Mika Vainio
 – Black Telephone of Matter

[Touch; 2009]

I’m sitting listening to Mika Vainio’s album here and I don’t think I have come across anything this terrifying before. And this from a guy who listen to The Drift on a somewhat regular basis. I’m only half way through the second track and I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll have the nerve to stay involved in this right until the end. I recall the first track, “Roma A.D. 2727”, recalling the opening moments of Sufjan Stevens’ Enjoy Your Rabbit, though a whole lot more disconcerting. Cut up electronic fragments put together at just the right moments so as to never allow you be comfortable in any sort of way. There’s no rhythm, but I can’t deny there’s something strangely melodic about it.

The final part of second track “Silencés Traverses Des Mondes Et De Anges” trickles noises, until a final brief drip from a tap is heard before we’re into the next track. It’s the sort of music you sit and listen to (with headphones, of course) and wonder if the noise came from the music or it happened from outside the window or the flat above. A creak of a floorboard, the click of a light switch – never have they been so haunting.

And because of the flickering nature of this record – the way it feeds you patterns of noise at unsteady paces – you begin to notice tiny movements of the space around you. Did something move there? Was that a fly? Did I see a shadow there in the hallway? I don’t know, but I kind of wish I stuck this on in the daytime, even if the darkness outside does heighten the mood. “Bury A Horse’s Head” moves from slow hissing backdrops to a screeches from what one can imagine to be an inanimate metal object coming to life when you have your back turned. The thing I love though about this record is the way it manipulates your senses. High pitch frequencies come and go, increasing in volume and then breaking for a series of laughs, stolen from a joke forgotten. The noise is now distorting itself in feedback, compressing your eardrums but not in a torturous way. It’s almost like something you don’t want, warming to you and becoming uncomfortably close while you remain unable to ward of its advances.

Listening to this does fill me with the same sort of dread I get when I sit down to a horror movie. I know I’m going to get frightened, I may even be able to predict the storyline but what I’m watching has the upper hand because it’s the one influencing and controlling my fears. “In A Frozen Lake” shimmers patiently, glistening almost but there’s something underneath the ice it would seem. A body perhaps? A creature waiting to attack some unaware and ignorant teenager as they skate? I don’t know what it is but something’s there. And that’s another power it has – it has the choice between choosing to give a sudden shock or letting our imagination run wild as the tones become more and more sparse.

As the album runs, you do like to feel you are more comfortable with what is being played. The initial apprehension is gone but as the unsettling thick tones amidst the hiss on ”Swedenborgia” move in ways I can’t predict (if they are moving at all), I can’t become or even pretend to be at any sort of ease. Cymbals ring which is acts as a human touch here, even more than the sound of people laughing.

Hey look at that, I’m at the penultimate track now (“Measurement Of Excess Antenna Temperature At 4080 ML/S”) – I think I’ll make it all the way. Perhaps I was being over-dramatic to begin with. But perhaps not. The prospect of listening to the first track again still fills me with a sort of terror I’d rather not be familiar with even though I know how it goes from there on. But I suppose I don’t know. There’s no way to pinpoint exact moment here like when the sonar of this current track fully fades out and into the dulled high pitch frequency. I imagine you could listen to this album hundreds of times and still get frightened at different moments each time. Noises are wandering round my ear but there are moments I would almost describe at beats occurring, though any sort of regularity is non-existent. They only just register you almost feel them, if such a contradicting statement could ever make sense.

Final track, “The Breather”, begins with another of these noises. Or was that my neighbours upstairs again? It’s really hard to tell and only if you put yourself in a complete vacuum would you likely hear only the record, if you could blank out your heartbeat and other bodily noises. What sounds like a helicopter far off pulsates behind scattered and shattered ripples of electronic noises. And then suddenly a crash, but a deliberate sounding one from which a noise plays over and over. Something like a vacuum cleaner sucking away all kinds of life, hope and light from view (if there ever was any). It makes me begin to think I wasn’t supposed to hear this, like the memory of the record is being erased. But no, this experience will stay with me, as annoyingly haunting as that fact is.