So, after seventeen years Mika Vainio and Ilpo Väisänen are laying Pan Sonic to rest, although they are keeping their options open by claiming that the project is in ‘depp freeze’. Clad in black, Gravitoni is an epitaph for one of the most challenging and adventurous electronic acts. It’s a fitting one too.
Pan Sonic have never been about soothing electronica or anything approaching lush soundscapes. They have been about electricity, its raw power and moulding that into sound. They have been about the natural rhythms in wavelengths of sound, and exploring extremes of pitch and volume. Their roots have always lain in the pioneering work of post-war electronic composers – using oscillators and various kinds of analogue contraptions to generate sound. In recent years that has developed into an interest in the raw sound of electricity – the hum of generators, the harsh fizz of white noise, raw hot metal and the extremes of sound.
Gravitoni contains some of the noisiest and most fractious music they’ve ever created, with sheets of metallic noise and punishing volume. Opener Voltos Bolt sounds like amplified electrocution. The gentle oscillating rhythms of yore give way to beats that hammer the brain into pulpy mass, and nightmarish drones screech with something that resembles gigantic industrial circular saws slicing through steel plate like paper. Radio static and amplified fizz make their presence felt. Trepanation is an apt title for one tune (It refers to an ancient medical practice of drilling holes in the skull as a perceived cure for everything from migraines to mental illness). At volume, through headphones, that’s exactly what it feels like is happening. But noise is only a part of the story.
By dealing with extremes, Pan Sonic have never been afraid to explore microsounds, floating eerie waves and strange clicks and creaks around black holes of silence. The brilliant Dream of Vainamoinen is a dark subterranean piece that has sustained glassy notes, drips and echo to make it sound like a haunted sewer. Hades avoids an all-out noise attack, but goes down dark ambient route, with deep, distant drones and the splash and fizz of liquid metal drops. And a slow, black heartbeat.
Gravitoni concludes with two nods to the past. Twinaskew someone else’s, Pan Finale their own. Twinaskew is like a munched up, toned down version of Warm Leatherette with a side order of radio opera. Pan Finale is like a bigged up dance remix of Urania, one of their earliest and most characteristic works. The beats are phenomenal. The drones are crushing. The fade to a test tone is actually quite moving – the sound of a life extinguishing and the end of a truly great band. Of course, no one’s died, and there’ll no doubt be plenty of new music from the pair in various guises. But Pan Sonic is their legacy, and few are finer. Gravitoni is a thrilling way to cap it.
It’s out on Blast First Petite.