Integral to experimentation in music is the consciousness of context and space, the opening of old grounds to new acoustic experiences, and The People Are Panthers is precisely a short document that details one such breach. Composed by Lasse Marhaug (electronics) and Leslie Low (guitar), Pan Gu reached out into spaces where experimental music is simply out of place, such as an art gallery (where the duo played through a boombox) and venues normally dedicated to DJs. Recorded during a Southeast Asia tour in 2013, the cassette presents listeners with a quiet, down-to-earth form of improv that nevertheless glides towards the psychedelic, with expansive sounds and their returning echoes paradoxically grounding an underlying tension, a noise that looms ever-so-closely to completely blowing everything apart. It never does, however, and that is how the place resonates with the players – normalcy is cracked, and in this act of slight defacement I can easily imagine how the spaces become… strange.
It is in this act of transmutation that the vitality of experimental music resides, after all, and both the title of the cassette and its cover might allude to the distancing implied in fragmenting the carapace of convention: two faces look directly at each other, without regard for the fact that they share a single body, as if the encounter was at first conceived of as a mirroring of the self, but that suddenly becomes clear it is actually a mirroring of the other. Merged together, the experience of looking at oneself and finding someone else becomes an apt metaphor for the displacement wrought by this music, the process of un-learning what something is in favor of imagining what it can be. It is, of course, an act full of feedback, in the sense that not only the assumptions of the place are shaken, but also those of the players. “After the performance [recorded in side A]”, writes Low in the liner notes, “there was cake-cutting, snacks and whiskey which brought everyone together. […] You don’t ever get that in experimental shows.” The place and the people look back, shattering the music’s contextual associations themselves, which, in this particular case, led to the equally serious business of sharing some cake between everyone involved. The contextual rhythm of experimental music became altered by its fundamental act of breaching into new fields of thought, and it makes me think that this is how it always should be, as an opening that always has two directions, two faces looking straight into each other without realizing they have one and the same body, making each other weirder, sharing everything that makes them essentially different.
At the 30-minute mark, The People Are Panthers is a relatively short ride, but given the concepts that drive the whole thing it is ripe for interpretations and multiple listens. Given its live recording nature, it provides a way into the duo’s sound that was only hinted at in its debut, Primeval Man Born of the Cosmic Egg. Its mythical intent, also dipping in and out of psychedelics, was not grounded in the same way this cassette is, brought ‘down’ by the noise that fills out a place unsuited, unready, for the detailed production of improvised sounds. It feels not like a psych-out, but like an immense vastness in a small room. It is not ‘contained’ or ready to burst, it simply exists within a reduced space, with an enormous density. It’s an experimentalism that does not spread like an infection, but that is shared over the warmth of food and conversation, an open sort of avant-gardism that does not seek to destroy but to shift the traditional, letting it in as much as it attempts to break it apart. It recognizes itself in its other, and is inherently, irrevocably changed by it, perhaps for the better. (David Murrieta)