TO:43 – Mika Vainio “Kajo”

CD – 9 tracks

Track list:

1. Kytkentä / Connection
2. Osittain / Partly
3. Kolmas Píírí / Third Area
4. Leslie
5. Lähetys / Transmission
6. Aleksandrovsk
7. Aaltomuoto / Waveform
8. Unessa / In Sleep
9. Takaísin / Returning


[RE] (Web):

A studied, formal CD. Vainio’s fourth (under his name) takes the tabula rasa back to the rasa. “Kajo” intimates that there was, once, much more there, but that selectively, swaths were erased, leaving only throbbing bass tones that seem to emanate from the floorboards, and piercing hums that ebb and flow, build and stop abruptly. Rotating webs of static throw soft nets of sound that pass quickly across your hearing field: it’s more fun than listening to your dishwasher, but not by that much (then again, I find the dishwasher _very_ calming). Fans of stark, pointillistic material, take note. 9 tracks, 54 minutes. (Vainio is one-half of Pan Sonic, fyi)

VITAL (Netherlands):

This is Mika Vainio’s second solo CD; the first ‘Onko’, also on Touch, crept into my body like unobserved liquid, and this latest has the same effect. It’s a swirl. A hiss. A sigh. A whine. A roar. It’s all the fine detail you would normally only notice in a film after staring at each frozen frame individually. Visual as fuck. Delicate as angel hair. As quiet as a nightforest when there’s nobody around to hear it. Spacetoads yurp, stones slither, the wind plays strange tricks on the trees. Minerals crawl and cluster, assuming shapes of things they saw in past lives, then slowly deteriorate, making new chemical alliances. Rainpings pong with curt reverb, dancing like flocculet trapped for a moment in an eye of a storm. One hand claps. Cables snap like twigs. Distant trains blur across the tundra. Fridgehum bellows. Electronic yedakis crack and cackle. If circuitry could speak this might be the secret backfeed language it would use to mutter and whisper operational commands. Bask in this sea of new sound, never too loud, and fresh and glinting in the silver light. [Mark Poysden]

Bizarre (UK):

You’ve been lying in a snow-trench in the wastes of Siberia for two days, alone, glued to your radio, listening out for orders from above. Instead, all you hear is fluctuating hums, static, interference. By the fourth day, the beauty in these sounds becomes overwhelming and you hope to hear nothing else. Kajo opens with a recording of Vainio walking towards a machine and switching it on, drawing us from the outside, in. The following journey is atmospheric, sparse and beautiful. A soundtrack to something.

More than just Pan(a)Sonic without the bass oscillations, Mika Vainio’s second solo outing still bears obvious connections to his work with Ilpo Vaisanen on their last album release under that name as A, a recording which featured moments of unsettling stillness and texture among the distened beats and noise. Naturally, it’s also more about making a different kind of sound to Pan Sonic’s – wavering, exploratory, semi-consciously aware of the noises Vainio is mixing into the listening environment. Headphones are one thing, but putting Kajo among the hummings of fridge mechanisms, birdsong, passing cars and train horns is as vital as settling down for an intense listen in a darkened, soundproof room.

Turn it up loud, and some of the pieces here become truly unsettling, as wafts of electronic movement summon pre-linguistic eminences of the occasionally threatening kind. Like watching a dog settled in front of a TV documentary on the habits of wolves, there are moments when the human listener becomes alert to the sounds associated with raising hackles and before much warning is given, gooseflesh is everywhere. What dogs make of it is less obvious but they might not find it too relaxing either.

Circling drones, ratcheted trickles of noise, static in search of its own level and then up to eleven – there’s enough on this disc to provoke night sweats and nervous glances in the gloom, especially when it sounds like there’s something breathing, or more disturbingly, sniffing through the speakers. Development is a matter of awaiting the next visitation with apprehension, then revelling it its own definition of purity of any particular form. Somewhere along the way it takes transcendent steps into carefully-gleaned vibrations, shimmers in the distance and slow-pulsed hums, soothing without making the easy step into ambient mush, thanks to that underlying threat (perhaps intimation is a better term) of deeper modes of acoustic menace. An ultrasonic sine wave can do no physical harm, at least not on most home stereos it can’t – so let Mr Vainio into the fabric of any chosen environment, and maybe he can make it a little less linear, and that little bit more unfamiliar again.


Kajo is the second CD by Miko Vainio, one half of the acclaimed Pan Sonic. As Vainio is Finnish I would take it that the album title and all the track titles are in Finnish. With translations in English provided which with the ambiguity of Kajo as Glow/Shimmer we conjure an intriguing image. The packaging is of a mock LP – card board sleeve with an inner card sleeve. The cover showing a bowl of fruit, the inside a night sky and shimmering – working on enhancing the idea of Kajo.

Kajo starts with Kytkenta/Connection, the sound of a device turned on, we record footsteps and the humming of “on”. This forms a bass drone, with a hissing variable edge, sustained with mild crackling. From there the sound works on variations of those effects – at times a more intense hum, and others a distortive crackle. After 4 minutes it turns off and the hum quickly pitchshifts, clicking us into the more interrupted hum structure of Osiltain/Partly. Though after a slight bleep this focuses into a tighter sound – a spiralling mechanism, rising in approach. Then shifts again a metallic, mechanical rhythm – factory components observing a consistency. A clicking motion comes in through the background so that when the rhythm fades it is evident. The feel of the sound is vibrant and we can hear mild bleeps beneath the palpable surface.

The sound of Kolmas Piiri/Third Area is a sustained deep hum. Slowly vibrating as its frequency shifts, higher and louder. Peaked we move into more of a strumming, metal hum, looping with a vibrating cymbal sound added – sheer, perhaps glowing brass. A cloudy sound expands, slow motion blast cloud, carrying dust outward. The closer it comes you can feel a humming, then you hear the clump f the actual blast and its over. Continuing with Leslie/Leslie and a stroking sound being overwhelmed by an oscillating vibration. Slow cycle of bass, inviting mutation in various offshoot tonal qualities. This hypnotises the listener – instilling a strange fascination.

Lahetys/Transmission is a babble of electronic signal – verging on static as much as it attempts to go for a bleeping melody. The on/off bass tones win out – their shifting regularity forming simulations of notes in melodic construction. Maintaining Leslie’s fascination well in a seemingly simplistic manner. Aleksandrovsk/ Aleksandrovsk follows in a piercing motion, edge against edge generating shrill noises. Over the turning surface and droning background – with a strike we are left with a high pitched drone, wavering as it peaks in cyclic motions.

Layering quickly we find ourselves in Aaltomuoto/Waveform – shimmers and drones leading to a more focused core. Static edged sighs rise and fall as breaths, which then collapse with a milder, but slightly higher frequency wave. Something mechanical/electrical is turned on – the gears turning in conjunction with the hum of the power source. Moment of discord brings us back to a more subdued form – close your eyes and focus on the hum. Slowly your patience is rewarded and other details return in the form of a second hum – working on a different frequency and pitch. Though in time that layer takes over, but in doing so the sounds become further apart – suggesting distant calls of night creatures.

A clicking-ping triggers the dull rumble of Unessa/In Sleep. The fluid flow of particulate solid down the side of a moutain – rushing into expansion. Echoing into the distance, the rain starts to fall – a lightly heard lashing of external downfall. Going through a more subdued stage we are surprised when melody emerges – light notes increasingly strung together – though in an uncluttered, unconcerned manner. Which leads us to the final track Tukaisin/Returning – a spiralling glitch piece. Rotating plate colliding with obstructing arm, with an increasing aggression, till it is overwhelmed by a level humming. Sustained through tonal focus and a mildly scraping outer edge. Seeming to embody and emphasize the perception of Kajo in sound.

In some ways the motion within tracks is as pronounced as the transformation of one piece of Kajo to the next. Which isn’t to suggest Kajo suffers from incoherence, as there is enough consistency to deny that idea. Whether it is a case of being more fully under Vainio’s power or not it would seem that Kajo gets better as it goes on. The glowing warm hums of the middle tracks like Leslie and Lahetys really seeming to pull you in. Kajo is a sound work, concentrating on tones and shifts in the magnified moment of sound. At times this can be melodic and really can glow – but tunes are not really the intention or what you will find.

Spain (Web):

Este segundo disco en solitario del componente de Pan Sonic, Mika Vainio, existe en ese indeciso espacio entre el orden y el colapso, donde las máquinas empiezan a fallar y se rompen. Desde el zumbido amplificado de un sonido muy tenue, vagamente audible, en el tema que irónicamente el finlandés titula “Connection”, hasta las secas oscilaciones de “Ruturning”, un sentido de caos atenuado amenaza en cada corte. Vainio a transformado los sonidos de crispados alambres, superficies arañadas y generadores defectuosos en un hipnótico y meditativo flujo. Quizás los más destacable de este disco, y tiene muchas cosas destacables, es que Vainio no ha tenido la más mínima tentación de ofrecer un espectáculo ensordecedor de cara al aficionado más gamberro. “Kajo” es, dentro de su indiscutible radicalidad, un disco libre de excesos.
Tranquilo, aislacionista hasta el límite de la nada, donde Vainio ha querido entrar en un mundo de sueños, el equivalente acústico de secuencias que se pueden encontrar en los films del director soviético Tarkovsky, evocando el sentido maravillosos de la desorientación espacial en un viaje laberíntico a traves de varios lugares. “Kajo” es un disco impresionante, una obra de un artista que esta en la plenitud de su obra, una obra austera e inteligente, llena de texturas y efectos acumulados, la continuación lógica del “Radioactivity” de Kraftwerk; y lo bueno del caso es que mucho de esta obra ha sido parido en Barcelona. Bien.

Intuitive (Spain):

This is the 2nd solo release from the member of Pan Sonic, recorded throughout 1999 in his home workshop in Barcelona, as well as Lary 7’s New York City studio. What starts out as an exercise in concrete techniques (Mika, presumably, walks into the room and activates whatever it is that makes that… sound) slowly morphs into a series of machine-tone studies, rife with loose/lost connections and omnipresent 50/60 cycle hum. From there it’s a settling tour through Mika’s now familiar landscape, all constructed out of the same gray matter (slight, pulsing derivations, electric mist) we’ve found so fascinating all along.

City Newspaper, Rochester (USA):

Semiacoustic Nature
Mika Vainio, Kajo, Touch (TO:43) & Hazard, Wood & Bridge/Field, Ash International (Ash 5.4/5.5)
Later this summer, former Cabaret Voltaire member Chris Watson will receive an award of distinction in the digital music category at Austria’s Ars Electronica festival. But Watson hasn’t released a shred of digital music since stepping out from Voltaire 17 years ago. Instead, he’s been traveling the world, making field recordings of various natural phenomena. His second solo disc — the work for which he is receiving the award — is called Outside the Circle of Fire, and includes meticulously recorded animal sounds from locations in Zimbabwe, Scotland, Costa Rica, England, and elsewhere.
Ars Electronica 2000’s jurors are right on when they argue that the sounds he captures “would be just as well received in a concert of digital music.” Recordings of a male capercallie display or the songs of corncrakes could be outtakes from the latest Autechre album — off-kilter rhythms, foreign timbres.

Joe Banks takes a similar approach to pre-existing ambience for his Disinformation project, constructing dense collages of solar radio emissions and VLF broadcast data. He’s capturing sounds that occur naturally, functioning outside of a deliberate compositional framework.

These recordings provoke a ton of questions from their listeners: What’s the difference between background “noise” and music? How can we stamp authorship on naturally occurring sounds? It’s hard to get these questions, and the work of Watson and Banks, out of your mind when confronted with recent releases by Mika Vainio (Pan sonic) and Hazard (aka Benny Nilsen). Taking almost the exact opposite approach of Watson and Banks, Vainio and Nilsen construct mostly digital soundscapes that sound environmental.

Recorded in the forest of Kungs Norrby in Sweden, the source material for the Hazard release (a nifty package including one record and one CD) is the sound of trees rustling in the wind, sticks and branches crackling and snapping apart. Nilsen took the source material into his studio, adding wavering drones and beds of light static. The finished product is a remarkable simulation of a larger-than-life aural atmosphere. Low-end bass rumbles like thunder as electrified rain slowly crashes to the ground. Distant machinery tears the forest apart.

Vainio’s Kajo isn’t as blatantly natural, but it employs similar musique concrète techniques. When the CD starts you can hear Vainio walking into his studio, eventually flicking on the power switch to the machine that will serve as his sound source for Kajo. The music here is extremely minimal and thoughtfully composed; Vainio seems intent on capturing the glitchy nuances of his machine and constructing razor-sharp frequency waves and electronic mist. Pan sonic fans should note that Vainio calls Kajo the first album he’s completely satisfied with.

All of these recordings — the Watson, Vainio, Hazard, and any Disinformation material — will serve as excellent introductions to the digital-natural music-making fold. And many of them are beautifully packaged, including typically stunning photographs by Jon Wozencroft. [Chad Oliveiri]

Weekly Dig (USA):

Mika Vainio is one half (the other is Ilpo Vaisanen) of the Finnish duo Pan Sonic and Kajo is his fourth solo release. On the disc, the title of the album is translated from the Finnish as glow/shimmer, but the music here does not so much glow or shimmer as crackle, hiss and hum. As with his work with Pan Sonic, Vainio uses unusual, almost primitive electronic instruments (I imagine them looking something like the equipment in Dr. Frankenstein’s lab) to create a very palpable electric music. Like his work with Vaisanen, Vainio’s music is based on the accidental, such as the sounds of machines being turned on, warming up, malfunctioning, etc. On Kajo, Vainio focuses on the highs (although to a lesser extent than his previous solo release Ydin), rather than exploring the innards-shaking lows sometimes employed by Pan Sonic. Kajo is spare, devoid of beats, minimal and restrained. Indeed, the mood is rather meditative, even with the pops, hisses and other sonic debris. From the “machine on” sounds on ‘Kykenta’ (Connection) through the hypnotic, oscillating ‘Leslie’ and the ghostly and poignant ‘Unessa’ (Returning), Kajo is beautifully austere. Zen for noiseniks. [S. Bolle]

Under the Volcanoe (USA):

New from England’s Touch label is Panasonic’s Mika Vaionio’s second solo CD, Kajo, a recording of much greater textural depth than any of his past worl. The new disc focuses on the creation of disquieting atmospheres through subtle, imaginative use of hushed electronics. Each of these nine meditative pieces creates visions of stark, sureal landscapes like those that unfold in one’s nightmares. Kajo is a carefully conceived, understated work, not nearly as difficult or complex as the above Mego releases, yet equally alluring. [Paul Lemos]

OOR (Netherlands):

Biosphere is een overlevende van de ambient-rage van een jaar of 6 terug, een ambacht die hij nog steeds als geen ander beheerste. De muziek is als de foto’s (van onder andere zijn Noorse woonplaats Tromso) op de hoes en in het boekje : ijzig, desolaat, statisch en op zijn best van een beklemmende schoonheid. Maar af en toe kleeft er iets gemakzuchtigs aan de ambient formule van Geir Jenssen, die zijn gebruik van ‘veldopnamen’ van veel creativiteit blijk geeft, maar de mist in gaat als hij ergens een stijf en plichtmatig drum ‘n’ bass-beatje uit het doosje trekt. Zijn muziek drijft op keurig afgeronde hoeken en dat is bij Mika Vainio wel anders. Ook zijn nieuwe roept ietwat gemengde gevoelens op, maar dan om omgekeerde redenen. De helft van het Finse duo Pan Sonic trekt kale geluidsvlakten op, die van een stekelige hoekigheid blijken. Klanken verschieten subtiel van kleur en richting, een proces dat aandachtige beluistering verdient en dan voor het eigenlijke drama in de muziek blijkt te zorgen. Vainio is echter iets te streng in de leer, wat Kajo tot een zwaar verteerbare aangelegenheid maakt. Maar om zijn onstuitbare exploratiedrang is Vainio me net iets liever dan Biosphere. [Jacob Haagsma]

Outburn (USA):

:Pan Sonic ambience of electronics side project:
Mika Vainio is one half of connection jostled electronics technicians, Pan Sonic. With Kajo, he stretches the boundaries of what Pan Sonic create by allowing the electronics room to breathe. For example, though a track like “Osittain” contains many electronic variables, shifting between lightly crackling loops tinged with pulsing nuances, the presentation is less jittery, more fluid, than most of Pan Sonic’s work. “Leslie” loops warm electric oscillations that slither into the crevices of the mind, the illusion of blood flow rather soothing. “Lehetys” opens with what sounds like garbled static from amplified light bulbs, before a duo of smooth blips dodge a third, more subtly intrusive tone, one that seems covered in fur (?!). Indiscriminate electronics gather as one to form a streamlined hum during “Waveform.” The hums are caressed by tones of unease that press outward from within the speakers, never quite breaking through. After a brief pause, tones like splinters of edgeless plastic try to puncture the insides of my ears, to no avail. As highlighted by all of the sounds here (between abrupt injections of electronic discharges), Mika’s journey through the labyrinthine, subtly electric, circuitry alleys and byways, is nothing less than compelling. [JC Smith]


Too frequently the noises and hisses of the modern environment are removed from their sources, layered atop one another in search of a disembodied sonic soundscape. Mika vainio instead skillfully captures the tinging of static, the humming of distant machines and the sonic roar of empty space. Vainio (of Pan Sonic) invokes the materiality of noise, allowing the listener inside the nuances of his sound mutations. Tracks such as ‘Kolmas Piiri’ (Third Area) forge upon the senses piercing feedback and the aural devastation of distant-sounding church bells in a post-apocalyptic city. The weight of lazy machinery on ‘Leslie’ and the interrupted bleeping of ‘Osittain’ (Partly) are the satisfying superlative moments of this successful release. [Kathleen Maloney]

Alternative Press (USA):

Thrumming, buzzing and searing its way into your mind, Mika Vainio’s Kajo represents a bold step forward for ambient music. Vainio is best known for the alternatingly (sic) abrasive and intricate beats and textures he produces as half of Pan Sonic, who march alongside Autechre at the foremost avant-garde of abstract post-techno music. On his previous solo works, Vainio’s pursued the more atmospheric side of things, from the gray-scale static of Onko to the deliberately difficult mechanics of Ydin. On Kajo, the once brazen Finn explores a new degree of subtlety, wrapping gossamer tones around the pained hiss of last centur’s machines.

Vainio’s music is not for airports, but rather the age of airports; a soundtrack to displacement and the unsettling divisions at the core of teleconnected living. The polar opposite of easy-listening music, Kajo makes you work for it: taking a cue from Francisco Lopez, the closing track is all but inaudible when heard on a home stereo with the windows open. But by closing that window, shutting out the outside world and accepting Vainio’s invitation, you may just discover a rare space of groundedness sheltered from the wired world outside.

Muze (USA):

As Pan Sonic’s more introspective half, Mika Vainio is given to austere solo meditations on the sonic space in which machine and man meet. Vainio hears something sublime in the rafter-rattling hum of industrial engines and electrical wiring. He wants us to hear it, too. With his third set of industrial hymns, Vainio divines the deus in the machinery. KAJO humanizes the cold acoustics of an abandoned power plant, giving sound an expressive female face (“Leslie”), a warm heart (“Third Area”), and anthropomorphic attributes (the wearied ambience of “In Sleep” and “Returning”). Vainio eavesdrops on the slumberous thoughts of electromagnetic coils, conductors, and miles of snaking conduit (“Connection”, “Transmission”), sympathetic to their restlessness in disuse. As a picture emerges of KAJO s utility works as a living and feeling body, Vainio s stark presentation imbues the impression with a certain note of sadness. He recognizes a wounded soul within the concrete and metal and offers the electronic elegy of “Waveform” as solace.