Alva Noto / Xerrox Vol.1

Xerrox sleeve

Aargh. Since my week in Cornwall, I’ve been finding it impossible to get back into maintaining this blog. As an attempt to get myself back into the saddle so to speak, I thought I’d post this review, written for the next issue of the inestimable Signal to Noise magazine. Whilst on the subject of irregular posts, dear reader, please do consider arming yourself with a newsreader (try Google or Bloglines for browser-based or my offline, open-source, Mac favourite Vienna newsreader) and subscribing to my blog feed. That way, if I drop out for a little while, you won’t be frustrated by returning to an un-updated site. Anyway, here’s that review, let’s see if it does the trick:

Although to unfamiliar ears the name Alva Noto might sound like a Finnish architect or a designer of streamlined products from the 1930s, he is in fact a composer of distinctly minimal electronica from the former east Germany. A co-founder of the Noton Archiv Für Ton und Nichtton (part of the Raster Noton enterprise), Alva Noto aka Carsten Nicholai, has been responsible for an oeuvre that ranges from abstract electronic noise to ultra-clinical rhythm pieces such as Xerrox’s multi-part predecessor, the transvision/transrapid/transspray trilogy. This release is the first of five parts and initial listening reveals it to be the sonic, if not conceptual, descendent of Noto’s popular collaborations with Japanese pianist/composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (Vrioon, Insen and the Revep EP). Xerrox begins with 18 seconds of digital noise like morse code scraped out on sandpaper. Second track Haliod Xerrox Copy 4 continues in similar fashion, but after a minute it’s blessed with eery, patient tones that sound through the noise in a way that’s delightfully spine-tingling. The contrast between rough and smooth, noise and texture both alternates and varies in degree in ways that are highly resonant. This approach acts as a template for the remaining twelve tracks, which vary in length between mere seconds and 11+ minutes.

The liner notes printed on the characteristically elegant card packaging make a rather prosaic assertion about the relationship between originals and copies: “Today we are preoccupied with protecting these originals from misuse, whilst the essence and potential of the copy is generally disregarded… the original message dissolves amongst the white noise of reproduction.” This is after all, a tenet of the electronic glitch culture first promulgated by the likes of Mille Plateaux and Raster Noton itself in the ‘90s. Despite this, each piece delineates a shifting sonic space that negotiates the relationship between elegiac and noisome, often simultaneously. Alva Noto’s preparedness to articulate music that is at times strikingly beautiful is remarkable. That the briefest pieces, for example 10-06 Astoria 2, are as distinct and fully-formed as their longer siblings is similarly striking.

Seeds for the pieces are acknowledged on the cover as samples from a variety of modern-day non-places including Lufthansa telephone wait-loops, Narita airport and Seven Eleven Tokyo. It’s in this information rather than the liner notes that the underlying power of this music becomes apparent. Here we learn of the project’s inspiration and it is these places that serve as launch pads for projections about the future. On the evidence of Xerrox Vol. 1, Alva Noto may be seen as a dispassionate, but engaged observer, illustrating a future already taking place. With this prospect in mind, he’s surely counselling vigilant circumspection. Etched through with an exquisite sense of foreboding, Xerrox Vol.1 should be mandatory listening for anybody interested in exploring the conceptual and emotional spaces of contemporary life. It will be interesting to discover how that experience is modulated by the remaining four volumes of Xerrox.

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