"Vakio" is Pan Sonic's debut album, way back when they went by the name 'Panasonic' and Sami Salo was a member of the group. "Vakio" seems to get some of the most mixed reviews with some embracing its nod towards experimental techno, and others hearing it as noisy hacking. Having heard every album, single, EP, and available live recording, I put rank it in the middle of their output. It's not their finest hour, but it has more going for it than some of their more stripped down EPs. There's more going on here than on the "B EP" and there's greater variety than on "Osasto." It's no "Kesto", but it's still pretty great.
I can't really express how perfect the opening track is. "Alku", the first track on Pan Sonic's first album, is the most basic sound in existence - a pure sine wave. The sine wave plays for about 30 seconds before another sine wave in the sub-audio frequency band begins to rhythmically modulate it. The first thing listeners tend to complain about is this opening track. If you're not prepared for it, I suppose it could be annoying like an alarm clock or a hearing test. But if John Cage has taught us anything, music is much larger than what we find in quiet concert halls. Maybe this isn't your idea of music, and that's a reasonable position to take. It IS music to me though, and to many people.
From there, things pick up quickly with "Radiokemia", an up-tempo number with lots of 808 bass drum, noisy bursts of sound, and rhythmical synth patterns. The tracks are not big on melody or anything close. They deal with rhythm and texture. There's always a distinctive ambience surrounding the music, whether it's some sort of endless dub delay or a reverb drenched electronic snare sound. Periodically, we get a sustained sound, but it's usually some sort of filtered noise generator, rather than a tone with a clear pitch center. Once in a great while, a fragment of melody wafts up from the depths to great effect.
There is much more challenging music out there. Alva Noto and Ryoji Ikeda come to mind, as do noise artists like Merzbow or Masonna. Compared to some things I've heard, "Vakio" is practically a 'dance' album. Actually, you could dance to some of this, if you were in a club with a DJ crazy enough to mix it in his set. Miss Kittin used "Hapatus" on her "Radio Caroline Vol. 1" mix CD.
Who will enjoy this? The presence of powerful beats will probably make this a little more palatable than an album such as "A", but that doesn't mean it will appeal to every techno fan. The most interesting element of Pan Sonic's music is always the amazing and unique sounds they get from their custom-built analog gear. Yeah, there's a lot of 808 kick drum, but all the other sounds are from another planet. It's an aural treat, perfect for headphone listeners who enjoy subtlety.
Open-minded techno fans should give this a shot. I would recommend "Kulma" or "Kesto" over "Vakio" as an introduction to Pan Sonic, but since this has a stronger connection to techno, it would be a fine place to start. It is, of course, highly recommended to fans of experimental electronic music. This is seriously weird, but rewarding music, for those that enjoy music from the fringe. Industrial fans will also probably appreciate the machine-like rhythms and noisy blasts of sonic energy.
"Vakio" is a great debut from one of the few groups that is privileged to exist in a class of its own.