Pan Sonic and Mika Vainio

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Panasonic: Vakio (1995), 6.5/10
Ø: Metri , 6/10
Ø: Olento , 6.5/10
Panasonic: Kulma , 6.5/10
Vega, Vaisanen, Vainio: Endless , 6/10
Mika Vainio: Onko , 6/10
Philus: Tetra , 6/10
Pan Sonic: A , 7/10
Mika Vainio's Ydin , 6/10
Mika Vainio's Kajo , 5/10
Pan Sonic: Aaltopiiri , 5/10
Ilpo Vaisanen: Asuma , 5/10
Ø and Noto: Wohltemperiert , 5/10
Motorlab #3 , 6/10
Invisible Architecture #2 , 5/10
IBM: The Oval Recording (2003), 5/10
Mika Vainio: Sokeiden Maassa Yksisilmainen On Kuningas , 5/10
Kesto (2004) , 7.5/10
VVV: Resurrection River (2005), 5.5/10
Ø: Kantamoinen (2005), 6/10
Katodivaihe Cathodephase (2007) , 6/10
Mika Vainio: Revitty (2007) , 6/10
Angel: Angel (2002), 5.5/10
Angel: In Transmediale (2006), 7/10
Angel: Hedonism (2008), 5.5/10
Angel: Kalmukia (2008), 6/10
Ø: Oleva (2008), 5/10
Mika Vainio: Black Telephone Of Matter (2009), 6/10
Angel: 26000 (2011) , 5.5/10
Pan Sonic: Gravitoni (2010) , 5/10
Mika Vainio: Life (2011), 5/10
Mika Vainio: Fe3O4 - Magnetite (2012), 4/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Pan Sonic (born Panasonic and originally a trio) is the project launched in 1993 in Finland by Mika Vainio (a veteran disc jockey who had already recorded as Corporate 09) and Ilpo Vaisanen (an organizer of rave festivals), both members of the artistic movement Ultra 3/ Sin O. Their early records display the influence of Pierre Henry's "musique concrete", Morton Subotnick's dadaistic electronica, analog synthesizers, Suicide, Kraftwerk, Throbbing Gristle, Einsturzende Neubauten, all recycled and metamorphed in the context of micro-techno music.

The first EP, Panasonic (Sahko, 1994), was followed by the album Vakio (Blast First, 1995), the manifesto of their abstract electronica. Most of the album indulges in "arranging" samples of domestic noises and studying the metamorphosis of elementary particles of sound, adopting both minimalist repetition and ambient stasis. After the most unlikely of overtures, namely the fastidiously high drone of Alku, Mika Vainio and Ilpo Vaisanen indulge first in the gently looping glitch of Radiokemia and then in the industrial metronomy of Vaihe. The two are fused together in Urania, the looping glitch becoming the industrial metronomy. That's just the beginning of the parade of variations on such simple ideas. Graf juxtaposes a pulsating rumble against a sustained whistle. Tela blends a frantic tribal tremor and a distorted drone. Reso turns something similar into a hail storm of electronics. A proper "dance" rhythm does not appear until Hapatus with its ping-pong beat. The subliminal vibration of Kaasu and the elastic bouncing sounds of Sahkotin close the album in a highly sophisticated manner.

Mika Vainio was also active with a minimal-techno project named after the symbol used in computer science for the digit zero, also known as Ø. The EP Kvantti (1993) boasts Koopenhaminalainen Tulkinta for Caribbean rhythm and geiger counter and the hissing and swinging Radium, but the real highlight is the oneiric Brian Eno-esque vignette Atomit. The EP Eetteri (1993) contains more elaborate pieces such as Sahkorausku, a collage of electronic noises and mutating beats set against a rumble that could come from ship horns or a muezzin's call to prayer, Eetteri, a lattice of shrill and timid sound effects, and Hyonteis, a piece constructed out of colliding beat patterns. The EP contains veiled references to the classic format of dancefloor fun, for example the funky and distorted Teehetki and the sinister disco shuffle of Helium. The EP Roentgen (1993) features the more lively Tutka, the pounding Roentgen, the energetic Medusa and the dissonant carillon of Cesium, four pieces that are trivial and straightforward by comparison with the other two EPs. The three EPs are compiled on Tulkinta (Sahko, 1997).

Metri (Sahko, 1994 - Clone, 2005), the first full-length album by Ø, is a more accessible works. Instead of stark, austere electronic compositions, Vainio dares to serve surreal and exotic vignettes, much closer in spirit to Brian Eno's Before And After Science. Hence the atmospheric overture Sisaa, the tribal African overtones of Kuvio, the effervescent ballet of Muuntaja, the (finally) bouncing Lasi. The austere counterpart to these skits is represented by the minimalist repetition of Twin Bleebs, the requiem-like drone of Radio, the robotic Hornitus, and by the almost silent last three tracks (Kentta, Halli, Dayak).

Its follow-up, Olento (Sahko, 1996), contrasts the anemic carillon of Oleva with the industrial metronomes of Ohipumppu, the icy minimalist repetition of Stratostaatti with the pastoral and nocturnal atmosphere of Kaskaat. the mechanical pattern of Mugwumb with the the synth-pop riff of Throb-S, the subliminal slow chill-room dance of the nine-minute Tila with the barely hinted melody of Ilta. One can sense two souls at work here, and pulling in two different directions.

Panasonic's EP Osasto (Blast First, 1996) is possibly the most abstract enunciation of their art of turning Morton Subotnick into a robotic pulse, or Suicide into a wild computer orgy. The thundering Uranokemia, the frenzied and Brazilian Telako and the syncopated stammering Parturi are both frigid and hysterical, light and heavy, superficial and profound. The booming, apocalyptic rush of Murto marks a peak of electronic dance music.

Reduced to the duo of Vainio and Vaisanen, Panasonic then released Kulma (Blast First, 1997), that further honed their sample-based craft and their minimal techno. The music becomes even colder and darker than on Olento and far more subdued than on Osasto. The first pieces are misleading: Teurastamo is a mini-concerto for electric shocks and multiple metronomes that turns into a wild dance; and Vapina is pure geometry of dance beats. However, the other pieces tend to abandon rhythm as the driving force. In Puhdistus and Kurnutus rhythm has deteriorated to an almost self-mocking status, and the limping, monotonous Rutina seems to reflect on Pansonic's inability to construct a regular beat. Other pieces are merely atmospheric drones. On the other hand, the syncopated Murto Neste seems to utter an embryonic melody; and the ghastly "om" of Aines marks a zenith of pathos thanks to its swirling drones that evoke cosmic silence and to the pulsing heartbeat that signals life on the other side. The "cosmic" theme is continued on -25, a feeble signal that leverages bleak muttering voices. Rhythm returns as a protagonist on the ten-minute closer, Moottori, a tribal dance with African overtones drenched in a gritty buzz.

In the meantime, Vainio, soon to relocate to Barcelona (Spain), was also creating sound installations around Europe.

Vaisanen and Vainio then recorded the single Medal and the album Endless (Blast First, 1998) with their idol Alan Vega.

Mika Vainio's first solo, Onko (Touch, 1998), is an experiment within the experiment: a concerto for noise and drones, without the support of Panasonic's arctic beat, that is as creative as abstract (Viher, Jos). The album peaks with the ambitious poeme electronique Onko in eleven movements. While not always satisfactory, the experiment borders on musical folly when they try to incorporate rockabilly, dub and ska.

Under the moniker of Philus, Vainio releases Tetra (Sahko, 1997), recorded between 1995 and 1997.

The renamed Pan Sonic, equipped with a state-of-the-art array of samplers and sequencers, returned with A (Blast First, 1999), whose title is a tribute to the letter they had to drop from their name. The atmosphere is still little or no human, but the music is the apotheosis of every technique that composers have created. The shallow ambient scores of Maa and Havainto (desert soundscapes roamed, the former, by digital beeps, echoes and scrapes, and, the latter, by distant vibrations) are balanced by the avantgarde noise of A-Kemia (a pulsation in the void that slowly changes timbre), Askel (the musical equivalent of a slowing heartbeat), Rajatila and Aleneva (both mutating radio frequencies). Etaisyys gets as close to Cage-an silence as possible and Bits of Kratwerkian foxtrot (Lomittain) and techno twist (Telakoe) are eventually fed to the dark, majestic swoon of Voima, nine minutes of industrial beats and horror drones. Several shorter pieces paint an apocalyptic picture of free-form noise, low-flying unidentified objects and ephemeral dimensions. Nobody can test his (paying) listener's patience like Pan Sonic do, but, just like with haiku and epigrams, there is beauty in the monotonous minimalism of this art.
With this album Mika Vainio and Ilpo Vaisanen have composed a very poetic work, one that injects feelings in the industrial, futuristic and gothic wasteland that they have been roaming for years. Their super-fusion of dub, illbient, jungle, techno, rock, soul and jazz is no longer a mere nonsense, or a mere mathematical puzzle, it is also a grand view on a magnificent land that lies still ahead.

Mika Vainio's Ydin (Wavetrap, 1999) marks a sudden deterioration of the program. Instead of carefully assembling clockwork music, Vainio lets tones grow and flow with the attitude of the spectator (rather than the actor) until they come to resemble the white-noise juggernauts by Zoviet France.

Vainio is in high demand and yields to a series of collaborations. Unfortunately, they mostly highlight his limits Rude Mechanic (Beaconsfield, 1999) documents a pretentious sound installation. Mort Aux Vaches (Staalplaat, 1999) belogs more to Charlemagne Palestine than Vainio. Like so many of avantgarde's mediocre composers, Vainio is now wasting his time across too many projects, none of which stands up to his past standards.

His third solo, Kajo (Touch, 2000), plays into the hands of his critics: the music is not only a futile repetition of his ideas, it is also a puerile repetition. Aaltomuoto and Unessa display the usual icy elegance, but not much else.

Aaltopiiri (Mute, 2001) collects avantgarde pieces and brief (albeit no less sophisticated) vignettes of Pan Sonic's aural minimalism. The "music" is often subsonic and unfocused, a stripped-down, faint soup of beats, scrapes, clicks, clangs and (yes) silence. It doesn't seem to know where it is going. It simply toys a few seconds with an electronic effect, then dumps it for another one. Every move is elegant and calibrated, but also fragile. The sparsed banging of Ensi, the warped melody of Kuu, the razor-sharp distortion of Rasite are inherently futile, ephemeral, decidous. The digital is not the power, is the limit of Pan Sonic's pieces.
Alas, Pan Sonic's art needs time to reveal its beauty, its amorphous beauty. Tracks like Vaihtovirta, drenched in warped beats, rich with insistent drilling and distorted drones, are essays in pulse and timbre, performed in a dubby ether.
Pan Sonic's hypnotic quality and a midly exotic flavor come to the forefront with the quasi-tribal throbbing of Johdin that borrows from Steve Reich a technique to gradually alter repetitive patterns. No doubt these compositions find new meaning to a style originally invented by Autechre.
The suspended semi-raga atmosphere of Liuos shows some development, but the cryptic and dilated drones of Ulottuvuus, or the ominous tone of Hallapyydys, or the floating, cosmic patterns of Reuna-Alue, or the mantric "om" and casual clashing of Valli, do little else than play themselves until they get bored. The pounding industrial nightmares of Kone and Kierto, that would be negligible on other albums, stick out like skyscrapers in a barren landscape simply because finally something happens.
This is electronic music of ideas, but terribly little substance. One wonders how difficult it is to play this kind of compositions when equipped with the same expensive instrumentation. Britney Spears may be more authentic a phenomenon than Pan Sonic. This is electronic music for the thrill of it. The word "self-indulgent" doesn't even come close to what this duo is.

Ilpo Vaisanen is active in the dub-jazz realm as Piiri with the EPs Jarru (Mind, 1999) and Rajoitusalue (Traum, 2001) and the remix album GPU (Vertical Form, 2002). Ilpo Vaisanen's Asuma (Mego, 2001) is even more minimal. Sounds float around with even less life and sink into pits of digital echoes.

Wohltemperiert (Raster-Noton, 2001), mainly recorded in 1998, is a collaboration between Vainio (under the moniker Ø) and Carsten Nicolai (under the moniker Noto).

The Hymn Of The Seventh Illusion on the EP Motorlab #3 (Kitchen Motors, 2001) is a composition by Barry Adamson and Pan Sonic for Iceland's Hljomeyki Choir. The music is austere and ghostly in the best tradition of Gyorgy Ligeti and Arvo Part. The album includes a remix done by Hafler Trio.

The Oval Recording (Mego, 2003), credited to IBM (Ilpo, Bruce, Mika), is a collaboration between Pansonic and Wire's Bruce Gilbert, producing much "dirtier" sounds than the ones their are used to.

Invisible Architecture #2 (Audiosphere, 2002) contains a 34-minute live collaboration between Mika Vainio and Christian Fennesz, and a 32-minute solo by Vainio.

Mika Vainio' Sokeiden Maassa Yksisilmainen On Kuningas (Touch, 2003), which means "In the Land of the Blind One-Eyed King", relies too much on a combination of silence and drones to qualify as "music". Vainio is often experimenting for the sake of experimenting, and this album is a prime example of his self-indulgence.

V (Victo, 2003) is a live collaboration with Merzbow .

GRM Experience (Signature, 2004) was a collaboration among Christian Fennesz, Mika Vainio and Christian Zanesi.

Pan Sonic's Kesto (Mute, 2004) is a monumental four-cd box-set, for a grand total of 234 minutes, that stands as an ideal compendium of the project over the years. The first disc harkens back to the exuberant and menacing industrial music of the late 1970s, with psychotic distorted dance tracks such as Mayhem I, Mayhem II and Mayhem III, electronic threnodies such as the seven-minute Mutator and Gravity (the dramatic peak of the disc), horrific walls of noise such as Fugalforce, dilapidated soundscapes such as the nine-minute Central Force (pierced by a colossal distortion) and Rafter. This disc alone summarized and gave new meaning to three decades of "industrial" experiments by Throbbing Gristle, Foetus and Nine Inch Nails. Last but not least, Diminisher was one of their most faithful imitations of Suicide's fibrillating threnodies.
The second disc is also split between unbridled frenzy and subliminal hypnosis. Current-Transformer stands up to the "mayhems" of the first disc. Cable 5 is another take on Suicide's neurosis (with a slightly Spanish inflection). Distance is the psychological zenith of the work: a syncopated beat that seems to be dropped in a disorienting labirynth of mirrors thanks to an oneiric texture of metallic sounds. Throbbing is the most "regular" of the dance tracks. At the other end of the spectrum lie the desolate seven-minute soundscape of Telemites and the angst-filled noisy nightmare of the seven-minute Arctic.
The third disc is devoted to Vainio's celebrated "arctic" soundscapes, which is basically a variation on musique concrete, as the eleven-minute Sewageworld proves right away: the sound of running water is filtered and manipulated, and so it the sound of it running down the pipes, until all that is left is a flow of shapeless electronic shadows. The ten-minute Corridor unleashes electronic drone after electronic drone in a crescendo of sound effects that leads to a terrifying climax. The quintessential "arctic" compositions, Arches of Frost, the nine-minute Inexplicable and the nine-minute Air, rely on minimal sounds in slow motion to craft ghostly atmospheres emanating a sense of silence and emptiness. The 18-minute Lines is the logic continuation of the "arctic" program within the aesthetic boundaries of electroacoustic chamber music: a concerto for long tones.
The fourth disc is an hour-long tribute to droning minimalism: Radiation. The floating drones create a sense of mystery and magic that is reminiscent of Klaus Schulze's cosmic music. However, the kind of drama pursued by Pan Sonic was of a different nature: not galactic but very earthly, rooted in the neuroses of the post-industrial individual.
The sequence of the discs is relevant: it leads from organic (and sometimes violent) structures (low entropy) to chaotic stasis (high entropy), in what could be a metaphysical meditation on the meaning of life.
The sheer amount of studio techniques employed by the duo is awe-inspiring. In a sense, this album is also a compendium of the civilization of 2004, a representation of the contemporary zeitgeist, of the state of humanity.
This is not an album for people to listen to, but a message to be decoded by future generations.

Resurrection River (Mego, 2005) is another VVV collaboration among Alan Vega, Mika Vainio and Ilpo Vaisanen. The result is another mixed bag like Endless. Vega's personality is so big that his younger cohorts downplay their techniques of "noise terrorism". A couple of tracks bring back the Suicide magic, such as 11:52 pm (organ solo by Jimi Tenor) and Chrome Z-Fighters 2003, but mostly the psychotic attitude sounds only half-hearted and outdated. The soundscapes are a diligent repetition of past soundscapes on Vainio's discs: nothing that a Vainio fan could not do at home.

Nine Suggestions (All Questions, 2006) was a collaboration with avantgarde musician John Duncan, a slow-burning furnace of of brutal, vital electronic noise.

Mika Vainio's side-project Ø returned with Kantamoinen (Sahko, 2005), that collects rarities from the 1990s, mostly sleepy electronic poems from 1999-2004.

Pan Sonic's Katodivaihe Cathodephase (Blast First, 2007) was basically a poor man's version of Kesto: same ideas, just a lot less ambition.

The real news for Mika Vainio's solo album Revitty (Wavetrap, 2007) is represented by the moments of savagery, approaching the intensity of digital hardcore. They populate the usual minimalist subliminal soundscape creating a vital contrast. Vainio's music is more than even a study of the transition from noise to sound to sign.

Angel is a collaboration between Ilpo Vaisanen of Pan Sonic and Dirk Dresselhaus of Schneider TM. After the ten digital etudes of Angel (BiP_HOp, 2002), they added the cello of Hildur Guonadottir to produce the romantic ambient droning glitchy industrial music of the 70-minute piece of In Transmediale (Oral, 2006). Initially the sleepy notes of the cello meet the manipulated sample of a Middle-eastern chant, but it is just a warm-up. The disjointed and dissonant cello solo restarts against a variable electronic distortion. Eventually the two merge into just one ugly rumble. The duet gets more and more intense, with the keyboards unleashing harsh electronic hisses and the cello emitting grating whirrs. After an orgasmic peak, the music collapses into a skeletal soundscapeand slowly dies away.

Hedonism (Editions Mego, 2008) collect ten more studies recorded between 1994 and 1997, mostly nervous and jarring, including the 20-minute Mirrorworld.

The four medium-length suites of Angel's Kalmukia (Editions Mego, 2008) shifted the program of In Transmediale towards a more intimate and less abstract discourse. Bones In The Sand is a 13-minute sonata for languid psychedelic distortions, certainly not what one would expect from Pan Sonic. Kalmukia - The Discovery, Wiring, Invasion assembles drones that initially sound mournful but soon become threatening and turn into ticking strums. An even bleaker tumor of drones, album standout Effect Of Discovery, Test, Alarm, Catastrophy sounds like the soundtrack to a descent into the dark recesses of the psyche. Aftermath: The Mutation continues the progression towards stronger emotions, this time via a chaotic collision of tones that sounds like an orchestra preparing to rehearse. The album is often self-indulgent, but confirms Angel's ambitions as soundsculptors.

Ø's Oleva (Sahko, 2008) was a bit too superficial in its treatment of background and beats.

Vainio's Aineen Musta Puhelin / Black Telephone Of Matter (Touch, 2009) is an album of (rhythm-less) subliminal musique concrete. It was his Metal Machine Music.

Angel's 26000 (Editions Mego, 2011) sounds like two works in one: the 13-minute Before The Rush is unusually harsh and gloomy, thanks in part to BJ Nilsen's field recordings and digital processing, whereas Hildur Gudnadottir's cello contributes again to turn the 19-minute Paradigm Shift into a solemn existential meditation.

Pan Sonic and Keiji Haino collaborated on Synergy Between Mercy & Self-Annhiliation Overturned (Blast First Petite, 2010).

Pan Sonic announced its demise with Gravitoni (Blast First Petite, 2010), one of their most aggressive works, and alas one of the most fragmented and unfinished.

Vainio and horn player Lucio Capece collaborated on Trahnie (Mego, 2009). The quartet of Mika Vainio, Kevin Drumm (both on electronics), Axel Dörner (trumpet and computer) and Lucio Capece (soprano sax, bass clarinet and shruti box) performed together on Venexia (may 2008).

Mika Vainio played even the guitar on Life (Editions Mego, 2011), a minor work that harked back to industrial rock music a` la Godflesh.

Vainio's Fe3O4 - Magnetite (Touch, 2012) was equally minor. It abandoned the guitar noise of Life and returned to an isolationist strategy. There are interesting moments, like the industrial rumble emanating ghostly hisses in Elvis's TV Room and the subsonic slow-motion electronic drones of Magnetia, but Vainio doesn't seem to know how to capitalize on them.

The project Novi_Sad, namely BJ Nilsen, Daniel Menche, Francisco Lopez and Pan Sonic's Mika Vainio, debuted with the neurosciences-inspired Neuroplanets (2013).

Monstrance (Touch, 2013) documents a 2010 collaboration with Joachim Nordwall.

Mika Vainio and Sunn)))'s Stephen O'Malley formed AANIPA that debuted with Through A Pre-Memory (2013), featuring Alan Dubin (vocals), Eyvind Kang (viola), Moriah Neils (contrabass) and Maria Scherer Wilson (cello).

Pan Sonic's Oksastus (2013)

Hephaestus (Mego, 2014), recorded in december 2011, was a collaboration with celloist Arne Deforce.

Mika Vainio died in 2017 at the age of 53.

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