Vesa Vehviläinen pays tribute to one of Finland’s true originals, the influential musician, composer and producer Mika Vainio, who passed away earlier this month.
I’ll start this off with a random personal anecdote. In 2005 I was staying in Rome for a while, and Mika Vainio had a solo concert scheduled there. I was looking forward to catching up with him and of course seeing and hearing him play. On the day of the concert I found out that the show had been cancelled because Pope John Paul II had just died, and apparently arranging any cultural activity was out of the question. Oh well. Another year, another Pope, another batch of Ø records and concerts that would keep on coming for a good while.
For two decades Mika Vainio was prolific with releases. I would try to get my hands on all of them, and each of them was nothing less than a lesson in concentration and gravity. I remember at times feeling frustrated at how good they were. Every time he would bring on new ways of condensing his sound and reaching maximum intensity with minimal means.
Every time he would bring on new ways of condensing his sound and reaching maximum intensity with minimal means.
When Panasonic’s first album hit the streets in 1995, the band was already getting hyped as the next big thing. However, actually listening to the record caused an incurable confusion. These guys were the Finnish saviours of techno, sure, but not in a way you’d expect. To start with, the first track featured only static, slowly interfering sine waves. The rest of the album is equally sparse and raw. The sleevenotes told me that the music had been recorded live in the studio directly to a DAT tape. I wasn’t sure if that was cool or not.
Meanwhile, Mika’s solo output as Ø was the quietest and most concentrated music you could have. Way past ambient music, he dissected sounds with a surgeon’s precision and presented them on a light table of silence, usually one sound at a time. Despite the initial disbelief, it wasn’t hard to give in to Mika’s singular vision, in either solo or collaborative format. And of course Panasonic turned out to be the greatest live band.
Mika Vainio’s body of work is like a brutalist architectural monument. It finds beauty in a rough surface and is able to block the sun with its sheer heaviness and volume. His dedication to his craft was unparalleled. Both playing live and offstage he seemed uncannily restrained, but through all the seriousness a most deadpan sense of humor was apparent. Neither was humor lost when the just-renamed Pan Sonic named their new album “A” and “all sound” was given as a translation for the new band name.
Mika Vainio’s body of work is like a brutalist architectural monument. It finds beauty in a rough surface and is able to block the sun with its sheer heaviness and volume.
Mika Vainio’s music set a standard for all of us, aspiring makers and fans of electronic music and seekers of new ideas in marginal arts. “There is no theory” he famously said of Pan Sonic. This was pure electricity, pure intuition.
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