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Sometimes known as Ø, Mika Vainio was the co-founder of Finnish techno duo Pan Sonic (known as Panasonic until 1998), whose innovative brand of blistering rhythmic noise and uncompromising minimalism transformed them into one of the most popular exports from the Northern European techno underground.
Unlike Pan Sonic's harder, comparatively more dancefloor-oriented gear, however, Vainio's Ø work tended more toward the ambient and experimental, wedding sparse machine noises with shifting rhythms, stubbornly unmusical sonic textures, and assorted channel separation weirdness. His work under his given name followed a similar path, although some of his later recordings and collaborations, particularly ones produced after Pan Sonic's 2009 breakup, flared up to the intensity level of the duo's harsher moments.
Vainio's Ø releases stretch back to the early '90s (predating his association with Panasonic by a few years); his earliest work appeared on the Corporate label before landing with Finnish techno institution Sähkö in 1993, where he released most of his material, including three albums and a handful of EPs. The increasing popularity of Panasonic found Vainio giving less and less time to his Ø work, but he did manage to release some of his most accomplished solo material in 1996, on his second Sähkö full-length, Olento, which featured the most effective fusion of Panasonic's austere minimalism with less immediate, more challenging structures. Demand for Vainio as a remixer grew, with revisions of tracks by Björk and Tactile both appearing in mid-1996.
He continued to record as Tekonivel (for Sähkö sublabel Puu) and as Kentolevi for Patrick Pulsinger's Cheap label; titles issued under Vainio's own name include 1997's Onko (Touch), 1999's Ydin (Wavetrap), and the following year's 20 to 2000 (Raster-Noton) and Kajo (Touch). Wohltemperiert, the second collaboration between Ø and Noto, aka Carsten Nicolai, appeared on Raster-Noton in 2001, followed in 2002 by Invisible Architecture 2 (Audiosphere, in collaboration with Fennesz). Vainio's next solo album was 2003's Touch release Sokeiden Maassa Yksisilmäinen on Kuningas (In the Land of the Blind One-Eyed Is King); this was followed by collaborations with Fennesz and Christian Zanési (GRM Experience, Signature) and John Duncan and Ilpo Väisänen (Nine Suggestions, Allquestions). He resumed the Ø alias for 2005's Kantamoinen and 2006's Aste (both on Sähkö), while 2006's Revitty [Torn] appeared on Wavetrap under his given name.
Following 2007's "Ikuinen" single and 2008's Oleva full-length, both released as Ø on Sähkö, Pan Sonic disbanded in 2009, releasing two collaborations with Keiji Haino in 2009-2010 and final studio album Gravitoni (Blast First Petite) in 2010. Vainio devoted much more of his time to solo and collaborative work under his own name, with Aineen Musta Puhelin (Black Telephone of Matter) appearing on Touch in 2009. Raster-Noton released Time Examined, a double CD/book documenting Vainio's installation works, that same year. 3. Telepathics Meh In-Sect Connection, a collaborative album with Kouhei Matsunaga and Autechre's Sean Booth, appeared on Important Records in 2010.
A new Ø album titled Heijastuva appeared on Sähkö in 2011, with Vainio's Life (...It Eats You Up) arriving on Editions Mego soon after. The year 2012 saw the release of Vainio's solo album Fe3O4 - Magnetite on Touch, as well as Venexia, a collaboration with Kevin Drumm, Axel Dörner, and Lucio Capece, on Pan. A heavier, noisier solo album titled Kilo appeared on Blast First Petite in 2013, and Touch released Monstrance (in collaboration with Joachim Nordwall) the same year. Vainio collaborated with Arne Deforce for a drone collaboration titled Hephaestus, released by Editions Mego in 2014. Ø's Konstellaatio surfaced on Sähkö that year. In 2015, Touch issued Halfway to White, a book of photography by Joséphine Michel that included a CD by Vainio. Also that year, Vainio collaborated with guitarist Franck Vigroux for the full-length Peau Froide, Léger Soleil, released by Cosmo Rhythmatic. In 2016, iDEAL Recordings issued Vainio's soundtrack to the film Mannerlaatta. Sadly, Vainio passed away on April 12, 2017, at the age of 53. ~ Sean Cooper & Paul Simpson, Rovi