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CD Feature/ Alva Noto: "Xerrox Vol. 2"

img  Tobias

The work of Carsten Nicolai is a bridge. It spans an ocean of misunderstanding about what electronic music can and can not do and unites two territories deemed each others antipodes: The land of physical acoustics, where the pulsation of a string or the resonance of air inside a sound box are the main agents of noise creation on the one hand and the empire of ones and zeros on the other, ruled by the transmission of electric impulses and digital representations. Admiration and rejection have been his reward ever since his first album under the Alva Noto guise, if only for the fact that the majority of listeners still considers it essential for artists to decide which side of the fence they would like to plough. The whole functionality of music seemed to have been reversed as grains of sonic scrap suddenly took center-stage, rhythm was promoted to the status of leitmotif and the notions of repetition and change got confusing. When New Music formation Zeitkratzer recently interpreted some of Nicolai's pieces within a more or less traditional ensemble setting, quite a few heads were being scratched: If these were pieces of Sound Art, what was there to „perform“?

„Xerrox Vol. 2“ now takes some decided steps towards reconciliation. The naked surface and monochromatic design of „unitxt“ have gone and so have its puristic techno aesthetics and belligerent beat constructions. Spartan existentialism has made way for generous hospitality and accommodating soulfulness. If one didn't know better, these full-lengths might well have been written by two entirely different personalities: If the former was cool and bonedry, the latter comes across as lush and as radiating luminously from within. If its predecessor zoomed in on individual tracks, the new material yearns for cohesion. If „unitxt“ eschewed harmony, „Xerrox Vol. 2“ feeds from nothing else.

Texture rather than themes is what matters here: Their composition. Their complexity. Their timbre. Their inner vibrancy. All tracks are essentially ambient pulsation built on a breath of orchestral drones.  To Feldman, the dying away of a sound was seminal, for Nicolai its genesis is the focal point - the phase of it slowly taking shape, picking up pace and growing from a dim speck on the horizon into a thick, sonorous cloud of swirling sonics. Just as on some of his earlier works, but even more organically, Nicolai works towards a unified continuum which transcends and fends off surgical analysis: There is no conflict or dissociation between the sharp, stingy cuts and glitches penetrating the membrane of these chordal washes and its liquid content any more as all musical elements relate to one another like internal organs of a bodyless entity.

Artists providing samples for the record include like-minded spirits, whose oeuvre has equally oscillated between two stools: Stephen O'Malley, Michael Nyman, Ryuichi Sakomoto. Their spirit is clearly palpable, although it neither manifests itself in recognisable quotes or stalwart collaborations. Rather, they appear to have been included for their implicit referential quality as vague images reflected by a myriad of mirrors, containing prismatically shifted representations of their original. Or like adding a faint, all but imperceptible aroma of wine to cake dough. If the tracks containing their source contributions do sound like co-operations after all, then this only goes to show that communication, not trivial subsumption is Nicolai's aim.

And yet, the naysayers will claim that the overwhelming immediacy of „Xerrox Vol. 2“ is mainly the result of expensive studio technology and a stupendous mastering job: Some of these frequencies seem to virtually spill out into the room like waterfalls in HDTV ads, with some Bass undulations constituting veritable fields. That, as it seems however, is exactly Nicolai's point. Production and composition are just words, rendered useless by the cutaneous sensuality of this album. Sound is not just a technical specification in the booklet credits. It is archetypical. It is comforting. It is movement. In short, it is emotion transcending the tools used to evoke it: In the work of Alva Noto, physical acoustics and electric signal ways alike are both very much like musical instruments in the hands of a gifted performer.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Alva Noto
Homepage: Raster Noton Records

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