Mika Vainio’s reputation precedes him. Briefly, because you’ve heard this a thousand times: He is one-half of Pan Sonic, the most far-reaching experimental electronic act to emerge from Finland in the mid-‘90s. He has also recorded solo material under his given name and the super cute sobriquet, Ø, which dates back even further. (Other aliases: Philus, Kentolevi, Tekonivel… blegh.) Ardent followers of this stuff like to geek out and say that Pan Sonic is closer to what we think of as techno, with a beat and a bassline, while his eponymous work is the least forthcoming of all. At the heart of it, though, his entire catalog represents a set of independent values that reject traditional notions of accessibility and musicality. He and his bandmates even make their own instruments and processors out of yard sale bric-a-brac. Electronica by way of hardcore punk, if you will.
Arriving on the heels of Oleva, his latest Ø record of dank glitches, Aineen Musta Puhelin (Black Telephone of Matter) feels like a deliberate shift. Rhythm and melody, which had never drawn attention to themselves to begin with, have been deep-sixed; if they do appear, it’s incidental. What we’re left with are the spare utterances of Vainio’s contraptions creeping and springing out of blackness. The mere existence of Aineen Musta Puhelin speaks to the development of a new listenership with saintly patience and a tolerance of silence; about half of this record sits extremely close to zero dB. Yet the quiet stretches have a tense, stifling quality that betrays a lack of acoustic resonance, and the noises don’t sound as if they’re occurring within an open space in nature but inside an airless metal box. Loud, soft, or deathly silent, Aineen Musta Puhelin constantly shivers with the artist’s presence. You can picture him standing there with a conductor’s wand, frozen in place for minutes at a time, before commanding his machines to strike.
As with any noise record worth its salt, there is a particular dynamic happening here that reveals itself after a few close listens. “Roma A.D. 2727” and “Silencés Traverses de Mondes et de Anges” start us off with a relatively high action content, mutilated sine waves, static, and all manner of sonic shrapnel saturating the panoramic field and bouncing between channels. “Bury a Horse’s Head” is an 11-and-a-half-minute buildup to the dog-whistle-high frequencies of “In a Frosted Lake” and the vile groans of “Swedenborgia”, and the record continues through a long period of quietude before a wicked finale, similar to that of Kevin Drumm’s masterpiece Imperial Distortion. (If you’ve heard “We All Get It in the End”, you know what this means; if not, have fun.) A richer narrative with dozens of miniature movements opens up if you can give Aineen Musta Puhelin the proper time and attention. But even if you can’t, the record is an enlightening showpiece for the assortment of sounds Vainio manages to wring from his equipment and a satisfying tribute to the things that go bump in the night.