Alva Noto: Xerrox Volume 2

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Alva Noto 

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David Morris

10th February 2009
At 16:40 GMT

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Having just watched "2001: A Space Odyssey" and Andrei Tarkovsky's "Solaris" within a week of each other anyone would be primed for the peculiarly beautiful music of Alva Noto (alias of Carsten Nicolai, an East German born "sound artist").

By coincidence I found out from reading his biography that he recently contributed a track to a compilation entitled In Memoriam Andrey Tarkovsky. Solaris' basic interpretation seems relatively well summed up by this description of the plot of Stanislaw Lem's novel (of the same name) upon which both film versions were based:

While the narration suggests that humans study the planet, the opposite seems to be the case, where the titular alien planet, Solaris, examines the secret and often guilty thoughts of human beings. [from Wikipedia]

It would be arrogant to assume I was the first to think of the parallel of studying the film and being studied by it, but the delineation of understanding that the film sought to create encourages that kind of thinking. The philosophy of "Solaris" seeks to transcend the boundaries of 'watching' and imposes a profound and probing effect on its audience and the way they consider their consciousness. For that reason I find the film conceited and overbearing, it considers absolute confusion as a conclusion of being. I know where it's coming from, but I feel that it's holding the wrong end of the stick. I can't tolerate the absolute lack of humour in the five Tarkovsky films I have seen so far, especially as it is being presented as some kind of universal picture of consciousness.

It seems that the gag reflex of northern/western philosophy is to delve instinctively into darkness. Why wouldn't Solaris study the capability of the human mind to experience ecstasy, mirth or perhaps enlightenment as well as the 'guilty thoughts'? If the consciousness of Solaris was attempting to combat the invasiveness of the human base then the stimulation of those qualities might have made far better weapons. Unless of course the intelligence of Solaris was in fact a Western male in awe of his own intellect!

The triumph of the music collected on Xerrox Volume 2 is that it can mix overwhelming and heart-achingly beautiful sound with a sense of absolutely impersonal immenseness, a swelling and unfamiliar ocean of electronic music. Rather than use this skill to implant a philosophy or hold the listener to ransom the music stands alone and stimulates a moving blend of emotion and thought that allows the listener to be transported and stimulated in an open way. It is hard to talk in detail about it without engaging with the concepts that Carsten Nicolai or his fans might apply to his creations. When I see the phrase 'sound artist' I also smell bullshit so I have chosen not to go looking, it usually only devalues the sounds. Being unfamiliar with much of the technical details of oscillators and synthesizers I am unable to say whether titles like 'Xerrox Meta Phaser' and 'Xerrox Teion Acat' name the devices used on the track or reference something else.

Due to the way I approached this review I might have cast this music in a complicated and heavy light. I want to say that in many places it is completely the opposite: it even lessens the weight of being temporarily, a sort of anti-gravity for the soul. This is partly achieved by the absence on the collection of glitches or beats. There are rhythms within the oscillations but they do not create a uniform concept of time in the manner that a beat would. Alva Noto is also adept at introducing thick blizzards of white noise without inducing the horror film tension that some electronic musicians aim for.

'Xerrox Monophaser 1' is an especially stunning composition, contrasting the most recognisable string sounds on the album with distant rumbling and an incredibly delicate crackling. 'Xerrox Monophaser 2' is devastatingly emotive. Though the music has inspired thoughts of alien terrain and distant understanding in me, it has equally brought humanity and our beautiful planet to mind. This is not the first time I have experienced these feelings while listening to sprawling electronica but the compositional voice of Alva Noto stands right up there with Murcof as one of the finest examples of this form of music. I highly recommend this to anyone, especially to those who have not yet listened to anything like it. It is an experience unlike most others and rewards an open and unhurried mind.

Rating:  9 / 10

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