Mika Vainio

Aineen Musta Puhelin (Black Telephone of Matter)

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Best known as one-half of acclaimed techno minimalists Pan Sonic, Mika Vainio also has an impressive résumé as a solo artist that stretches back to the early '90s and his association with influential Finnish imprint Sähkö. Recording primarily under the aliases Ø and Philus, and sometimes his birth name (depending on the project), Vainio's aesthetic mission has been consistently and rigorously defined by an investigation into the materiality of sound. Indeed, just about everything in his catalog evinces a fascination for the physical extremes of frequency range and dynamics, from raw, wrenching bass tones and piercing sine waves to attacking transients and desultory blasts of white noise. Aineen Musta Puhelin (Black Telephone of Matter), Vainio's fourth album for the Touch label under his name, is similar to past efforts in its ability to wrest dramatic atmospheres from the most errant of sonic gestures. What's different here, however, is Vainio's almost complete abandonment of a rhythmic framework to tie those stray elements together. Even as the brittle arctic-industrial grooves of Pan Sonic and Ø -- reflected in mid-'90s albums like Vakio (1995), Metri (1994), and Olento (1996) -- represented the next evolutionary step in techno's "man-machine" aesthetics, Aineen Musta Puhelin's ominous electro-acoustic vistas take that idea even further into the realms of the post-human.

Largely sticking to a familiar palette of broadband grays and pitch-black silences, along with occasional glints of white-light frequency play, Vainio's austere approach is loosened a bit on "Swedenborgia" -- likely the only track on the album that references an actual instrumental sound. Resembling a musique concrète-style edit of a doom metal band, Vainio manages to create a remarkably organic, almost improv-like interplay with a few elements (amplified tape saturation, metallic percussion, and a decaying guitar drone) staged through a clever use of basic dynamics processing (volume envelopes, stereo panorama, and sharp cuts). Sometimes it's unclear just how much of Vainio's music is a result of deliberate human agency and how much is simply a mirror of the behavior of the circuitry involved. Certainly, tracks like "A Measurement of Excess" nearly mimic feedback systems in basic sound synthesis, building from a cycling feedback pulse that crests into a relatively calm sustained tone and finally settles into a coda of irregular Morse code-like pulses. But such basic physical world analogues can't quite explain the bizarre, and distinctly human, humor at work in "Silences Traverses des Mondes et des Anges," a scramble of indistinct field recordings -- rainstorms, distant church organ, and a cackle of crows -- interrupted by blasts of distorted radio and the occasional thud of a randomly fired 808 bass drum.

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