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Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto: Glass

Nenad Georgievski By

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It's a rare occasion these days when a certain album manages to shake quietly the foundation of what music is and what it can be. It's very difficult to position an album that breaks all its precedents through an approach that blends a live performance and improvisation. Glass is the latest collaboration between composer Sakamoto and the German electronic artist Carsten Nicolai who best known under the moniker Alva Noto. 16 years since their debut joint effort "Vrioon" now arrives a seventh joint release that braces new music that looks forward to further exploratory musical landscapes and moods. It is characterized by uncompromising experimentalism that has been honed, sharpened and developed to an atomically precise fine point.

Whether solo or in collaboration, composer Ryuichi Sakamoto's music often finds himself pursuing a balance between composition and improvisation, nature and technology. During his illustrious career, Sakamoto has been fortunate to be surrounded by kindred musical spirits and that has yielded wonderful and profound music. One of those longstanding collaborations is with Alva Noto that resulted in several albums together as part of the "Virus" series. Then came the collaboration on the soundtrack for film director Alejandro Gonzales Inarittu's film Revenant that even further deepened this fruitful collaboration. Over the course of 15 years they created music that not only defined the word collaboration, as it yielded music that neither of them had created before, but it also defined, enriched and expanded the ambient music genre.

The music on Glass was recorded at architect Philip Johnson's Glass House, which due to its simplicity and perfect proportions is considered as one of the modern-day architectural marvels. The duo was invited to perform as part of visual maverick artist Yayoi Kusama's installation that occurred at the house as a celebration of 110th anniversary of Johnson's birth.

One of Sakamoto's features is the use of found sounds which, as seen from his portrait documentary Coda, he records sounds in every possible situation, whether on streets of cities, locations in the countryside which he then manipulates and morphs into his own compositions. What he has done with Nikolai was to turn this house into an instrument. With the use of singing glass bowls, keyboards, crotales, various gong mallets with rubber heads that are rubbed against the glass, and every object in the house they have used everything at their disposal to produce a sound that is morphed into a singular work. Basically, this record falls into a category shared with Brian Eno's On Land record where he uses various found objects which sounds and shapes he has morphed into music marvels that reflect his memories of various places. All of these artists share a strong affinity with composer John Cage, in both their shared conception of the environment as music and use of chance operations to illustrate this effect.

Glass is a set awash in subtle nuances and incredibly precise details, a pastiche of sonic fragments that the artists swiftly coalesce into layered aural vistas that gradually evolve and then dissolve. These sounds, layers, and moods, which are music as such, cannot be described in conventional terms since the musicians that make the music do everything within their power to subvert the very authority of musical principles. Both artists are masters of crafting a mystery and otherness from what's on offer. Drenched in textural and spatial subtleties Glass flows like a suite where everything is constantly in motion. It opens with layers of sounds in the undercurrent and distant beats and slowly evolves from there over the course of one 37 minute piece.

As such this work is diverse within narrower parameters. Sakamoto and Alva Noto take their time constructing their vistas of layered sounds and improvisations with depth more important than pace. There is also a sense that the artists don't want the listeners' minds to wander away and there are dissonant sounds interwoven within as well. Besides the apparent simplicity on the surface, it is actually a complex recording where the artists weave together an aural tapestry of great and dark beauty, where the patterns and the nuances may be difficult to initially perceive. Even though it is quiet music this isn't merely an ambient exploration. More than this it is an ambient articulation where the artists respond to the moment rather than predicating it. At moments it seems that the music creates itself from the complex interplay of tones and timbres that blossom between the sounds.

This fruitful collaboration has allowed both artists to reach new sonic vistas and further extend their already impressive compositional palettes. Glass is an act of sonic alchemy that sheds light on many different facets of their artistries as they weave together such a myriad of disparate and independent ideas and sounds together. It is also an emotive work, the kind that calls for listeners to solemnly bow their heads and immerse themselves in its sounds and nuances.

Track Listing: Glass

Personnel: Ryuichi Sakamoto: treatments, keyboards, mallets, sounds, singing glass bowls; Alva Noto: keyboards, effects

Title: Glass | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Noton


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