had to be something special, cause lots of labels already rereleased so many gems. With Japan Pingipung has a special relationship almost since the beginning. Apart from a steady interest in our music there, we love Japanese food, videogames and, of course, sake. Nils has a Japanese wife. And Andi played several tours there and had a residency in Kyoto. One day he came along with an album by Umeko Ando. Rationally I did not get it right away, but fell under its spell immediately.”
Anadol is a project that sees artists collaborate across different countries and is a psychedelic synth folk project by Gözen Atila, a Turkish sound artist and photographer based in Berlin. Her third album Uzun Havalar is based on collective improvisations of middle eastern folk songs called “uzun hava” and are rich and atmospheric synth ballads. The sound is a diverse roster of improvising musicians creating a complex and organic set of recordings. Anadol recorded them during extensive sessions in Istanbul. You can hear drummers laughing and playing guitars, record collectors playing oscillators, it’s a feast of sounds. Anadol represents Gözen Atila’s liberation from “a more academic approach to electronic composition” from her music technology studies in Istanbul. She calls her education the “darkness of serious music“.
As a producer of radio plays and an expert field recording artist she has developed a distinct sense of timing, editing and sound design. Her Anadol project walks in the footsteps of lone synth experimentalists like Bruce Haack and The Space Lady with their childlike curiosity for electronic sounds, pushing the boundaries of minimal equipment. On Uzun Havalar she translates her experimental background into folk ballads. The album was originally released on tape via Kinship in 2018.
“Self praise is disgrace,” says Heiko “But this one is really special. Andrea and me first heard a track of it on the radio in a small rural town in Bulgaria. And it was just magic. It was originally released on the really nice tape label Kinship. Etkin, the guy who runs the label, already did a podcast for us, so Andrea got in touch with him, one thing led to another, and now we have Uzun Havalar on vinyl. Musically I always love the in-between. And this record sits between so many things, that I’m still lost for words, even though I must have heard this record 30 times now.”
Peter Power’s remix on the last ODD OKODDO single was a recent highlight. This vinyl single marked their first outing as ODD OKODDO (Kenyan/German duo formed by Olith Ratego and Sven Kacirek), announcing the album Auma which came out in autumn 2019. Peter Power is a part of the Voodoohop collective from Brazil and his releases on Multi Culti or Polychrome Sounds fuel the rather slow, organically hypnotic dancefloors. He premiered this remix at the Heliodora festival in Brazil, at sunrise next to a giant waterfall.
Olith Ratego vocalises in the musical style called “dodo”, which originates from the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. It’s high in pitch and soulfully expressive. He himself refers to his music as “dodo blues”. As a skilled luthier, Olith Ratego designs and builds his string instruments himself, first of all the five-stringed Okoddo which lends its name to the project. Sven Kacirek is a multi-instrumentalist commuting between Germany and Kenya for many years now. He plays the marimba, percussions and piano, next to producing this project. He has closely collaborated with various international musicians, among them Nils Frahm, Shabaka Hutchings, F.S. Blumm and Marc Ribot. Okitwoye comes in a multi-layered, ambiguous rhythm between three and four. The remix on the B side amplifies the essence of the song.
“Before ODD OKODDO we already released eight records by the percussionist Sven Kacirek, who also lives in Hamburg,” says Heiko. “His most famous one is called Kenia Sessions. On it he recorded musicians in Kenyan villages and blended them with his own instruments. The fundamentals of the Kenia Sessions were recorded on just a single trip, but in the meantime Sven found a second home. He is always eager to do real collaborations and not just use the local artists as some sort of colonial sample-fodder. And ODD OKODDO shows. It’s a complex blend of tradition and future that you can sing along and dance to, too.”
The Pingipung podcast series is another major project. “It is not just an ‘add on’ to our label,” Heiko says. “Its very important to us. It’s a series of open-minded, monthly DJ-mixes that we have been doing for nine years now. We feature a mixture of local heroes, internationally renown artists and of course some sets by ourselves. The latest one is from Markus Acher who plays in the famous german band The Notwist and a zillion other projects and also runs a really nice label called Alien Transistor. He compiled a mixtape of alternative Japanese indie music with a heavy focus on brass instruments, a mixture that is very unique and mesmerising. You can listen to all the stuff on our Soundcloud page.”
WTM – Pingipung is as prolific as it is exceptional. Let’s hope for more projects and collaboration in the future.