A rare DJ mix from one of electronic music's chief practitioners.
Alva Noto is a pseudonym of German sound/visual artist Carsten Nicolai. It's difficult to bring into focus the breadth of Nicolai's achievements in the various disciplines he's been involved with since the early '90s, but he is perhaps most well-known in music circles as a co-founder of the groundbreaking Raster-Noton imprint, and his collaborative work with Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto. The pair has proffered several full-length pieces through Raster-Noton in the past decade, and Nicolai has been no less prolific elsewhere, releasing around ten albums over that time period either solo or in tandem with artists like Opiate and fellow Raster-Noton founders Olaf Bender and Frank Bretschneider. As with most things Nicolai turns his hand to, the music of Alva Noto is characterized by fierce experimentation. Wild packs of glitches, tone generators, looped oscillators and communication signals are tamed and assembled into sprawling ambient passages and/or rhythmic explorations, the latest of which, univrs, sees release on October 17th.
On RA.276 Nicolai somehow captures the breadth of the Alva Noto sound world in a 51-miute set that moulds the music of Fennesz, Andy Stott, M.I.A., Steve Reich, Nine Inch Nails, Byetone and Donnacha Costello into a coherent whole.
What have you been up to recently?
I was very busy finishing my album univrs and now I prepare the visual presentation for the live show for the new album. There will be a special video of one track that I want to implement into the live setup. There are two possible live shows, one is a small scale live show with a single projection and the other a live show with a triple projection that I call uniscope version.
I also work on some visual installations for an exhibition in New York at The Pace Gallery on 22nd Street end of September. End of the month I will go to Japan for a small tour with Blixa Bargeld and the 15th anniversary show of raster-noton at Womb in Tokyo. Following a tour in smaller venues across Europe in October and November we will also celebrate raster-noton's birthday at Berghain in Berlin with an outstanding line-up.
How and where was the mix was recorded?
I recorded the mix in Croatia on an island during my summer holidays.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
In a way it's kind of an Alva Noto techno-style mix. I occasionally started to DJ a few years ago for specific occasions. Everybody who has joined one of my DJ sets maybe knows that I'm quite dance floor-orientated but with a big variety of style, so it's not a pure style of classical techno. It's a mix of contrasts, and the BPM is always very different.
I have to say I was very inspired by visiting Berghain in Berlin. I think I saw a set by Marcel Fengler and I was amazed about how experimental the sound was on the dance floor that night. In a way I wanted as well to explore ideas of experimentation and at the same time being dance floor-orientated.
What is the most interesting difference in electronic music in your mind from when you started until now?
I would say the tools have rapidly changed. You have much more flexibility now. In the beginning when I started using tools in real-time there was hardely anything possible. Now the term 'real-time' is not only involved in playing live with music—we have lot of possibilities creating visuals with real time, working with very complex video arrangements in real time. Things you would have needed a huge truck of equipment for in the past can now fit in a backpack.
I think technology has moved really fast. And technology almost disappears because it's so small. Interfaces become more important, they bridge back to instruments, so the computer is not only a computer. It is just the core and you can build around it and make it more visible instrument as it used to be. I think it is probably a big advantage.
Would you say that over last few years you were no longer afraid of stepping into traditional forms? Why is that so?
I think one of my goals was always to bridge things. To use ideas of transformation, bridging experimental with classical pop elements with new elements, etc. I have never been afraid of confronting experimental and popular music. My new album opens a space for experimentation but there is also a drive to dive into. I like creating a flow rather than breaking everything apart.
What are you up to next?
There are a lot of things like I said in the beginning; the live tour, continuing working on visual installations and objects. At the moment I plan to create some short films again and maybe next year I'll start working on the xerrox series again.