Sleeping Dogs Lie 18jun10: Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto

Alva Noto is the operating alias of Carsten Nicolai, who, together with Frank Bretschneider and Olaf Bender, form the musical triumvirate that is Raster Noton Archiv Für Ton Und Nichtton. The label releases a spectrum of electronica that ranges from abstract to ultra-minimal. The roots of much of its output, together with its frequently attractive packaging, might be traced as much to fine art movements like Minimalism and Suprematism as the musical futurism of Detroit techno or Kraftwerk’s negotiation of the man/machine interface.

Insen is heir to Vrioon (2003), Alva Noto’s collaboration with Japanese multi-instrumentalist Ryuichi Sakamoto. Both represent something of a departure from the ascetic bent of their peers. Both explore the potential for interaction and tension between electronic and acoustic instrumentation, the latter taking form in Sakamoto’s piano. This relationship lies at the core of Insen and continues Vrioon’s cool melancholia in subtler, even more streamlined fashion. If each part of the marriage were isolated into constituent parts, they might prove too clinical or precious, but together a delicate vibrancy is created. The air-borne reverberations of the acoustic piano combine, impact and dissolve with digital loops, prods and waverings.

On “Aurora” notes are sustained and released as if Sakamoto were bidding a final, unwilling farewell to each one. On “Morning” he prods rising arpeggios gently as if afraid they might shatter. At the same time, echoing electronic streams and trembling resonances complement the pianist’s performance. Such is the sympathy of these elements that, moment by moment, the sense of a remarkably unified form is created. This is the initial impression at least. However, the association proves to be a mutable one. At times, as on “Logic Moon” – the piano becomes so enswathed in its own gossamer-thin feedback that it seems to disappear like a receding, fog-bound figure. Later, the piano’s surging conviction is undercut by subtle percussive glitches which suggest a delicate but troubling dysfunction which prompts examination of the cd player to ensure the counter is passing in regular time. The resulting creative interplay makes for beautiful, rewarding music which only gradually reveals its subtleties. (Colin Buttimer,

If you are a fan of the crowded, element heavy electro that is often passed off as minimal these days then you are not going to like the latest outing from glitch meister Alva Noto and Japanese pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto. Were others claim to be astute students of the school of minimalism (and fail dismally) “Revep” state with conviction that it is the tutor, teacher and headmaster all rolled into one. Noto and Sakamoto have even kept the amount of tracks to a bare minimum, but don’t let the modestly lengthed tracklist scare you off this album can offer you much more than any regular sized album or even 3CD compilation.

Turn the volume up loud enough while listening to opening track ‘Siisx’ and you’ll hear unmistakable white noise. A mistake or recording problem? Not likely, nothing is an accident with these two virtuosos. Clicks, taps, clacks and taps skitter across the soundscape as Ryuichi’s expertly knocks away at the ebony and ivory. Don’t be surprised if you feel your throat tighten and a frosty sensation spread through your anterior lobes. Music? Art? Whatever it is this is less about listening and more about feeling.

Subtract the white noise, soon to be returned in a slightly altered form, and we have the beginning of ‘Mur’. Sakamoto strikes the keys as if sounding a bell and Alva Noto provides more mouth-watering scratches and concentrated beats. Only the sharpest ears will notice the subtle changes from the previous composition but keep your ears open and the rewards are considerable. These two collaborators employ the piano like the composers long gone to evoke emotion and stir feelings. Neo classical outings like ‘Siisx’ and ‘Mur’ help to lift this timeless instrument out of the handbag house cell to which it has been condemned for so long.

For the uninitiated Ryuichi Sakamoto was responsible for the theme song to 1980’s East meets West silver screen excursion “Merry Christmas Mr. Lwarence” starring Takeshi Kitano and David Bowie, minus of course the posing pouch he proudly donned in his “Labyrinth” role. ‘Ax Mr. L.’ is somewhat of a remix of Sakamoto’s popular tune. Here notes appear to hum amidst a light spattering of static. When compared to the sparseness of the anteceding song the stuttering sounds and purring keys utilized during this track almost feel like an overdose of stimulation, almost. Compare it to anything else, say music by Isolee or current minimal poster boys Richie Hawting and Ricardo Villalobos and you’ll be left wondering why they bother with all those superfluous samples.

This isn’t by any means an album to let loose and rock out to. In fact it is a refreshing change from all the electro sounds Tiefschwarz et al are dressing up as click, glitch and minimal. Play this at a party and you’ll be hung, drawn and quartered but turn it up a the next annual meeting of the chin strokers society and you’ll be hailed a hero. By all means listen to this CD numerous times but just be careful because there is a reason the album is only three songs long. Any more of this cleverly crafted masterpiece and you’d never want to waste your time with any of that other stuff posing as music. (Nick Lawrence,

1. Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto: “Aurora” (8:51) from “Insen” (2005)
2. Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto: “Morning” (5:27) from “Insen” (2005)
3. Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto: “Logic Moon” (6:50) from “Insen” (2005)
4. Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto: “Moon” (6:07) from “Insen” (2005)
5. Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto: “Berlin” (6:16) from “Insen” (2005)
6. Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto: “Iano” (6:52) from “Insen” (2005)
7. Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto: “Avaol” (2:51) from “Insen” (2005)
8. Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto: “Mur” (8:14) from “Revep” (2006)
9. Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto: “Ax Mr.L.” (4:18) from “Revep” (2006)