Mika Vainio - "Roma A.D. 2727" (Aineen Musta Puhelin (Black Telephone of Matter))
Few musicians explore the fine gradations separating signal from noise with the same ferocity and precision as Finland’s Mika Vainio. Over the years, this pursuit has taken a variety of musical forms. He’s best known for the shattering electro-noise he unleashes as one-half of Pan Sonic, but he is also responsible (as Ø and Philus) for creating some of minimal techno’s high-water marks. It is on the far more abstractly structured releases under his own name, however, that Vainio is at his most uncompromising and unsettling. And that’s saying something. Black Telephone of Matter, Vainio’s fourth solo album for the Touch imprint, is as unflinchingly extreme as ever. As often as not, it doesn’t pummel you with relentless waves of noise, but rather forces you to strain your ears to capture the finer points of each and every hiss and hum. Paradoxically, these barely audible elements, such as the delicate radio-static sizzle that opens the album with "Roma A.D. 2727," provide just as visceral a thrill as the sharp bursts of white noise and gut-rumbling thrums of sub-bass. Each of the pieces on Black Telephone of Matter consists of series of loosely structured, atmospheric episodes. The sounds may be those of pure, machine-age dystopia, but the structures themselves are more elemental, evoking the capriciousness of coastal weather patterns. One of the album’s centerpieces, "Silencés Traverses Des Mondes Et Des Anges," is the most literal example of this. The track begins with an ominous cawing of crows, followed by the distant rumble of thunder and soft, pitter-pat of falling rain. The sounds drift and melt into static before a crescendo, and – very suddenly – falling away. After a thunderous silence, a taut, rhythmic 4/4 pattern emerges (one of the few bones thrown to fans of Pan Sonic’s lockstep beats) that then gives way to a single, razor-edged sine tone. And so it goes. At times, it’s blazingly loud, at others you strain to pick out the tiny, mercurial droplets of sound. Like the album as a whole, it’s ominous and terrifying, but also quite extraordinarily subtle and austerely beautiful. Given the abiding pleasures to be found in the littlest details, this is one of those records that really does reward a bit of attentive listening. And though every so often a passage will rear up and scare the bejesus out of you, so much the better.