Mika Vainio’s work as one half of Pansonic, as well as collaborative recordings such as 2012’s Venexia with Kevin Drumm, Axel Dörner and Lucio Capece, often goes hand-in-hand with descriptives like “harsh” or “abrasive”, but his solo work as Ø has long displayed a more introspective side, befitting a man of such wide-ranging influences and interests. However, up until Konstellaatio, the music of Ø was still largely based on a skeletal form of minimal techno, its softer edges anchored in rhythm and forward motion. On Konstellaatio, however, Vainio takes a more considered, quasi-ambient approach, preferring to explore textures and the boundaries between heard sounds and silence.
The idea of quietness in music has been garnering quite a few column inches of late, and its merits are a subject of increased debate. Vainio neatly sidesteps any overstatement or insistence on silence, simply because it at no point feels like his core consideration. Rather, the spaces between sounds on Konstellaatio serve as keenly placed interludes that adeptly frame Vainio’s every audible interjection. And, whilst this is the most mellow I’ve ever heard Vainio get, it’s not some contrived genre exercise, and he is quick to reinforce this, as familiar bursts of ear-shattering static and other austere jolts frequently perturb the drifting course of the album’s album hour-plus duration.
Opener ‘Elämän puu’ is a sinister sequence of distant synth clouds and tingling chimes, insterspersed with murky bass throbs and warmer – yet, somehow, equally unsettling – organ drones. Here Vainio impresively manages to conjure up an evocative and atmospheric tableau using his usual limited palette of electronics, with extremely minimal means. Indeed, despite rarely cranking up the decibels, by second track ‘Kesäyön haltijat’, Vainio has already woven a tapestry of creepy, almost phantasmagorical resonances, a burst of saturated static making way for plodding snare and kick drum rhythms over which wisps of shimmering chimes hang like lurid cobwebs.
It’s this strange balance that makes Konstellaatio both so beguiling and – occasionally – frustratingly elusive. It’s an album best listened to at high volume on headphones, so as to better take in the ever-shifting textures and their surgically precise arrangements. As with Pansonic, albeit with less ferocity, he toys with frequencies and pitch with a subtle compositional dexterity and thoughtfulness that will certainly please electronica theorists and erudites, and offer much to write and discuss in lofty terms. But there’s as much humour and playfulness to Vainio’s music, and too much analysis detracts from the immersive pleasure of revelling in the grim and brooding atmosphere of Konstellaatio. A concentrated listen exposes the senses to hidden menaces, lurking as undercurrents beneath the pregnant silences and haunted shivers of synth.
Konstellaatio is a monochrome work of stark contrasts. Its sounds emerge from shadows fleetingly, before dissolving once again to leave tense, bleak emptiness. It rewards multiple studious listens in order to piece together Vainio’s deceptively rich vocabulary, but could equally serve as the soundtrack to an expressionist horror film. As such, it’s a hard album to pin down, but trying to do so is an experience in and of itself.