It’s challenging finding out what exactly Finnish filmmaker Mika Taanila’s Mannerlaatta is about. It’s title translates to Tectonic Plate, didn’t involve a camera, and seems to have the “Letterist” label affixed to it. The author of one tepid review admitted that he didn’t know how to go about discussing it, and I certainly can’t blame people for being at a loss for words when it comes to the film’s soundtrack, which was composed and recorded by Mika Vainio, one-half of the electronic avant-garde entity Pan Sonic. Its gestation period matches the time it took for Taanila to develop the film, so it stands to reason that the two Mikas were heavily involved in one another’s medium every step of the way. If watching the film itself is not a heavy enough clue to what Mannerlaatta is all about, Vainio’s music alone provides an even dirtier window. This is good news for people who enjoy weird sounds and just being bamboozled by art in general, yet everyone else should keep on walking.
The six tracks on Mannerlaatta take up a little more than an hour of space, but they play out like separate pieces stitched together in Vainio’s studio. If that’s the case, then it’s impressive that he did it while exercising his “strictly no laptops” rule; if that’s not the case, then it’s impressive that he pulled off such glitches and jump-cuts while on the fly, with presumably analog equipment. Every time one of these jolts would appear, I found myself looking at the sound file on the computer or my player to see if a new track started, which was never the case. Too many vignettes are crammed into the 11-minute opener “At Night I keep Magnets on my Stomach” for that to ever happen, and the shortest track, “I Could be an Old Man in Front of a Service Station”, runs well over eight minutes.
Mannerlaatta is a very confrontational sounding, even in its more ambient moments, during which the soft hum of static does anything but relax you. Anyone familiar with Pan Sonic will have a good idea of what is going on here, but that doesn’t make some of the grinding metallic noises within any less blunt or edgy. Sometimes Mika Vainio establishes a beat through industrial clangs; other times, there’s only a wash of smoothly distorted noise to give the pieces any sense of movement. Then, in pieces like “The Sun Is Reflected on the End of the Airfield” and near the end of “At Night I Fall Endlessly”, you are presented with eerie gaps of near-silence.
Judging by both the music and the film themselves, establishing cohesion or a grand purpose doesn’t seem to be Mannerlaata‘s reason for being. Sometimes you find yourself staring out into a middle distance, an activity that gives you no reward apart from the luxury to be doing it at all. Mannerlaata is kind of like that. So, what does it offer? The fact that it exists is what it offers, and the residual moods dripping from inside the sounds are its shivering by-product.
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