Music Reviews

mika vainio

sokeiden maassa yksisilmainen on kuning


The title, translating to, “In The Land Of The Blind The One-Eyed is King” seems almost utopian compared to being in a land of one-eyed people with a blind king. Aside from knee-jerk politics, the real question of “The Land of the Blind” is how useful our ears are to our general orientation. As usual, Mika Vainio’s work can rarely be accused of lacking curiosity in that regard.

Vainio’s partnership in Pan Sonic has shown a two-pronged interest in trance-inducing ambience and human hearing perception. If we want to reduce all of the complex things that go into a collaborative effort, Vainio sculpts the ambience and Ilpo Vaisanen is in charge of human hearing perception, and additionally seems to have particular attention vested in rhythm and reduction. You can deduce this from Vaisanen’s engaging release on Mego, Asuma, and any number of Vainio’s releases from the past years.

Pan Sonic has had plenty of Wire Mag-related acclaim for their allegedly austere, mechanical, and sparse sound. Yet, austerity, sine wave tones, and psychoacoustics are without a doubt more effectively executed by Touch labelmate Ryoji Ikeda. This is not to suggest that Vainio and Vaisanen aren’t fairly potent artists. Yet, joined together, Vainio’s electrical socket timbres and Vaisenen’s sine palette seem pale compared to Ikeda’s even sparser vision. Vaisenen’s Asuma release showed traces of a pop sensibility that might’ve been responsible for Pan Sonic’s relative success on the IDM circuit. Vainio, on the other hand, makes a little less sense, at first.

There seems to be a general confusion that makes the word “cold” synonymous with “impersonal”. Ikeda’s work is impersonal, human expression is not the point, pinprick explorations into the science of hearing is what seems to emanate from his recordings. Pan Sonic, and Vainio’s “One-Eyed”, in particular, is cold music. The human hand that created it is never far from the work, the chills and inconsolable barrenness, while maybe conveying a similar emotional response in the listener as Ikeda’s human-absent proceedings, is fundamentally different in practice. Someone like Oval makes impersonal music that still has warm, emotional overtones, after all.

Vainio’s work has waffled between being the ghost traces of corroding mechanics and decidedly Finnish expressive qualities that allow a not-entirely-unfair allusion to a composer like Jean Sibelius. One-Eyed shows a Vainio with a comfortable, wintery, musical vocabulary, that echoes Sibelius’ Scandinavian alienation (the press release even compares it to the soundtracks to the films of Tarkovsky, which, while Russian, share a similar stoicism). Granted, all of this is exemplified by Vainio’s use of ominous, though somehow comforting drones, which the Touch label seems to hold the trademark for. Through this, Vainio, rather than presenting the found sounds of electrical charge, gives his work a personal and melancholy taste.

In The Land Of The Blind The One Eyed Is King is achingly bleak. Look at the overcast evening photograph on the cover, or the empty chairs on the back. Perfectly summed up by the photograph inside, of people sitting in what looks to be an airport, staring out into the blank, blue landscape. This is dry-eyed, exhausted music, without almost diary-like entry portals into Vainio’s life.

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