Celebrating Headphone Commute’s many years of content, I am highlighting albums that I covered 15, 10, and 5 years ago. I do this by going back through my archives and selecting a favourite for the current month. But I’m not just copying and pasting the words here; I’m also refreshing these write-ups a bit to bring them up to date, and, of course, I’m listening to all this music! And so should you!



Mika Vainio was a prominent member of the acclaimed Pan Sonic duo (with Ilpo Väisänen). Besides his more established minimalist alias, Ø (pronounced “ohm”), he has also released under Kentolevi, Tekonivel, and Philus monikers [check out the Kolmio EP]. Helsinki-based Sähkö (which stands for “electricity” in Finnish) has built up a respectable catalogue of abstract, minimal, and experimental releases since its launch in 1993 [the same year that Detroit’s Basic Channel was launched]. These featured the output of various projects by Vainio and Väisänen, with an occasional release by Jimi Tenor and even a 12″ by Mike Ink (Wolfgang Voigt). Oleva (which means “The Existing”) features the familiar signature of Vainio’s style of digital wire hum, low rumbling saw-tooth distortions, dark industrial stabs, and pounding minimal beats. Although the album features a few purely ambient tracks, as well as a couple of abstract drony explorations, the proliferation of tight rhythmic components makes this release a more headphone-oriented experience [as opposed to an archive of experimental audio installations]. Oleva is an ongoing exploration into noise and silence alike. Yet another excellent addition for the avid minimalist collector.

2024 UPDATE: Sadly, Vainio passed away in April 2017 at the age of 53. His output is highly revered and celebrated across the entire spectrum of electronic music, and I am incredibly impressed at how well the quality of this recording has held up for over 15 years – a testament to his advanced foresight in production and sound design. Oleva was his very last solo release as Ø. His further output consisted mainly of collaborations with Franck Vigroux – see Peau Froide, Léger Soleil (2015) and Cosmo (2018), both released on Cosmo Rhythmatic.

Otto A Totland


Although I prefer to hear most albums through my audiophile-grade hi-fi, there’s something magical about Otto A Totland‘s Pinô when I listen to it through a pair of headphones. I often feel like I am eavesdropping on a late-night recording session in Nils Frahm‘s studio, my shadow just around the corner, my presence over Totland’s shoulder, my ear on the piano’s wood. I pick up on each delicate hammer touch, each intricate move of its innards, each barely audible breath of the human behind the instrument. How can these sounds flow through those hands? And like a lost apparition, I float through the strings and the hammers, through keys and through fingers, through cryptic synaptic responses, into something that someone calls “Otto”, into something I can’t explain. With eighteen fragile solo piano compositions, indeed recorded at Frahm’s Durton Studios in Berlin, Totland’s Pinô instantly propels to the top of my all-time favourite albums. I knew this from my very first listen, and I know it even now, upon its hundredth repeated play. I am especially excited to see this gem appear on Sonic Pieces, a Berlin-based label that charms with every single release, from hand-made packaging to an exquisite curation by Monique Recknagel.

2024 UPDATE: Pinô was the first instalment in the trilogy of albums that collectively spelt out the phrase “pinô – the lost companion“. Totland continued to collaborate with Erik Skodvin on their Deaf Center project, with albums originally released on Type and then reissued on Skodvin’s wonderful Miasmah. I spoke with Otto in the fall of 2023, and he told me that he was in the middle of recording a brand new piano album! I just confirmed its completion with him, and we’re due to see its release in the summer!

Black Swan

Sentimental Drift

Black Swan is an alter ego of an anonymous composer from New York. Don’t try to dig too much into the background, but spend your energy on listening instead. Nearly every single release on his very own label has been covered on Headphone Commute, and I was even happy to host a mix called Music for Masquerade in 2012, so it’s fair to say that I’m a big fan. Black Swan composes the type of cinematic and dark music that perfectly describes the mood and theme of Music For Capricious Souls Adrift In Noir-fi Best of the Year list, on which Black Swan appeared more than once. On Sentimental Drift, the piece that completely captures this feeling is a favourite, titled “The Black Room” – it’s deep and chilly and extremely bleak – exactly how I like it. The nine preceding tracks demonstrate the introspective capacity of ethereal ambient, which leaves you with a feeling of elation filled with euphoria and bliss. On “Closure” we hear an unearthed dialogue of a father leaving a message for his son, preserved in memory forever on a record. Perhaps that is what Sentimental Drift is all about – a wander into the past through nostalgia and whim and then a turn towards the future to go on. Be sure also to check out Black Swan’s The Quiet Divide (2011) and Heaven / Aeterna combo (2012) – all of my favourites.

2024 UPDATE: There has been more fantastic music from this mysterious creator of drones for bleeding hearts, the most recent of which, titled Repetition Hymns, appeared on the revered Past Inside The Present imprint in 2021, plus a remastered tribute to the KLF‘s Chill Out, self-released on Bandcamp as Alone Again With The Dawn Coming Up. Also, a little birdie told me that Black Swan is currently wrapping up a new album, From The End of Time, scheduled to be released on PITP in January 2025.