Mika Vainio, better known as one half of experimental duo Pan Sonic, has been creating solo material at an admiral pace since the 90s under the monikers Æ and Philus. While he uses Pan Sonic to surrender to an industrial groove, his own explorations in sound are far more steeped in spontaneity and loosely-structured ambient noise. Vainio reaches a bit further this time, too: Aineen Musta Puhelin (Black Telephone of Matter), his fourth album for the illustrious Touch label, is a post-industrial collage of black static and oscillating tones.
Vainio elongates his aesthetic statement over the course of an hour, providing the listener with a various palette of dissonance to subsume into their aural vocabulary. By building this “vocabulary,” so to speak, the sounds — what the average listener might characterize as a nuisance (or “noise”) — create meaning within a larger context of melodic structure. Indeed, artists who employ dissonance and challenging compositional techniques often lose sight of the mission behind their music. But instead of simply provoking the listener, Vainio equally challenges himself with a range of dynamics, collage aesthetics, and bleak topic matter.
While “noise” generally thrives on volume and sustain, Black Telephone of Matter uses a fundamental element necessary to its own sustainability: silence. Not only is silence essential to Black Telephone of Matter, but it’s inherent in the process of gathering sounds. To notice the difference between specific tones is to note the contrast, one that hinges on the relative definition of silence. You get a sense that this was a very isolated process for Vainio, that it’s meant to be consumed in the manner it was created. This clearly isn’t the kind of record to sit back and listen to with friends. (Although, it might be interesting to give it a spin for unexpected guests, as if one were taking part in a collective reading of William S. Burrough’s The Soft Machine.)
“Bury a Horse’s Head” is perhaps the best example of the album’s strengths. Within its first passage, it creates a foundation developed upon a consistent texture of static. Building out of this is a pulsating tension of bass and muddy high-frequency, radar-like tones, until it all beautifully finds its way back into a similar texture that started the track. It tests the listener’s expectations by laying a foundation and then overtly destroying it, forcing one’s thoughts into a mode of anxiety. It literally goes from the sound of human laughter, to a reversed permutation of it, and then finally to a horrific, yet somehow gratifying electric assault. On headphones, it’s a rather out-of-body experience, a testament to the aforementioned aural vocabulary of the listener, a static ode to our gadgetry fetishism.
Vainio is a master of surprise, covering sonic territory not attended to in a typical listener’s experience. By taking these “noises” and turning them into an intelligible final product, he has succeeded in crafting one of the more valued statements within the genre in recent memory. As a seasoned veteran in the world of experimental music, he has clearly developed a keen ear for the structuring of tonal and frequency combinations, and it’s highly evident on Black Telephone of Matter.