Somnambule - Writing About Music

Ø – Tulkinta
Ø – Kantamoinen
Philus – Tetra

Tulkinta, Kantamoinen, Tetra are titles with the ring of distant lands about them. To those unfamiliar with the work of Ø and Philus, the words may sound Germanic, but the Finnish syllables seem even more difficult to fit the palette around than that language. The monikers of their respective artists are similarly forbidding, Ø denoting the number zero and that which is not the letter ‘o’, while Philus sounds like something to with scientific classification. In fact, Philus relates to the Greek- and Latin-derived word ending meaning beloved, loving or lover – as in Francophile. That provides a first toehold upon the craggy face of these three outings. Further purchase is gained in the design of the packaging: both the Ø outings arrive in rather gorgeous card envelopes. The Kantamoinen looks for all the world like a pharmaceutical or laboratory sample with its careful typography and capsule-like imagery, while the inner slipcase of the Tulkinata has a beautiful, almost abstract photograph of vegetation and sky rendered in sepia. So much for the outward signs, what of the music it precedes? Both Ø and Philus are pseudonyms for Finnish electronica artist Mika Vainio who’s probably best known for his work with Ilpo Väisänen as Pan Sonic. The two CDs recorded as Ø gather various 12” releases from the mid ‘90s while Philus’s Tetra is a new work. The music on all three may best be described as minimal techno, but before you reach for your hat and make for the door, stay just a moment longer. Vainio’s music, constructed from the barest of materials, possesses a rare beauty that often foregoes percussive beats for the most stripped-down of bass figures or multiplying sine tones. At times, as on Kryoskopia or Creuzfeldt Jakob (both Philus/Tetra), the highest of twitters raises the suspicion that there’s activity in the upper-registers that lies beyond human hearing. Lacking a hound to test the theory, the thought nevertheless makes the silence silvery with the strain of trying to catch something that may or may not be there. The 12-minute Anksiolyytti, is so high and lonely that it’s likely to send shivers down the spine. Here is music to make you realise your place in the greater scheme of things. Whether you experience humility, anger or indifference as a result is of course dependent upon your own individual take. Only one of these three releases cares to translate its titles and Kantamoinen’s Galaxies (Galaksit) and Antenna-Ant (Antenni-Muurahais) appear to underline that sense of the vastness of the universe so apparent in the Philus release. Kantamoinen’s later tracks, however, appear to be more concerned with nature than might be expected from their synthetic, reverb-drenched soundworlds: Winter Spirit (Talven Henki), Night Frost (Yöhalla) and Last Of Catfishes (Monneista Viimeinen) being prime examples. It’s an indication of the power of Vainio’s art that he can forge a convincing association between these natural references and the synthetic soundworlds of the music. Despite the initial characterisation of these releases as minimal techno, it’s difficult to imagine hearing them in a club space: any of it played out by a DJ would surely cause a mass outbreak of lying down and staring at the ceiling or into the depths of a glass. Space, silence and distance are key constituents of Mika Vainio’s sonic universe.  Rejecting artifice and embellishment, the music conveys an overwhelming sense of a wider reality, and therein lies the association with the scientific and natural imagery of the packaging described at the outset.
Colin Buttimer
April 2006
Published by Signal To Noise magazine