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Mika Vainio - Black Telephone of Matter


The Finnish master of minimalism returns for his 4th solo album on Touch with this 7 track journey of space, silence and noise. For me, Vainio has managed to produce a solitary aesthetic in his musical production through a combination of factors - silence, an uncanny ability to reproduce the sound of electricity and pure hum of machines and of lastly harnessing it into a noise-inflected barrage that almost always carries an innate sense of dynamism. His Scandinavian heritage, almost like Sibelius before him, helps to construct a picture of polarised forces of nature - winter, cold and the icy grandeur of arctic wind set against the almost impossibly pure essence of electricity.

It’s interesting then that this album fails to really capture any of those elements in any satisfying way, although we do hear faint echoes and whispers of melody that hark a little at the formative period in his musical career. The 7 tracks here do carry all the hallmarks of the aforementioned, but with the emphasis on long periods of silence and the odd, quixotic burst of noise here and there doesn’t capture the energy of works past. Given the title of the album, I’m wondering if there is any subtle reference to communication, but apart from the primeval buzz of static and a slice of sampled voices processed into oblivion, I found it hard to sense any true sense of narrative beyond the predictable rise and ebb of layers of static-tinged atmosphere. There’s no doubt that his work as Ø takes on a more structured format, whilst this side has always been somewhat more akin to freeform electronics with an emphasis on live recordings.

If anything, “Black Telephone of Matter” maps out a polarised world of extremes, and attempts to explore the space within that, tracks such as “Bury a Horse’s Head” change frequently with their approach, as sound is deconstructed forcefully, and then rebuilt. This track in particular reminded me somewhat of Russian director Klimov’s sound design for his masterpiece “Idi i Smotri”, as squalls of sound penetrate a distant atmosphere, as if Vainio is attempting to get them to communicate. Deep down Vainio’s music makes a definitive impact when played at much higher volumes, and like other noise installation artists, their reproduction through a home stereo often reduces their impact significantly. “In a Frosted Lake” is full of high frequencies that ebb around the listener’s imagination, and on the somewhat scientific “A measurement of excess antenna temperature at 4080 Ml/s” we are treated to faint echoes of padded rhythms, but the continuous flow of frequencies and disassociation with narrative make for an academic exercise that seems a little out of place with Vainio’s other output. We’re treated to a climatic finisher with “The Breather”, but the constant polarisation of noise and the veritable lack of content between the two makes for a disappointing experience in general.

Toby Frith



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