LINE_044 | CD | Edition of 2000 (out of print) | April 2010
Four years after the release of his dedicatory for record (LINE_026), Carsten Nicolai as alva noto returned to assemble a second recording of compositions devoted to a number of creative figures including industrial designer Dieter Rams, filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky and German dramatist Heiner Müller.
01 garment for a garment (2007)
02 villa aurora for marta feuchtwanger (2003)
03 pax for chain music (2003)
04 argonaut for heiner müller (2007)
05 stalker for andrei tarkovsky (2008)
06 sonolumi for camera lucida (2007)
07 interim for dieter rams (2007)
08 t3 for dieter rams (2007)
09 early winter for phil niblock (2006)
10 anthem berlin for the kingdom of elgaland-vargaland (2006)
11 ans for eugeny murzin (2007)
12 argonaut-version for heiner müller (2007)
Opener “garment”, inspired by a translucent textile designed in connecting sections, may serve well as a metaphor for this collection of tracks that take as their source of inspiration shifting zones and in-between places, links in chain-letter music, luminous bubbles, fragments of orchestral strings, and slowly decaying resonances. In “anthem berlin” alva noto delivers a national anthem for artists Carl Michael von Hausswolf’s and Leif Elggren’s fictional land of Elgaland-Vargaland. Rather than relying on traditional orchestration, he snaps off a section of a marching band’s snare drum roll and lets the percussive rattle reverberate to a tonal hum. “ans” acknowledges Russian Evgeny Murzin’s research into obtaining sound from a visible image and vice versa—a central aspect of Carsten Nicolai’s work as a visual artist. For this recording, alva noto was invited to draw onto the glass plate of the ANS synthesizer, producing the modulating sound heard on the composition. “interim” and “t3” were composed for a prize-giving ceremony in honor of designer Dieter Rams. Performed live at the event, the background audio layers of “interim” recalled the alva noto xerrox project in which peripheral sounds are elevated to a conscious composition. In “villa aurora” we find ourselves among the dying moments of a held chord, until seconds later the lid of the piano is dropped shut, amputating its echo forever.
As we listen we are almost aware of this record having breath, as a watchful vacuum draws in influences before exhaling them back into the music. This ebb and flow marks time over for 2‘s reference points, reminding us that creativity is perceptive of that which lies at its edges and, similar to language, absorbs it within. — Andrew Cannon
02: field recording with piano decay recorded at Villa Aurora / Pacific Palisades. 03: for Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Chain Music. 04: commissioned by BCN 216. 06: recorded for Evelina Domnitch and Dmity Gelfand’s Camera Lucida project involving the phenomena of sonoluminescence (DVD LINE_030). 07+08: composed for the prize ceremony of the German Design Award for Dieter Rams. 09: contains a sample of Phill Niblock—thanks Phill. 10: national anthem for the Kingdom of Elgaland-Vargaland—premiered at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin on October 21, 2006. 11: drawing recorded live with the ANS Synthesizer at Theremin Center, Moscow State Conservatory. 12: arrangement by Max Knoth. Cover image: Carsten Nicolai. milch 110 Hz. 2000 / courtesy Galerie EIGEN + ART Leipzig/Berlin and PaceWildenstein.
Carsten Nicolai (a.k.a noto / alva noto / aleph), lives and works in berlin and chemnitz, germany.
“in Nicolai’s work neither music nor visual art are by-products of one another—the one calls the other into being”
– Rob Young, Modern Painters, 2006
Berlin based visual artist/electronic musician Carsten Nicolai performs and records using the pseudonyms noto and alva noto. Described as ‘metal machine music of a most beautiful kind’, Nicolai’s powerfully synaesthetic live performances combine minimal electronic sounds and real-time visualisations. Nicolai’s works captivate consistently through their elegance, simplicity and cool technicism. alva noto has performed in many of the world’s most prestigious spaces and has won a number of highly regarded prizes for art and electronic music. He has collaborated with the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto, Blixa Bargeld, Ryoji Ikeda, Mika Vainio, Michael Nyman and Thomas Knak. With Olaf Bender and Frank Bretschneider he founded the pioneering label ‘supergroup’ Signal.
In my opinion the emphasis of self-generating processes is a reaction to the claim to plan everything. Many of my works underlie a rule and introduce a model as organiszing sceme to recognize chaotic movements. I am interested in both moments, they lie really close together. (…) A major impact on my work had the article Active mutations of self-reproducing networks, machnes and tapes (1996) by Takashi Ikegami and Takashi Hashimoto. They wrote about loop strcutures and self-organisation. Loops get ceated by mathematical processes whose results at the same time are the source for new calculations. By constant re-calculating mistakes occur, build up changing patterns and become the origin of new intelligent processes. — Carsten Nicolai
Two absolutely brilliant releases on the Richard Chartier-curated LINE imprint, a label that seems to usually focus on the more process/conceptual end of modern electronic music, but here releasing a pair of albums that pack an enormous emotional wallop... Next is the latest Alva Noto release For 2, Carsten Nicolai's second for LINE thus far. There's a very diverse array of sounds at play here, with perhaps a bit less of the glitch he's known for in favor of warmer synth tones and celestial sounding harmonies. Surely one of the most personal of his releases to date, each track has a dedication, from Chain Music, to Andrei Tarkovsky and Camera Lucida, providing an intriguing glimpse into his creative process and inspiration. Cello's devolve into bells, Presque Rien-esque soundscapes seem to acquire extra dimensions, and the dedication to Phil Niblock, "Early Winter," slowly accrues a magisterial air that is undeniable. Honestly one of the man's most compelling releases to date, which is saying a lot!
Can't believe its already four years since reviewing 'For' by Alva Noto, a series of nine pieces dedicated to other people, 'specifically for someone or for a project that for one reason or another remained open ended' - see Vital Weekly 534. Back then it was a sort of re-introduction to his work, of which I had lost track in the years before. After that I still didn't keep with the vast output of Alva Noto, so it's a bit hard to say how this new set, of twelve pieces, fits into his development as a musician. I only heard a few of his works after that, and it seems that he more and more moves away from the click and cut music, and that ambient like music becomes more and more important. Having said that: its only based on what I picked up, and through an in-depth study. The music here is still based on sine wave like sounds, deep bass thumbs, high peeps, all along with deeper washes of ambient like music. Still this is very much recognizable as Alva Noto music.
(Vital Weekly, NL)
A second album of dedications from Carsten Nicolai, once again presented by LINE. Perhaps reflective of how varied this artist's output has become over recent years For 2 represents an incredibly broad range of styles and approaches, though the music always manages to retain the all-important sonic signatures unique to the Alva Noto sound. Over the past decade or so Nicolai's music has transcended the hyper-minimal rhythmic motifs that defined so much of his early work, exploring the possibilities of collaboration, live instrumentation and reconstituted orchestral ambience among other things. Accordingly, on For 2 (which collects music made between 2003 and 2008) you can expect surely the most expansive repertoire of sounds than has ever been gathered for a single Alva Noto album, something that's in-keeping with the diverse set of dedications - works for Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, fellow minimalist composer Phill Niblock, industrial designer Dieter Rams and dramatist Heiner Muller are all included, prompting greatly diverging works from Nicolai. The first piece isn't dedicated to an artist, or even a human being at all, but rather a translucent textile. This composition seems to cut itself into sections, with Noto's trademark glitching wave patterns joining with string ensemble-style chord movements and harsh, industrial sounding noise inserts. Following on is 'Villa Aurora (For Marta Feuchtwanger)', an immensely subtle field recording that captures the decay of a sustaining piano chord before it's snuffed out by the closing piano lid, leaving only the bustle of exterior environmental noises. This isn't the last time on the disc that Nicolai draws our ears to the narrative-warping potential and all-round beauty of music in decay: 'Anthem Berlin' (dedicated to Leif Elggren and Carl Michael Von Hausswolf's fictional Kingdom Of Elgaland-Vargaland) plays a similar trick, taking a sample of a militaristic marching band and spiralling the snare's sound off across several minutes of sustaining, treated resonance. There's a surprisingly strong melodic component to this selection too, with the wonderful 'Stalker (For Andrei Tarkovsky)' and two different versions of 'Argonaut (For Heiner Muller)' - one of which is arranged for live classical instrumentation - both exhibiting a keen ear for minimalist harmonic progressions. Much of this music is caught in a continual dialogue between outright beauty and more uncompromisingly conceptual, experimental pursuits. At one end of this we find the synaesthetic, Evgeny Murzin-inspired visual-to-audio synthesizer piece, 'Ans', while at the other there's the quietly heart-wrenching 'Early Winter', which samples a Phill Niblock recording - slowly and elegiacally evolving what sounds like a looped orchestral passage while sonar-blip electronics sound off in the background. A hugely impressive account of Carsten Nicolai's talents as a musician and artist, For 2 comes with a massive recommendation.
Stunning new selection of tracks from Carsten Nicolai aka Alva Noto. There's a very diverse array of sounds at play here, with perhaps a bit less of the glitch he's known for in favor of warmer synth tones and celestial sounding harmonies. Each track has a dedication, from Chain Music, to Andrei Tarkovsky and Phil Niblock, providing an intriguing glimpse into his creative process and inspiration.
For almost his entire career, Carsten Nicolai has – politely and with utmost patience – tried to dismiss claims about the supposedly conceptual nature of his oeuvre. It hasn't been easy. With his work circling around fundamental sound sources like sine-waves and digital artifacts including hiccuping glitches and corrupted bytes, his work has always seemed a minutely planned metaphor for the gradual penetration of human society by machinal data-streams. Interviewers would habitually open with a tongue-in-cheek reference to his past as a gardener (an involuntary assignment after having been discharged from military service), ignore his rejection of academic formalism (Nicolai initially started out making a name for himself in the German underground gallery-scene) and then turn towards their favourite topics: What message was behind the transmedial component of his performances? How to define the relationship between context and composition? What kind of philosophy drove his passion for drama, cinema and the visual arts? When Nicolai revealed that he frequently opened word documents as images and emails as sound files to make use of their raw data for his pieces, this only seemed to confirm the popular image of a sympathetically eccentric intellectual to whom all art, underneath its perceptional surface, was essentially nothing but ones and zeros.
When Nicolai released the first batch of for-tributs on LINE in 2004, some of the commentators must therefore have been flabbergasted that it included an homage to a highly influential duo all-too-often neglected in elitist circles: Ernie and Bert. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, however, consisted in the fact that although the connection between influence and composition wasn't always trivially straightforward, even the seemingly impenetrable, absolute and analytical art of Alva Noto apparently drew its inspiration from sources made of flesh and blood. Although For opened up the door to Nicolai's soul wider than ever before, however, it didn't prevent him from continuing his forays into the world of elevated background noises (Xerrox), microtonal patchworks (Unitxt) and contemporary composition (Electronics with Berlin-based New-Music-pioneers Zeitkratzer) over the next few years. Perhaps he was simply right all along with one of his most to-the-point observations: What may sound visionary, futuristic and cold today may be considered classic and beautiful in ten years time. The world, it seemed, had simply caught up with the music of Carsten Nicolai and was finally able to appreciate its hissing bleeps as the electronic manifestation of a bleeding heart.
As For 2 now proves, this conclusion is just as appealing as it is imprecise. Again, Nicolai has payed tribute to a selection of his personal heroins and heroes. Among them are relatively unsurprising choices such as Russian film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky, for whom Edward Artemiev realised some haunting analogue-synthesizer scores, as well as Tarkovsky's compatriot Evgeny Murzin, whose advances into the translation of visual stimuli to sound is today considered groundbreaking – coincidentally, both Murzin and Artemiev worked with the ANS synthesizer Nicolai is operating here. The literary department, meanwhile, is represented by Lion Feuchtwänger's wife Marta and seminal German dramatist Heiner Müller, whose „Hamletmaschine“ has been set to music by Industrial luminaries Einstürzende Neubauten and composer Wolfgang Riehm among others.
The musical representations of these equally strong and vulnerable, both passionate and obsessive personalities are as diverse as their characters suggest: "Argonaut (for Heiner Müller)", presented in two different versions, is an ultra-minimal, surreal yet tender sequence of variations over a stoic harmonic pattern. "Stalker (For Andrei Tarkovsky)"“ opens with cosmic snow and a monologue from the homonymous movie, then settles into an extended coda in which sensual Glockenspiel-tones and fragile frequencies coalesce into a romantic melody. "Villa Aurora", finally, its name a reference to the historic home of Marta and Lion Feuchtwänger which would turn into a meeting point for German emigrants in Los Angeles during World War II, is nothing but a peaceful one and-a-half-minute-short field recording taken on location at the premises, with the remnants of a Piano-chord slowly fading into the sounds of chirping birds.
The rest of the album is made up of more typical contributions, even though, at the same time, the dedicatees may be considered rather unusual: Opener "Garment", for example, praises the virtues of a "translucent textile designed in connecting sections“. "Pax" is an ode to the wonderful tradition of chain-music, occasionally known under its Surrealist-moniker of "Exquisite Corpse". And "Anthem Berlin" was written as a proposition for the national anthem of Elgaland-Vargaland, the artistic kingdom proclaimed by Carl Michael von Hausswolff and Leif Elggren. A blend between early clicks-n-cuts-era Alva Noto and his more recent excursions into deep, warm and cinematic Ambient, these pieces simultaneously breathe intense calm and antsy, subcutaneous suspense, the music overflowing with almost sculptural basses and crystalclear bell-timbres and displaying a threedimensionally arched sound image.
Quite clearly, Nicolai's influences seem to be directly shaping his output. When dealing with character-scetches, his palette is based on melody, harmony, acoustic colours and tangible development. If, on the other hand, innate objects or abstractions are under his microscope, the outcome has a pronounced textural quality to it, defining singular spatial and arrangemental laws. This opens up a new interpretational perspective on the development of the Alva Noto catalogue: With their focus on robotic precision and cool purity, his first releases may simply have been the result of an interest in reflecting upon more philosophical and intangible questions. The more his oeuvre has expanded to include personal reflections over time, the more it has incorporated an emotional factor Nicolai has always considered an integral part of his art anyway.
For someone who has always regarded music as a universal language, For 2 represents yet another powerful step towards an open-ended cosmos of sound and composition. On the other hand, this artistic galaxy opens a whole new set of questions. Carsten Nicolai may not be through with explaining his art after all.
Following a triumphant 2009 and two of the most notable releases of the year (Xerrox Vol. 2 and Utp_ with Ryuichi Sakamoto) Carsten Nicolai, aka Alva Noto, returns with a second installment of compositions devoted to creative personalities from a number of different fields. Coming four years after the first one, For 2 features compositions dating as far back as 2003, although most are from around 2007.
For 2 confirms that Nicolai’s music has become more and more orchestral in recent years, for lack of a better word, and not as heavily anchored in the glitchy beats of Transform and the Transall series. Although the micro beats, squelches and static continue to be among the defining characters of Noto's music, there’s more going on all around them than there used to be. Of course, Nicolai has been rubbing up against modern classical music in his collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto going back as far as 2002 so this is no sudden revelation. But it feels like there's more weight to his recent solo output as well. His two Xerrox volumes are a case in point.
So is opening track "Garment (for a garment)". The sonic identity is intimately familiar – sonar beeps, white noise and minimal glitch. But halfway through, the cellos enter, providing the emotional depth that has often been absent from Nicolai's sterile soundscapes. It’s a terrific track and simply put, the blend of the electric and organic just sounds great.
Understandably, since For 2 is a compilation of material composed for many different occasions, there’s a lot of variety on offer. There’s the field recording-based "Villa Aurora (for Marta Feuchtwanger)", with birdsong and airplanes flying overhead. The dark and oppressive "Stalker (for Andrei Tarkovsky)" features Russian dialogue, presumably from the film of the same name, and is reminiscent of Kreng's L'Autopsie Phénoménale De Dieu. On the other end of the spectum, there's the bright and luminescent "Sonolumi (for Camera Lucida)" and the rhythmic beeps of "T3 (for Dieter Rams)". But on the whole, the tone of For 2 is contemplative and atmospheric.
This is a fascinating and rewarding collection and it makes you want to dive in and explore the connection with the people to whom the music is dedicated. I must admit that most of the names are unfamiliar to me, although I know Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky and have heard of Phil Niblock. But the others drew a blank. So I thought it would be worthwhile to flesh out the context a bit. As Carsten Nicolai said when I interviewed him last your for Headphone Commute (see Two and a Half Questions with Carsten Nicolai):
"I think, personally, that it’s not really necessary for the listener to know the full background of the concept… The listener can just enjoy and listen without any preconception… If you want to know more, if you want to have a really detailed view, you can go deeper and you can explore several levels of the piece. It can be enjoyable to be able to see the background of the piece…"
So while it’s certainly not essential to know the stories to enjoy the music, it does add an extra dimension. And those familiar with Carsten Nicolai's music know that "concept" is virtually his middle name. I have therefore added some info on the devotees here below, which may be of interest to those wishing to "go deeper". It's well worth the journey.
For 2, four years on from its predecessor, finds Raster-Noton curator Carsten Nicolai devoting another release in his prolific alva noto project to a series of pieces dedicated to creative types, including industrial designer Dieter Rams, film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky and dramatist Heiner Müller. Nicolai has been moving alva noto increasingly – at least in most releases – further away from the freeze-dried austerity of its initial clicks’n’cuts glitch orientation, forsaking labcoat scientist for ambient-flirting neo-soundtrack sounds (see, e.g., Xerrox 1 and 2, and, before that, collabs with Ryuichi Sakamoto) deploying live instrumentation and reconstituted orchestral ambience. There is still a considerable presence herein of his early Raster signature: it’s in the obvious sinewave-derived sonics, low-end thrum and throb, high-end bleeps, and glitchy detritus, but there’s a fuller sound palette applied and a consequent lyricism largely absent from earlier work. "Garment (for a garment)" sounds the hybridisng keynote from the off, with string ensemble-style chord movements set against trademark glitching wave patterns and neo-industrial infusions. The styleclash is again apparent, oustandingly so, on "Sonolumi (for Camera Lucida)". A strong melodic current recurs, notably on the impressive "Stalker (For Andrei Tarkovsky)." Throughout there’s a tension between a more traditional aesthetic of beauty and hard-nosed experiment, the latter represented by the audio engineer Evgeny Murzin-dedicated synth cameo, "Ans,” the former by the solemnly elegiac "Early Winter (for Phill Niblock)," whose looped orchestral passage finds a bedfellow in chiming sonar-blip noises off. A divergent but ultimately satisfying and coherent collection.
For 2, Berlin-based Carsten Nicolai's second dedicatory recording, offers a refreshing change from the cool, cerebral Alva Noto style that has come to identify much of his work, like that issued on the Raster-Noton label. As with the first For collection, the new one brings together compositions Nicolai created in honour of influential figures such as industrial designer Dieter Rams, filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, composer Phil Niblock, and German dramatist Heiner Muller. Listeners expecting a further variation on the Alva Noto style might be disappointed to discover that many of the settings eschew beat structures altogether and are fairly elaborate in their arrangements; those who have long hoped to hear Nicolai open up his style will find the recording considerably more satisfying.
"Garment," which takes its inspiration, oddly enough, from a translucent textile designed, has Alva Noto fingerprints all over it in its sine tones and minimal beat structures of pops and clicks, but it also distances itself from the austerity of that signature style by the inclusion of strings that drape themselves over the pulsating rhythm base. Similarly, Nicolai's signature bass and sine tones thread themselves through "Sonolumi," but such elements almost disappear when they're overlaid by a wave of ambient shimmer. The absence of beat structures—so indelibly a component of the Alva Noto work —renders settings such as "Villa Aurora" (which incorporates outdoors field recordings) and "Pax" (for Ryuichi Sakamoto's Chain Music) almost unrecognizable as Nicolai pieces. "Cosmonaut" would be more like it, judging from the crystalline ambient character of the setting created for Heiner Müller, "Argonaut," while the Tarkovsky and Niblock pieces, "Stalker" and "Early Winter," are brooding, finely wrought ambient settings. A subtle dash of humour surfaces in the "Anthem Berlin" Nicolai composed for the Kingdom of Elgaland-Vargaland, the fictional land founded by artists Carl Michael von Hausswolf and Leif Elggren, when a few seconds of a standard marching band snare roll are elongated into a smeary, speckled thrum.
Two pieces Nicolai composed for a prize-giving ceremony in honour of Dieter Rams (best known for his Braun designs), "Interim" and "T3," on the other hand, are exemplars of the Alva Noto style, but in this case it's appropriate, given how much the minimal sensibilities of Nicolai and Rams coincide. But they're the exception to the rule on this welcome departure from the Alva Noto persona. It's telling that the recording ends with an additional version of "Argonaut" that finds arranger Max Knoth recasting the piece as a chamber orchestra setting—further evidence of just how different the album is from Nicolai's Raster-Noton material.
Das gegenüber dem Vorganger For von 2006 etwas blassere Coverbild täuscht: Die zweite Compilation von Einzelwerken Carsten Nicolai's, die jemandem gewidmet sind (oder einer Sache, wie im ersten Stück "Garment"), ist klarer, farbiger und spannender geraten. Meist um 2007 enstanden, zeigen die Sticke einen Alva Noto, dessen Palette linearer, durch repetitive Tonfolgen in Bewegung gesetzter und romantisch getönter minimalelektronischer Texturen aufgeblüht ist. Klarer, weil die Vagheit digital-glitchiger Flächen verschwunden ist, auch die Formen sind klarer konturiert, aus dem Verdichten ergeben sich Melodien; und farbiger und spannender, weil mehr ausprobiert wird: klassiche Instrumente, diverse klaine, inspirierte Vignettenm griffige Rhythmen, Alva Noto's Tonsprache, seine Romantisierung des Sinustons, ist über die Jahre einfach so (selbst-)verständlich geworden, dass seine Handschrift auch bei grösserer Offenheit und weniger Strenge unverkennbar bleibt: Diese Pltte is keine, die pro programmatisch oder konzeptuell wirkt, schon gar nicht radikal. Dem Musiker Alva Noto wird sie damnit gerechter als so maches Haupwerk.
Es liegt Carsten Nicolai aliases Alva Noto vermutlich am Herzen, mit seiner reduziert-digitalen Musik, die sich mit Basswummern und hochfrequentem Zirpen vor allem in den Extrembereichen des Klangspektrums bewegt, auch an andere Kunstgattungen anschliessen under diese reflektieren zu können. Kein Wunder, schliesslich is ja als bildender Künstler ebenso erfolgreich wie als Musiker. Und so sind denn im Laufe der Jahre Tracks—Auftrasarbeiten, Hommagen, Kollaborationen—aus anderem Antrieb als nur dem enstanden, interessante Musikstücke machen zu wollen. Eine erste Runde dovon hat schon Nicolai vor vier Jahren auf Dem Album For zusammengetragen. In dieser zweiten Runde finden sich unter anderem akutische Denkmäler für den russischen Regisseur Andrei Tarkowski und den Dramaturgen Heiner Müller, eine Arbiet für Ryuichi Sakamoto's Chain Music Project oder zwei reduzierte Hymnen auf den legendären Designer Dieter Rams. Eine Sammlung eleganter Akustikskulpturen, beseelt von den Besungen.
Come nel primo For pubblicato quattro anni fa, Carsten Nicolai raccoglie gui una serie di brevi composizioni dedicate a persone od occasioni diverse, da cui traspare in piu punti l'interesse del berlinese per l'interazione tra suono e immagine e per il mondo del design. Alcuni brani sono rapidi appunti personali che solo le note di copertina riescono a contestualizzare, altri risplendono invece del rigore e della lucida creativita tipiche dell'autore: vedi le sensuali texture glitch de "Garment", dedicato ad un tessuto traslucido, l'elegante minimalismo melodico di "Argonaut", le gallatiche sospensioni di "Stalker" (per il regista Tarkovsky), l'ardita concettualita di "Anthem Berlin" (un rullo di tamburo "stirato" fino a divenire un solenne soundscape). Un album di una piacevolezza e varieta raramente riscontrabili tra i maestri della nuova elettronica.
This is the second alva noto (aka Carsten Nicolai) album to compile tracks dedicated to artists and projects that have inspired Nicolai in his own work. Both a composer and sound installation artist, the range of Nicolai's interests is reflected in the diversity of his dedicatees: microtonal/drone composer Phill Niblock, Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, dramatist Heiner Müller, and industrial designer Dieter Rams. Musically too, there's much variety to be found here. Composed as they were between 2003 and 2008, For 2 isn't going to offer a unified experience in the same way as, say, last year's Xerrox Vol.2, but can instead be admired as individual examples of Nicolai's impressive range of styles. From the eerie, hostile sinewaves of 'Stalker' and the tense electronic minimalism of 'Ans', to the rich, treated cello timbres of 'Argonaut - Version' and 'Early Winter' (reminiscent of sections of Clint Mansell's score for Requiem For a Dream), this is tremendously accomplished work. The stunningly deep, propeller-plane scattered soundfield of 'Anthem Berlin', from 2006, is a particular highlight.
Field recordings, soundscapes and orchestral minimalism dedicated to those who inspire.
Carsten Nicolai is really prolific. Not content with producing some of the most intricate musical structures you're likely to hear, he is also a visual artist and runs the german math-sound-art label Raster-Noton. Over the last few years, he has really upped the ante with his releases. He began another cycle of work- the 'Xerrox' series, which involves sculpting torrents of sound from microsamples of things like call-waiting music and aeroplanes lifting off. He made an album consisting of all the numerical data he could find about himself last year (Unitxt) and then collaborated with Olaf Bender and Frank Bretschneider (to form Signal), Ryuichi Sakamoto, and recently with Blixa Bargeld of Einsturzende Neubaten. Four years after releasing his first For record of songs dedicated to people he admired, Nicolai has released a follow up.
For 2 is an interesting record for fans of Nicolai's music, not least because it is obviously made up of disparate pieces that are not designed to go together, unlike almost everything else I have ever heard him put out. It showcases a dramatic range of styles, from the more recognisably "Noto" tracks like Interim (for Dieter Rams), or parts of Anthem Berlin. 'Garment (for a Garment)' sounds much more like a Ryoji Ikeda track than a current Noto track, but their styles clearly have influenced each other and there is the xerrox glitchy string sample. The piece moves in a delightful way, building much more like a typical techno track. 'Pax (for chain music)' seems like an outtake from the sessions that he did with Sakamoto, and it's charming but very brief.
The less "Noto" tracks are 'Villa Aurora (for Mara Feuchtwanger)' which is a beautiful field recording of some birds and someone hitting a piano. The editorial touch on this is very light but it's a very beautiful piece. The most interesting tracks on the album are the two least "Noto", the two versions of 'Argonaut (for Heiner Muller)'. The first version seems on the surface to be simple MIDI sketch for an orchestral piece, a development which would be most exciting if it ever came to fruition; a departure from the intense electronic composition into something much more traditional. Then on the second version, it actually does! (Either that or Nicolai has used very good VST instruments.) It also sounds a lot like some of the Lost in Translation soundtrack, conjuring up that grey-Japanese beauty.
Like For, this record offers nods to those who inspire Nicolai, which is once again fascinating. Dieter Rams, the great industrial designer is an obvious choice, and there are two strong pieces here in honor of him prepared for an award ceremony. 'Stalker', the piece for Andrey Tarkovsky does sound like it belongs in the eponymous film, ramping up the creepier side of ambient noise with a lilting russian voice over the top. 'Early Winter' is for Phill Niblock, a fellow minimalist composer, and 'ANS' is for Evgeny Murzin, a scientist who worked with sounds and images. Overall, definitely interesting, if a little disjointed but well-worth exploring.
...For 2 dévoile les multiples facettes méconnues de son auteur. Explorateur des espances interstellaires, à l'instar de Lawrence English mais aussi de Brian Eno, le musicien de Chemnitz sublime le beau dans la pérennité alors que, trop souvent rangé dans la catégorie des producteurs d'une techno squelettique qui n'en demeure pas moins indispensable, il pourrait se contenter de capitaliser sur la recette d'une relative et bien illusoire notoriété.
Ambient. A diferencia de lo que sucede con Frank Bretschneider parece que a Carsten Nicolai le sobran horas del dia para trabajar: los proyectos y discos en los que esta involucrado de manera paralela se cuentan por decenas, y aun asi le da tiempo a recorrer el mundo con multitud de espectaculos distintos. Que no se vuelva loco con tanto trajin ya resulta sorprendente, pero que encima lo que publica sea bueno todiva es mas dificil de asimilar. Al menos, queda la tranquilidad de que For 2, su segundo volumen de trabajos 'dedicados', contiene las piezas que el berlines elebora para descasar de sus otras obligacinones, o cuando le piden alguna aportacion para discos recopilatorios: pequenas composiciones, realizadas a modo de homenaje a otros artistas, en las que investiga distintos aspectos ritmicos y sonoros o simplemente se divierta...
For 2 is a compilation of eleven pieces recorded by Germany’s Carsten Nicolai between 2003 and 2008 that are thematically linked by devotion. Like its 2006 predecessor For, also released by Line, each track carries a dedication suggesting focus points for the compositions, that while not always conceivable act as a portal through which Nicolai’s synaesthetics can be digested with more context than usual.
'Garment', the opening track, is somehow based on a textile design. This, like many of Alva Noto's techno-oriented pieces, centres on a severely regular rhythm conjured by his trademark sub bass, short static blasts and micro-glitch snares. This often brings to mind playful television clips of a factory at work where each activity on the production line has its own signature sound combining to knit an industrial beat. Meanwhile, a sonorous, extended tone fills the gaps, rippling like silk falling off the mill.
Turning our attention to the properties of light, 'Sonolumi' (first released as part of LINE's Camera Lucida DVD) is named after sonoluminescence, an effect first observed in the thirties where light is briefly produced when intense sound waves cause bubbles in a liquid to burst, potentially revealing a source of alternative energy. The track itself sounds like a tunnel of light forming around a comatose patient in hospital thanks to the combination of a steady, cold bleep and the circling coruscations of warm celestial tones that ultimately overcome the clinical ambience as the soul leaves the body.
Perhaps most explicit of all in its journey from sight to sound is Nicolai's short piece recorded from the ANS synthesiser, dedicated to its inventor Evgeny Murzin. Its antiquated, dusty electronics provide relief from Alva Noto’s usual digital regimen as it converts one of Nicolai's images into its own signature shiver and pulse.
Such sinister results of this Russian synthesiser were previously exploited by composer Eduard Artemyev particularly in Andrei Tarkovsky's films but it is the director and not the composer to whom For 2’s 'Stalker' is dedicated, named after his film describing a hopeful journey into a forbidden zone promising fulfilment in an otherwise dystopian existence. Nicolai's palette is perfect for painting a panorama of paranoia consistent with the film’s premise. A rumbling bass is combined with sine waves whose pulses speed and slow like the revolutions of a searchlight attempting to pick out illegal emigrants. Surprisingly a Russian voice appears midway providing a rare but welcome organic component to the mix.
The album closes with a second version of 'Argonaut' (the original appearing earlier on) dedicated to the German dramatist Heiner Muller, this time arranged for orchestral instrumentation by Max Knoth. On balance, this is perhaps the most triumphant yet accessible moment on the album, where Nicolai's digital schema is accurately redeployed across strings, brass, xylophone and percussion. The overtones from simple four note refrains collide both consonantly and dissonantly in precise cycles, just as the original, but this time the human gestures underpinning the tones breathe life into the original's repetitions.
Nicolai's work can seem intimidating as much for the industrious quantity of projects as for their academic qualities always poised in the interceding areas of sound and vision. But whereas his exhibited work can be immediate and self-evident in describing relationships between the senses – from patterns on the surface of milk created by a specific sonic frequency (as displayed on For 2’s cover) or unique sound events triggered by the formation of snow crystals – his recorded work can feel initially clinical and sterile. But just like these installations, the sounds are based on controlled processes that generate patterns whose repetitions reveal idiosyncrasies amid the synchrony that provide delightful details. For 2 manages to showcase a wide range of results from such processes, providing a handy primer to Alva Noto's sound world and its influences.