Pan is the Greek god of Nature, of untrammelled wilds and rustic settings. He is the player of music, the companion of nymphs, the patron of shepherd and flocks, and a bit of a lad with the ladies. Goat from the waist down, crowned with curling horns, it is sometimes written that Pan is the only god who died, though many see this as another bit of religious manoeuvring—one deity dies so that another can be born.
Pan is the title of Jonas Munk’s 2012 album on the always-interesting El Paraiso label. The label web site has this to say about the artist:
On his own, guitar player and producer from Causa Sui, Jonas Munk, creates pulsating, repetitive music that blends the cosmic sounds of German electronic music from the 1970s with detuned guitar-drones and modern psychedelia.
What’s not to love?
The opening track on Pan, “Orca”, is everything I enjoy about modern electronic music. Deeply retro, it is full of Jean-Michel Jarre swooshes and echo-laden percussion over a rhythm Tangerine Dream would have killed for in the 80s.
In Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson saga*, one of the major characters goes on a quest to discover if Pan has really died, as he hasn’t been sighted for quite some time. The idea of Pan as a guardian under siege, a nature patron enchained, is powerful and relevant.
In my own land, I feel crawling horror at the likely prospect of a vast toxic coal mine being built a stone’s throw from the Great Barrier Reef. Not only that, our Government—our Prime Minister, god help us—is throwing billions of tax payer dollars at the mega-rich Indian family who will inevitably destroy one of the natural wonders of the world.
If you imagine a very long paragraph consisting entirely of the sentence “For fuck’s fucking sake” typed in angry upper case, you have a general idea of the writer’s opinion of this culpable lunacy. Pan may have had lashings of sex of dubious consensual status with any number of nymphs, humans and demigods but he didn’t rape the land that gives us life and beauty.
You can see for yourself here.
But I digress.
Pan displays such colour and variety in the tonal palette. “Current” (A3) has swathes of Neu! guitar over a relentless background krautrock squall plus a bouncing bass-line that again evokes pulsating moments from Oxygene or Equinox. This is followed by the spacey, reflective “Senses”; Robert Schroeder meets Ulrich Schnauss (Munk has collaborated with the latter).
The title track of Pan opens side two and has a shimmering Cocteau Twins ambience of exquisite beauty: pearly-dewdrops’ drop, iceblink luck, eggs and their shells^.
Pan makes an appearance in the most luminously beautiful chapter of Wind in the Willows, keeping little Portly the otter safe and guiding Ratty and Mole to a sacred glade to find him.
“And then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fullness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humorously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter.”
That they forget this transcendent and awesome encounter only adds to the heart-opening wonder of the story.
“For this is the last best gift that the kindly demigod is careful to bestow on those to whom he has revealed himself in their helping: the gift of forgetfulness. Lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure, and the great haunting memory should spoil all the after-lives of little animals helped out of difficulties, in order that they should be happy and light-hearted as before.”
That’s the trick, isn’t it? To be moved and changed by wonder, grief, beauty, sorrow, but to loosen the grip on certainty, ease the nail that seeks to pin down the experience in a photo or a tweet or a moment. To remember, but also forget.
But I digress.
When I included the Pan album sleeve in “10 Terrific Album Covers – Part 2” in late 2015, I wrote:
“The enchanting Grimm’s Fairy Tale picture by Mathias Malling Mortensen is actually a papercut. Like lino or wood, I guess, but more, er, papery. Or maybe less inky and more scissors-y. It is the sort of beautifully understated design that you would gladly hang on your wall.”
Mortensen has gone for a bestial, Grendel-like Pan in this mysterious arboreal iteration. It is elemental and powerful and I’d still hang it on my wall.
“Schelling (B2) uses sequencers and a delicate descending melody in a way that evokes Cluster and the melodic vignettes of Hans-Joachim Roedelius. That this long (7’ 33”) piece slowly becomes more rhythmic and electronic amply demonstrates Munk’s understanding and appreciation of his musical influences in the krautrock kosmos.
The final piece, “Sea of Orange” is a long drifting comet-tail of electronica, a soothing coda to what has gone before.
Pan is a smorgasbord of all your favourite seventies progressive electronic albums, freshly pressed. Known but vibrant; accessible yet interesting; derivative and exploratory. There may not be any reed pipes, but I somehow imagine the horned demigod would approve.
Jonas Munk – Pan (El Paraiso 2012)
Kenneth Graham – The Wind in the Willows (Metheun, 1908)
* Rick Riordan – Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth (Puffin Books, 2008)
^ A self-indulgent in-joke for Cocteau Twins fans. Sorry.
** John Hubner conducted a terrific interview with Jonas Munk. You can read it here.