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CD Feature/ Alva Noto: "Unitxt"

img  Tobias
Clicks, cuts, skips, hickups, glitches – does this sound like poetry to you? And yet, ever since the earliest days of his Alva Noto project, colleagues and audiences alike have connected with a lyrical element in the music of Carsten Nicolai. Far away from the dictum of jambs, trochees, dactyls and anapests, his cinical incisions have inspired the romantically inclined, his abstractions offered solace to the hopelessly yearning: “Revep”, “Insen” and especially “Vrioon” with Ryoiyi Sakomoto were languidly flowing streams of whisper, crackle and piano, blooming nostaliga born in the moment, fading away into the dim yellowed shimmer of an old picture postcard.

As Klaus Kinski proved with his provocative propagation of French writer Francois Villon, however, not all poetry is harmony, regularity and beauty. On “Unitxt”, Nicolai seems to suggest a similar train of thought. All defining elements of his music have remained intact, as have their recognisable purity and cleanness. But on this occasion, he has used them to create a music which doesn’t endear but attack, which chooses to hit the solar plexus and not the heart, which constantly reconfigures itself in charismatic, chanelled and positively chaotic transformations instead of discreetly pussyfooting from one tender moment to the next.

This, to sum it up then, is physical music. Robotically sexy music. Complexly conceived and yet surprisingly straightforward dance music. It is chunky music, with bass drums bouncing all over the place, digital bleeps screaming out morse codes and distorted melodies burning themselves into the listener’s brain. It is music for clubs, for strobe lights, for fog banks made of dry ice. Beats are not just essential to this music, for large parts of “Unitxt”, the beats are the music, every single emanation adding to or subtracting from the metrum. In a word: It is essentially Techno, in all its glory and all its shining simplicity.

This, however, is not where it ends, but rather where the notion of poetry begins. For somewhere in the maelstrom of cooly crafted grooves and skeletised arrangements, a transformation takes place that lifts the pieces from their mere functional plateau to a different, deeper and multi-dimensional one. Often, a single element will be enought to warrant this changeover: A bubbling Wah-Wah, casually draped on top, will evoke memories of Jazz, a gossamer impulse-drone will suddenly well up from underneath a slowly simmering percussive pattern, with myriads of tiny particles constantly buzzing from the left to the right of the stereo image.

The underlying technique of composing all music from a shared pool of sources and on a fixed grid of 120 bpm evokes a strong sensation of coherence, while the seemingly infinite recombination process provides for unexpected twists, turns, treasures and terminologies. As the album progresses, it is almost as if Nicolai were forcing it through a series of reincarnations, with each track subconsciously commenting on previous ones and subsequent pieces hatching from the accumulated information supplied by its predecessors. This feeling is fortified by the fact that “Unitxt” has been conceived as a continous work, with no breaks between individual tracks – and by the inclusion of so-called “source code solos” culled from the sessions, which can be added to the music at will by the listener, allowing for a potentially neverending series of new combinations.

Only on “u_07” and “u_08-1”, collaborations with writer Anne-James Chaton, does the album really offer tangible verses in the original meaning of the word. On the former, Chaton reads out random notes from Nicolai’s vita, on the latter, he delivers selected numbers from the Fibonacci Sequence and by a paradox logic these two tracks, gripping and catchy bodymovers, are possibly the least lyrical contributions on the album. Poetry, after all, comes into being where you least expect it: In clicks, cuts, skips, hickups and glitches – as well as in the storm of beats and polished rawness that defines “Unitxt”.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Alva Noto
Homepage: Raster Noton

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