Joséphine Michel & Mika Vainio – The Heat Equation

An equation requires both sides of an expression, no matter how complex the operations, to be precisely matched. It is what gives mathematics, and by extension, science, its essential logicality and precision. It is the quintessence of balance and predictability, allowing clarity and certainty even in the most chaotic and unpredictable of scenarios.

On face value, it might be hard to see what it is about French photographer Joséphine Michel’s subdued imagery and the sounds of the sorely-missed Icelandic avant garde electronic musician Mika Vainio that gives The Heat Equation that necessary sense of balance. The pair were collaborators (Halfway To White, 2015) and had discussed another symbiotic project in 2017 just prior to Vainio’s untimely death. The Heat Equation is not necessarily that project, but it could have been, taking the form of a book and accompanying CD and featuring an essay on music by Jeremy Millar.

Michel’s earnest photography, presented in harsh monochrome hues, concerns itself principally with nature and science. We see images of birds flying above a shore so dark that it looks like the interior seams of a coal mine, plaintive shots of solitary figures against the backdrop of harsh, barren terrain, and other, less easy to determine things: the amorphous aftereffects of moving lights, looking for all the world like live cultures writhing under a microscope. These photographs exist without explanation, with no narrative, no timeline, just the barest of footnotes from their curator. In a world where we are obsessed with geotagging out every move and using locational data as a means of expressing our passage through life (the inference being that if you didn’t put it on Instagram, it didn’t happen), such absence is initially hard to understand, before taking on a comforting ambiguity.

Vainio’s absence is, perhaps, harder to make sense of. Since his formative years with Panasonic / Pan Sonic, Vainio had operated at the vanguard of a form of electronic music that relied on subtle impulse and an almost heavy metal approach to sound design. Arriving at a time when the syncopated rhythms of dance music had been dissected and shattered into a sound field of seemingly randomised pulses, glitches and white noise, Pan Sonic dealt in a coldness that was less about their Finnish roots and more about the starkness of their electronic noise.

The hour-long CD hidden in The Heat Equation’s luxuriant art book exterior is audio evidence of Vainio’s performance at Ramsgate’s Contra Pop Festival in August 2016. In part, the music is resolutely familiar as a Vainio suite in its palette of sources – the glitches, the nagging bass drones, the snatches of found sound and muted overheard voices. These vignettes were intended for Vainio’s next release for the venerable Touch label, but were stalled and considered entirely lost following his death in April 2017. Whether they were completed pieces or simply a document of Vainio working on new ideas is, like Michel’s photographs, devoid of specific explanation.

What emerges, strangely, is a not a coldness per se, nor a warmth – after all, it would be hard to ever conceive of Mika Vainio ever producing music that gave you a fuzzy feeling of contentment and security. Sure, there are moments where the only melodic input comes from carefully-controlled white noise, existing in a no man’s land of jarring distortion and grainy texture and beats that are merely beats because they provide a vague sense of forward momentum and order, but there are also moments of ambience and a less frantic approach to his essential glitchiness. Many of the pieces progress on a strangely delicate path, one segment thirty-six minutes in sounding like a haunting take on The Nutcracker wherein familiar melodic gestures are fractalized into razor sharp splinters.

It would be easy to regard The Heat Equation as an epitaph, a eulogy or a full stop. Instead it acts as a multi-disciplinary project that resides in an artistic hinterland where music and imagery both complement and rally against one another. The essential ingredient of an equation is the equals sign that balances either side; in the case of The Heat Equation, that sign is a haunting postcard of Vainio shot by Michel, the only true collaborative moment in a project created across the distance of life and absent friends.

The Heat Equation by Joséphine Michel and Mika Vainio is released November 1 2019 by Touch.

Catref: codex2
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

2K – ***k The Millennium (Blast First single, 1997)

2K '***k The Millennium' 12" artwork

blast first / mute records | 12″/cd bffp146t / bffp146cdk | 29/09/1997

‘What Time Is Love?’, ‘3AM Eternal’, ‘Last Train To Trancentral’ – all songs synonymous in my memory with my first love affair with music generally and dance music specifically. The late eighties, and the ensuing dance-tinged early nineties were a great time for an electronically-minded boy to be getting into music, and The KLF played a major role in piquing my curiosity. Later, at university I managed to track down original 12″ versions of the re-released ‘What Time Is Love?’ and ‘3AM’ and, in my first and only attempt at DJing, managed to beat-mix the two tracks perfectly using the campus radio station’s decks and cross-fader. Good times.

On the back of the three classic singles above, I bought The White Room, and was hugely disappointed; the straightahead dance tracks were nowhere to be seen, and the whole album hung together disjointedly. The anarchistic / artistic events that followed, the dead sheep and thrash-metal with crutches and rifles version of ‘3AM’ at the Brit Awards, the Tami Wynette version of ‘Justified And Ancient’, the whole Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu faux-cult thing generally; all of this left me thinking The KLF a little silly, and it altered my affections toward the triumverate of singles above.

Nevertheless, by 1997, my addiction for buying all things Mute and a renewed interest in the ‘mythology’ I suppose you’d call of it of The KLF, I was really excited by the prospect of this single. Adopting the moniker 2K, Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond reunited specifically for one single on Blast First, following the inclusion of ‘What Time Is Love?’ on the Jeremy Deller-compiled Acid Brass album.

With the combining together of the music I loved as a teenager and my favorite record label, I was pretty excited about this single. I remember vividly the day I bought this. I also bought the second volume of Nick Cave‘s King Ink lyrics collection, and it was during a period where futures were being decided and graduate placements were being applied for. There was a rising level of noise around the coming new millennium and the unifying celebrations that would be had that year, the Millennium Bug was being lauded as the end of modern civilisation, and this single aimed to tap into that excitement. And just like most of those supposedly exciting things, none of which lived up to their hype, neither does the 2K single.

The central ‘point’, if indeed there is one, of ‘***k The Millennium’ is the line ‘F**k the millennium / We want it now‘, which is meaningless and also fundamentally impossible to achieve. The duo also take the opportunity – chortle, chortle – to open the track with a shouted ‘1997 – what the f**k’s going on?‘, referencing the album from a decade before with which the ‘controversy’ that often circled Cauty / Drummond (and which now seems childish) began.

At almost 14 minutes, ‘***k The Millenium’ is an in-joke taken too far, combining pointless sloganeering and the same form of pompous spoken word passages that ruined the rocked-up version of ‘America : What Time Is Love?’. The only redeeming feature of this song is the usage of a section of acid-house burbling from the original, rare as hen’s teeth, ‘What Time Is Love?’; but when placed alongside shouted nonsense, horns and repeated expletives one has to ask: what’s the point? Far better to track down that original classic than indulge this disappointing nail in the Koffin.

Alongside a single edit, and a radio-friendly swearing-free version thereof, there’s an alternative version of the Williams Fairey Brass Band‘s take on ‘What Time Is Love?’. With so much rear-view mirror action going on, one is left with the inescapable notion that this was a parting shot from a duo who were looking back fondly on their achievements from yesterday, themselves wondering where the ideas went and what the point of this single actually was. (The 12″ includes a Pan Sonic remix of the Acid Brass track which is probably worth owning; I still don’t know whether I’ve got it or not.)

Track listing:

12″:
A. 2K – ***k The Millennium
B1. Acid Brass – What Time Is Love? (Version K)
B2. Acid Brass – What Time Is Love? (Version P – Royal Oak Mix by Pan Sonic)

cd:
1. ***k The Millennium
2. Acid Brass – What Time Is Love? (Version K)
3. ***k The Millennium (Radio Edit)
4. ***k The Millennium (Censored Radio Edit)

First published 2008; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence