TO:34 – Mika Vainio “Onko”

CD – 4 tracks

Track list:

1. Kelvin
2. Jos
3. Onko Parts 1-11
4. Viher


Alternative Press (USA):

After giving the electronica movement a kick in the ass with Panasonic’s harsh, minimal techno, Mika Vainio has now set his sights on more abstract forms of music with his latest solo album, Onko. Vainio dispenses with the repetitive beats and pulses of Panasonic and allows this music to breathe and expand. Much of Onko inhabits the gray area that exists between Thomas Köner’s arctic soundscapes and Bernhard Günter’s hyperminimalism, but Vainio lacks either of those artists’ vision. I know that this type of music requires a careful listen and an abundance of patience to appreciate, but tracks such as “Kelvin” and “Jos [If?]” ultimately lack the attention to detail that makes Köner’s and Günter’s music so intriguing. However, “Viher [Green/Cellular]” is a revelation in which a series of textured drones slowly crumbles into 1000 pieces until another soothing wave of sound comes along to sweep it all away. It’s one of those tracks that you want to last forever. But despite flashes of brilliance, Onko comes off like a series of promising sketches and outlines instead of a fully realized world of sound. [Bill Cohen]

VITAL (Netherlands):

Mika, famous for his Panasonic excursions and solo work as Ø, has finally brought out some stuff under his own name. Listen along as he primes, then fine tunes his pneumatic devices, limbers up with a burst of groundhum before reclining against a sonic wall of hissing grit. Sounds of information reduced to their smallest common denominators. Frosty machine language. The reveries of circuitry. Bit-reduction. Wings of bass. And then, after three tracks which intensely and deftly tweak the spaces between the Hertz, there’s track 4, a soft rising of sap, the fragility and transcience of shadows, respiration of a cell. Onko means ‘It is’. And it is. Is it? [Mark Poysden]

New Powers (Canada):

An experimental music release for Mika who keeps his rhythm machines off while making these hums and static washes for installations and for people who don’t get
enough digital noise in their environment. Recommended for listeners of Lovely Music-makers such as Alvin Lucier.

1. “Kelvin” – your stereo is not broken this is hum music, with interludes of static
2. “Jos [IF?]”
3. “Onko Parts 1-11 [IS IT?]” 36m an index of hums and test tone beeps recorded for an installation in Holland
4. “Viher [GREEN/CELLULAR]” 16m gentle ambient pulses in the vein of Oval.

Exclaim! (Canada):

Onko is an experimental music release for Panasonic’s Mika Vainio who kept his rhythm machines off-line while making these sounds for people who don’t get enough digital noise in their environment. “Kelvin”‘s quiet hums and interludes of static may make you think your stereo is broken, but this is the essential grain of the most basic electronic sound unit. In “Jos (If?)”, data processing tweets are even further reduced into Mika’s most minimal ‘techno’ yet. And during his epic 36 minute “Onko Parts 1-11 [Is It?]” an extensive index was made of test-tone beeps and drones in order that a Dutch art gallery’s patrons could experience a new level of cyber muzak. Onko is Mika’s most abstract music to date and recommended for fans of the lovely music of Alvin Lucier.

The Wire (UK):

Static and rumblings from the heaving netherworld of electronic sound experimentation…Onko is Panasonic man Mika Vainio’s first release under his own name – his solo material has until now come under the Techno minimilia guise of Ø. The album marks a new departure for this mysterious musician, who now turns away from the vestigial dancefloor patterns that haunt most of his projects. The nearest parallel to this picks up from where the Ø contributions to Rastermusic’s Mikro Makro album were heading, embarking on longish episodic pieces. At the centre of this album is a loosely structured 36 minute work which passes through many phases, ranging from crackle and static to tape-recorded atmospheric sound. While spareness remains the byword – parts of the piece are near-silent – there is a definite attention to wider sound sources than hitherto. The stark warmth previously favoured gives way to an unsettling succession of darkly themed noises. A strong flavour of indeterminacy develops as the listener is drawn into sounds that waver and change shape before disappearing again into silence. In the end, however, the focus of the shorter pieces wins out, with Vainio racking up the tension through sheer concentration. Like watching grass grow while a battery of demonic lawnmowers hover in the background, ready for the kill. [Will Montgomery]

Village Voice (USA):

Techno with the snare turned off is nice to decompress to, but it’s not ambient music, whose object is to play with a sound environment to change the texture of it, as careful lighting would. So the best recent atmosphere-altering recordings have moved toward sounds that can’t be confused with electroglop. That’s the beauty of Mika Vainio’s Onko (Touch). No matter how loud you turn it up, it won’t take centre stage – it just makes its surroundings seem starker and sharper. Vainio (also of the more rhythm-friendly Panasonic) eschews frills like beats and notes in favor of sounds that can pass for background noise: tape hiss, appliance hum, seashell roar. His constructions are tart, ascetic and razor clean. When the title track mutates into a random series of ultra-high pitched ticks, you can practically hear your neural connections being severed…..There are lots of recordings of unusual pre-existing ambience too, like Disinformation’s 12-inch single of solar radio emissions, and Chris Watson’s location recordings – “River Mara, Maasal Mara, Kenya 2130h, 16 September 1994” is the jam.

i/e (USA):

At absolute zero, the molecular motion which translates as radiated warmth comes to a complete standstill. Mika Vainio inches restlessly down the ‘Kelvin’ scale in search of this ultimate stasis, never reaching his goal of total absence of motion. For every degree in temperature his electrostasic hum drops, there’s just enough energy to sustain the molecular movements transcribed into durable sound. “Jos [If?]” is an exercise in pre reduction, an oscilloscope breakdown of pircing binary sounds into its constituent waves, frequencies and zero-and-one switchings. The raw audible matter of “Onko Parts l-ll [IS IT?]” is molded into an epic poéme electronique through a series of nebulous Xenakis-like manipulations and Parmegiani-like electroacoustic ‘incidences’. Designed for a sound installation, the thirty-five minute piece culminates in a passage of unresolved liquid ambient tones. “Viher [Green/Cellular]” works backwards from this ambiquous resolution, sifting minute electronic disruptions into a similarly fluid revolving loop Halcyon song. [Gil Gershman]

=Ellipse= (France):

Fondateur de l’excellent groupe Panasonic mais aussi de multiples autres projets tels ÿ, Tekonivel ou encore Rancho Relaxo All-Stars, c’est le premier disque que ce Finlandais sort sous on propre nom. L’occasion pour nous de découvrir des travaux encore plus expÈrimentaux et conceptuels s’il en est, avec entre autres son gout pour les installations sonores. Ainsi donc plus de la moitié de l’album est consacré une performance ayant eu lieu aux Pays-Bas en 1996, composée d’une succession de plages sonores calmes, peu évolutives et perturbées de temps autre par des parasites rythmiques. Tout un travail sur les fréquences, la mise en valeur du souffle, les sons amusicaux comme issus d’erreurs de manipulations et récupérés pour en faire tout autre chose, avec toujours le paradox entre l’utilisation de machines analogiques (fabriquées par ses propres soins) et un résultat final sonnant complètement moderne. Accompagné par un superbe digipack, ce disque nous prÈsente un univers musical trés personnel et hermétique avec toutefois un rel‚chement trés appréciable sur la fin travers le morceau “viher” presque mélodiqe et doux que l’on pourrait rapprocher des ambiances propres Oval / Microstoria. Attention toutefois, si vous ne possédez qu’un simple lecteur CD et des enceintes moyennes, vous pourrez difficilement appécier ce CD. 

mécano (UK):

Mika Vainio is the founder of the pioneering Finnish label Säkho, and one half of the equally renowned Panasonic. For this, his first release under how own name, Vainio has abandoned the minimal rhythmic structures which characterise his label and work with Panasonic. Instead, Onko is a clinical exploration of the “post-digital landscape”. The sounds are sparse and delicate – listen closely for the faint strains of laid-back sax which trickle through the icy surface of the title track, or the soft, looped tones of ‘Viher’. Onko is less harsher (sic) than I’d expected it to be, but not overtly ‘easy listening’ either. [AK]

Web review:

Excoriations of straight techno have bordered on the obsessive. Vainio’s solo work (previously under the name Ø, and now, with this his Touch debut, under his own name) have ventured several fathoms further into abstraction, often leaving behind structure entirely to focus on a fizzing, futzing blur of dimensionless test-tones and residual electronic noise. Onko is perhaps not so far from that description, although Vainio here hits upon an even less stratified constructivism, integrating the vaguest of melodies and textural components largely absent both from Panasonic and from previous of his solo work. Much of Onko lacks the immediate reference point of rhythm, which means listening can become either a frustrating prolegomenon or an enthralling procedure of micrometrical discovery, depending on the context of playback and the expectations of the listener. The album’s title track was recorded live for a Dutch sound installation, and at just over 30 minutes long is a gauzy, fascinating pencil-sketch of meek, enervated patterns and sculptured circuitry. Like the slow unwrapping of a meticulously crumpled page, Onko reveals an intriguing play of shadow and texture through the sharpest and most internal of means, giving rise to a quiet musicality as delicate as it is unshakable. Rating: 7.5

Art Zero (France):

Onko, nouvelle production de tres soigne label d’ambient-bruitisme Touch, a ce gout minimaliste tres actuel. Aux cotes de Ryoji Ikeda (Dumb Type) lui aussi edite par Touch, Mika Vainio a une esthetique musicale bien a lui, aux croisees des ecoles du label Digital Narcis (Atau Tanaka) et du nouveau projet d’Otomo Yoshihide, I.S.O. (voir chronique plus haut). Venu des contrees nordiques, et non du Japon comme une ecoute en blind-test pourrait le laisser penser, Vainio semble explorer au microscope electronique le materiau-son. Son approche est concentree sur l’atome musical, qu’il s’escrime a vouloir dissequer, a representer musicalement selon les differents points de vue qui lui sont fournis. Musique de l’insecable tout autant que de l’aride, “Onko” presente des experiences ambientes et bruitistes radicales et minimales qui explorent le grain et la texture musicale dans ses details les plus enfouis. Fort de cette demarche sans concession, Mika Vainio se situe a la pointe des experiences du genre qui peuvent malheureusement rebuter par leur apparent hermetisme un large public.

Your Flesh (USA):

A barely fluctuating hum, and a hardly distinguishable series of granulated tones mark our ‘Kelvin’, the first track here and a mark of Vainio’s intention to record at a nearly absolute minimal level. As half of Panasonic, Vainio is adept at making sparse, electronic music and this solo record takes it down to an even lower level. The listener is denied even the spare rhythmic structure of Panasonic. Geiger counter-like clicks pop out of the second track over a hiss that sounds like an escaping rush of air. The thirty-plus minute title track puts a series of clicks, pops and shifts of sound waves together in eleven parts that sums up Vainio’s ‘thing’. Whe a gentle, slow melody and some patterned rhythms are knocked out it’s the equivalent of the cannons booming out in the ‘1812 Overture’. Vainio establishes the conditions of his music so well that small transitions like this are absolutely riveting. The CD ends with the gently cycling melody of ‘Viher’. Which may mean nothing at all to you if you’re the kind of person who needs structure and direction delivered to you on a silver platter during every moment of a recording. For me, the sounds used here and the way they are organised are more than enough. If you’re willing to sit and listen, Onko can be rewarding, maybe not immediately and probably not in any way I can explain readily. Along with folks like Bernard Günter, Minrostoria and Thomas Koner, Mika Vainio is working with such distinct sounds, low volumes and careful shifts of timbre that his real craft can be easily overlooked. Is it music? Does that matter to you? [Bruce Adams]

Angbase (net):

For those of us who would frequent art galleries more only if there was complimentary hard liquor involved as opposed to that cheap fruity sour pink wine shit, the confusing mix of tones and rumbles (and silences) that make up the half hour title track (excerpted from an installation) almost makes me re-consider my value system. Almost. Wobbly “synth” tones and mic hum which might as well be Mika leaving the DAT running in his sauna while he runs down to the corner to pick up some more raw horse meat. Disc packaged impeccably as usual, with an aura of mystery and importance destined to seduce those of us who don’t know Stockhausen from Munchausen.

Switzerland (net):

Listening to `Onko’ is a bit like listening to Morton Feldman’s piano works (i know of the 70+ m “Triadic Memories” and the 30+ m “Five Pianos”) which are very sparse or minimal and don’t appear to require any technical mastery, just tenacity and patience. `Onko’ comprises four tracks: the longest at 36m is taken from a live event performed in Holland ’96 while the other three shorter pieces are studio works from ’97. Waterfall textures and extended tones. Tone pulses, silence then static bursts. Pencil-on-table tapping, deep drones then Geiger-counter crackling. And just as you become settled in, some glitch or abrupt change will unsettle you into a different stream of thought or level of bliss. The creativity of Vainio (and others like Ryoji Ikeda, Thomas Koner and Bernard Gunther) lies not so much in their ability to generate and process eletronic sounds, but in their sense of awareness, judgement and decision-making skills i.e. when to sound or not to sound. I would describe this `Onko’ as lush, beautiful and mildly challenging. Nice cover art too – close-up pics of tropical flora.