Pan Sonic, Kesto

Michael Heumann The Library Discography Haunted Ink Haunted Ink Review Archive The Inkbottle

Mute/Blast First
Released: 2004

With one fell swoop, Pan Sonic (Finns Mika Vainio and Ilpo Väisänen) has not only doubled its recorded output but has also secured its position among the greats of electronic music. Kesto is a sprawling four-disk, 238-minute journey that manages to take elements from the group's earlier albums (the punchy beats of Vaiko and Kulma, the esoteric minimalism of A and Aaltopiiri, the noise of V and Rude Mechanic, and the Teutonic horror of Vainio's solo work) and fuse them together with new and unexpected sounds (Erkki Kurrenniemi-like space noises, Throbbing Gristle-like industrial waste, and William Basinski-like droning ambience) to create a work that resists all attempts at simplification or categorization. In short, they've created a monster, and it's eating my brain.

Kesto's four-disk structure was inspired by 20th century artist Francis Bacon's use of triptych (or "work consisting of three painted or carved panels that are hinged together"). Bacon often would create three variations on a single theme, intending them to be viewed together. His 1944 triptych, "Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion," presents three variations on a twisted, pulverized body that seems to consist of only a mouth, a neck, ribs, and an ass. Together, the paintings provide three distinct pictures of the same figure, offering us a fuller appreciation of a sense of hopelessness and agony than a single picture ever could.

It's important to understand Bacon's use of triptych to appreciate what Pan Sonic is doing on Kesto. The first three disks on this work (the fourth is different, as I'll explain later) all function as different views of the same musical ideas, ideas that are embodied in the work's title, which can be translated as both "strength" and "duration." The strength emerges as carefully controlled noise, rolling and piercing into each track in different ways for different effects. The duration, meanwhile, emerges not only in the work's sheer length but also in the long, slow, plodding electronic tones that curl back on themselves and underlie so many of these tracks.

Taken as individual works, the first three disks function like a triptych, harnessing the same core sounds yet interpreting those sounds in fundamentally different ways. Hence, on each disk, you'll hear different combinations of punchy beats, ear-splitting howls, murmuring tones, crumbling noise, and a whole lot of random snaps and whirls. For example, disk one's "Rähinä II" (or "Mayhem II") sounds like Ministry, complete with propulsive, dirty beats, screaming noise, and guitar-like chops. Disk two's "Virtamuuntaja" ("Current-Transformer"), by contrast, sounds more like an industrial ISAN, combining propulsive beats with low, sweeping tones, snaps and pops, and an occasional crash. Finally, disk three's "Käytävä" ("Corridor") removes the beats and replaces them with acre after acre of slowly-building, slowly-expanding tones that build up and up and up until they become some kind of bastard brother of a melody (crunching and mumbling and roaring like a crack-induced bowel movement). Each of these three tracks, in short, creates music out of noise, but each one does it in a different way. And I think these tracks are representative of what you'll find on each disk. Disk one is largely made up of noisy, aggressive, beat-driven songs; disk two contains some noise and some beats, but they are less aggressive and more atmospheric than the first disk's; and disk three gets rid of the beats almost entirely and focuses on creating atmospheric noise.

Of course, there are exceptions to these general rules; and, to some extent, these disks succeed because of those moments when the music suddenly makes a left turn into a new, unexpected area. For example, halfway through the noise and beats of disk one, there's "Rimu," a tiny track that features a few atmospheric chimes, very little noise and no beat. Track nine on disk two, "Altistus," is made up almost entirely of Raymond Scott-like electronic noodling sounds. And the first track on disk three begins with, of all things, the sound of a toilet flushing! Each of these small moments works to startle the listener, to bring a change of pace to the music, and to reenergize what follows.

And then there's disk four: a single track that repeats a melodic motif over and over again (with slight variations) for sixty-one minutes. There are no beats or grinding noise or lumpy hums; there's just a rather scary, hypnotic melody that floats around and around, shimmering and swirling. It's similar to Edward Artemiev's soundtrack to Solaris (Tarkovsky's, not Soderbergh's mediocre remake), complete with the sense of impending horror. It's a scary track, and it's unlike everything on disks one through three. It's also unlike anything Mika Vainio and Ilpo Väisänen have ever recorded, either together or separately. And yet it is probably the most amazing work on Kesto. This is not simply because it's so different that it forces listeners to rethink to all that came before it. It's also because the music is so utterly beautiful--in a surreal, almost frightening sort of way.

Kesto is an overwhelming, unbelievable adventure, but it's not for everyone. It's loud, it's intense, and it's even a bit scary (especially that last disk). But for those whose taste runs towards loud, intense, and scary music--or those of you who simply want to hear the best electronic artists at the pinnacle of their careers--then this work is an absolute must.

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