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Mika Vainio – Black Telephone of Matter

[CD, Touch]

Mika Vainio - Black Telephone of Matter

Probably best known as half of electronic experimentalists Pan Sonic, Mika Vainio also records under his own name as well as Philus and ø.  This album, his fourth solo album since 1997 for the UK’s esteemed Touch label, sees him further explore the minimal side of his electronic palette.

Covering seven tracks in just less than 55 minutes, Black Telephone of Matter appears to be compiled from a series of short experiments with different sound techniques and then fused into a collection of tracks.  Often abruptly switching between completely different yet related sounds, Vainio contrasts abstract digital fragments with field recordings of rain, birds or running water.  The mood sways between stark, clinical precision and dark creeping tension.  “Silencés Traverses Des Mondes et Des Anges” for example builds from the outset with a slow paced thud before erupting into distorted layers of oscillating electronic noise that form an uneasy nightmarish atmosphere almost as though coming from some shadow dimension.  Continuing with a deep oscillating bassy tone and a period of silence, the track slowly starts to re-emerge with the ebb of barely audible undulating tones and insectoid squeaks hinting at horrors unseen.  Moving into “Bury a Horse’s Head” the minimal theme continues but begins to evolve and become more pronounced.  Stop start buzzes of distorted hazy static fade away to reveal a low electrical hum that mutates briefly into a metallic screech and futuristic whir.  Not content with just that a further transition introduces a low oscillating bass tone that changes tone to become an aggressive Tesla coil throb.

Although each of Vainio’s tracks shift in tone and construction, often quite suddenly, they somehow manage to maintain a form of cohesion. Perhaps Black Telephone of Matter is best understood by considering it as a single 55 minute installation of sound art to be experienced, absorbed and interpreted as such?  Also minimal in content but equally heavy in presence is “The Breather”, another track that explores the tiniest of sounds that slowly amplify to reveal various electrical buzzes and hums used almost as layered drones.  A very interesting concept well executed utilising a continuous low tone contrasted with crisp filament crackle from a light source.  This gives way to a deeper, engine-like tone that is joined by a rising radiant electronic tone that abruptly stops to end the album.

Where it maintains a consistent theme, such as the minimal ambient “In a Frosted Lake”, Vainio’s attention to the most miniscule of sounds and use of silence and space results in a captivating and intense exploration of emotion and presence through the use of beautifully composed electronic tones.  Often with little discernable linear structure each track fuses into the next forming one long experimental soundscape.  Black Telephone of Matter may not be immediately accessible throughout but then albums that provoke thought and require a little effort, no matter how small, to understand without causing immediate alienation are often the most rewarding.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆



Published by IglooMag [September 5th 2009]

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