A friend played me a piece from Alva Noto and Riyuichi Sakamoto’s joint album, Insen, the other night. It’s an incredible piece of music that requires a proper sound system to do it justice. The subtle glitches, the forlorn piano loops, the intense bass that’s quiet and menacing at the same time. Its the sort of contemplative piece that was recorded to be heard in the darkest recesses of the night or on one of those grey, rainy days when you’re feeling melancholic.
Alva Noto’s music is classed as “electronica” but it defies easy genre definitions. Insen is one of his more accessible works but other recordings are more uncompromising mathematical experiments in sound and texture. “Difficult” music – like an algebraic equation you’ve struggled to solve. His music requires patience and concentration to reveal its beauty. Pop music it isn’t. Abstraction would be an incorrect adgective to describe Noto’s work as there is method in the madness of the glitches and clicks that form these soundscapes. There’s also something quite primeval about his work despite its scientific, electrical nature. Tribal, almost.
Alva Noto is a pseudonym of Carsten Nicolai, a sound artist that uses sound as his canvas. Discarded noises from the studio form his paint and brush as he attempts to illustrate sound and electricity. He uses the principles of Cymatics or Model Phenomena – the study of visible sound and vibration. What I find intriguing are his music videos that implement abstract visuals, sequencers and desolate, nocturnal landscapes to convey a sparse mood. The images you see here are screen captures of some of his videos – beautiful, ambiguous and atmospheric. A lot like his music.