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Alva Noto

  • Music of a more formalist bent often reaches some of its most tender, passionate moments in pieces dedicated to others. Perhaps it’s that technical development is put to one side in the interests of reflection, or that more hermeneutic musicians suddenly develop a new side of their muse, as though they were in dialogue with another artist. Morton Feldman never sounded more resonant than in his composition for the Mark Rothko chapel, and some of Carsten Nicolai’s sweetest pieces as alva noto have been dedications. For rounds up nine of them from the last seven years, and while they are as minimal as the rest of the alva noto oeuvre, there’s an even deeper, more intense feel for melody and atmosphere. Most are essentially rhythmless, allowing more space for the luminous melodies. Nicolai engages with the respective aesthetics of the dedicatees while retaining his own identity. A piece for the late Jhonn Balance of Coil hums with gnostic power, a piano cluster from John Cage flicking in and out of the mix in an appropriately contrary manner. A dedication to Edo-Japan artist Hokusai and his “pictures of the floating world” uses a marimba loop that spins like a gyroscope on glass. The opaque, shifting textures of the album make you feel like you’re watching a slowly rippling pond at night, with brief chinks of light immediately swallowed up by the darkness. It’s all marvellously understated and enormously suggestive. This is some the most evocative minimal electronica since the two volumes of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works.
    (the wire, uk)

  • An album full of dedication tracks, some previously unreleased, each written with someone special in mind, living, long gone, or recently departed. Thankfully this isn’t a collection of ‘audio portraits’ where the ‘zany friend’ is represented with a zany track while the ‘wallflower friend’ gets a…well, you know what I mean. These are experimental/minimal pieces (natch for Alva Noto) in which each selection is seemingly instilled with the spirit of the receiver, and these varying results and sounds work well together as an album. “Counter” (for E. Jelinek) is filled with austere melodies, high-pitched tones and silent spaces, while S. Kinoshita’s dedication, “Transit,” is filled with low hums, static and slow melodies. Those are just two examples of the contrasts and it doesn’t stop there. “Flash Forward” (for Ernie and Bert) is a beatless track that bursts with peaceful optimism while “Odradek,” for Coil’s Jhonn Balance, is piercing and somber, and “Alva Noto.Z.1” (for John Cage) sports a metronomic rhythm with bits of piano woven in. Intended or not, sounds used for one track are rarely recycled in another. The variety is probably a result of the pieces being made over a period of four years, with no forethought of releasing them together. The different sounds throughout the album actually are a plus, as the tracks are connected by an overall thoughtfulness that is likely a result of the individual sources of inspiration.
    (other music, usa)

  • Line’s pedigree as an experimental electronic label is long and extremely impressive. With releases from the likes of Richard Chartier, Bernhard Gunter, Steve Roden, Asmus Tietchens and many more influential artists it has grown in stature over the years.We come to the 26th release and no introduction is necessary when dealing with an artist of the calibre of Carsten Nicolai – Raster Noton original, micro-composer extraordinaire and visual artist of some distinction. For is a surprising release in many ways as Nicolai’s work is often based on a particular theme or concept. Here, however, the only concept is the dedication of each track to a particular musician or artist. It’s refreshing to hear an album of variety, beauty and challenge that simply exists because it can – there’s no other reason to enjoy these tracks other than they’re enjoyable! ‘Counter’ is a slightly disconcerting intro track which uses a whining, high-pitched squeal to wake the listener up before dropping into some textbook sinewave tones and bass. A perfect way to set you up for the rest of the CD. From there the tracks become more melodic, strikingly beautiful and full of a delicacy that sits happily with the semi-ambient nature of quite a few of the pieces. The 12 minute long ‘Transit’, for example, has a classic, gentle progression with all of the hallmarks of Nicolai’s sound… yet it’s a mellow sound – almost chill out music. There are still elements of high-frequency in there, but they don’t dominate and certainly aren’t the main raison d’etre of the track. ‘Gulf Night’ is the only track that really comes across as an experimental piece but it sits quite happily amongst the other gems of shining beauty. ‘Flashforward’ is simply a divine piece of music that has more in common with the likes of Taylor Deupree or Minamo than the clinical sound of Raster Noton. It weaves an absolutely magical spell over the listener with a hypnotic, shimmering chord loop punctuated by subtle tones and textures. The album finishes with ‘Alva Noto.Z1’, a track that sounds like it could form part of the Alva Noto / Sakamoto trilogy with it’s piano phrases and bass heavy rhythm. Then you learn that elements of the track date 1999, and it becomes clear that you’re listening to a liquidly beautiful prototype of that work. Undulating, spacious, natural sounding… this CD captures a very real sense of Carsten Nicolai’s personality and musical skill. For that reason it becomes ultimately clear that this is a work of great distinction.Another wonderful and essential release from a deeply impressive label.
    (remote thoughts, usa)

  • About a year and half ago, Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto) dazzled us with the Transall trilogy of cd eps that bristled with crisp sinewave shards and low slung rhythmic blasts that sounded down right funky from time to time. For is an entirely different facet for Mr. Nicolai, as he’s soothed the systematic sex machine grooves for ionized molecules into a shimmering palette of elegant vibrations. As Nicolai explains in the liner notes, For “brings together disparate recordings created throughout the last four years, unified under a theme of dedication. All nine studies share the history of being made specifically for someone or for a project that for one reason or another remains open ended.” And those individuals earning dedications include John Cage, Jhonn Balance, TVPow, Jeff Wall, Peter Roehr, Ernie and Bert (we can only assume he means the Sesame Street characters), and a few others. Nicolai gently crafts each of the dedications into a polite, electronic ambience cobbled from intertwined sinewaves and hushed rhythms.
    (aquarius records, usa)

  • An absorbing collection of electronic masterpieces from the one and only Carsten Nicolai. These recordings were constructed over the last four years and thematically the represent a diverse range of styles, some of which you may not be completely familiar with. Vocal snippets and high end frequencies collide with the more purist tonal works that Nicolai has become renowned for. Rhythmically this work is complex, yet minimalist and works on so many levels it’s impossible to truly do justice to the work. Simply marvellous and highly recommended, of course.
    (smallfish, uk)

  • There was a time that the arrival of a new Alva Noto CD was a big thing, to me. But over the years, it became harder and harder to keep with some of his releases, especially those made for special occasions. Perhaps he just did too many thing to keep it in control, at least for an average listener. This is now, partly, made easy with the release of For. All of the nine tracks were created in the last four years and each of them is dedicated to someone (‘specifically for someone or for a project that for one reason or another remainded open ended’), ranging from Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, to John Cage, to Jhonn Balance, TV Pow and even Bert and Ernie. Now that I hear this collection I realize that is has been indeed a long time since I last heard his music. Over the last few years it has matured from the cold and clinical beeps and sine waves, into a more richer pattern of sound. The sine wave sounds, the deep bass sound: it’s still a present feature in the music o f Alva Noto, but he adds at times samples of acoustic instrumentation, such as the piano in ‘Alva Noto.z1’. It’s still a bit away from his work with Ryuichi Sakamoto, but it’s half way there somewhere. The pieces are in general slow and solemnly played, highly digitally made but always warm and gentle. It’s very good to be reacquainted.
    (vital weekly, the netherlands)

  • Now I’m not going to be coy about this, we like Carsten Nicolai very much indeed here and with classic albums on his own Raster Noton label, a string of breathtaking collaborations with Japanese pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto and unmatched solo albums on the seminal Mille Plateaux imprint, he’s been a busy man over the last decade. ‘For’ brings together work Nicolai has put together over the last four years, and stylistically it’s closer to the subtle digital minimalism of ‘Prototypes’ than his later R+B-flecked bass heavy jams. It is a welcome return though, ‘Prototypes’ was a magnificent showcase of restraint, and I for one have hoped Nicolai would go back to something this simple, this effective again. It doesn©öt stop here either, the record is, for Nicolai especially, incredibly varied and unpredictable-from glacial minimalism one minute to Rhodes-led prog territory or Coil influenced dark drones the next – the variety works wonders for Nicolai’s sound and makes this one of his most gripping records to date. The record ends with a track dedicated to the great John Cage and returns to the deep bass and cut piano sounds that are now so synonymous with the Alva Noto name, a perfect way to end an essential addition to the catalogue of one of the great producers of modern electronic music.
    (boomkat, uk)