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Yann Novak * Noto/Sakamoto * Tonaliens

Yann Novak

Yann Novak


Before listening to this new Yann Novak album – his second title for Touch -, it’s good to reflect a bit on its somewhat enigmatic title.

The Future Is A Forward Escape Into The Past considers the relationships between memory, time and context. […] The album’s conceptual roots stem from ‘The Archaic Revival‘ by American ethnobotanist and psychonaut Terence McKenna. In it, McKenna theorizes that when a culture becomes dysfunctional it attempts to revert back to a saner moment in its own history. The text’s idealism was influential to Novak in the ‘90s, but today the theory bears a darkly-veiled resemblance to the rise of nostalgia-driven nationalism. […] McKenna’s idea highlights our propensity for selective memory, seeing history through the lens of memory instead of fact.

The impact of Novak’s music is coloured by the context of this philosophical background. The overall atmosphere in these four parts (the album is best played in one continuous sequence) is dark and sombre – which may very well be my own personal association with ‘the rise of nostalgia-driven nationalism’.
But at the same time you can listen in a completely different way, realising that Novak “looks back at his own older works though this (McKenna’s) lens as inspiration”.
Or, if you prefer, you can have your own associations with these timeless deep drone tracks combining sub-bass with subtly detailed distorted effects and some distant fieldrecordings – a sound that seems to originate from an immeasurable vast space too big to comprehend.

“The album is a study in perception and alteration, manipulation and awareness, effectively capturing Novak’s command of emotional texturing.

Noto - Sakamoto - Glass


Ryuichi Sakamoto‘s 2017 album Async got well-deserved raving reviews – it recently got a follow-up release Async – Remodels with reworks of the tracks by giants like Oneohtrix Point Never, Alva Noto, Fennesz, Johann Johannsson, Yves Tumor, Andy Stott and the likes. And there’s also the ASync International Short Film Competition, of which the winners will be included in the forthcoming BluRay edition of the album (most of them they can be viewed online already by the way).
But these are not the albums I want to present now: they’ll surely find their way to an interested audience easily.

With its single 37 minute drone-based soundscape, Glass is quite a different project. It’s the next in a series of Sakamoto/Noto collaborations that included the soundtrack of The Revenant, Summvs, and before that utp_, Insen and Vroon.

Glass is a recording of a live improvisation performance at the architect Philip Johnson’s Glass House, in New Canaan, Connecticut, a remarkable ‘pavilion for viewing the surrounding landscape’ and a perfect setting for a slow-paced soundscape like this. The ground plan of this pavilion is used as the album cover image, which gives an idea of its beautiful spaciousness.
Using contact mics they incorporated the glass house as an instrument along with other kinds of (mostly glass-related) instruments, capturing its original intention in sound. Though the changes are gradual there’s actually a lot happening in the recording.
There are many different kinds of sounds – organic, synthetic, electronic, acoustic – but each particle finds its own place in its surrounding environment.
Even if that environment is different from the Glass House it was originally created for.

(Below is a short sample fragment from the audio recording but I strongly recommend watching the 26-minute video of the performance to get an impression of the beauty of this piece).

Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto – site specific performance at the Glass House

Ryuichi Sakamoto/Alva Noto – Glass (preview sample)



This Berlin-bases group was formed in 2014, after the release of the Hayward Tuning Vine, “an interface for exploring microtonal tuning that allows for direct and intuitive interaction with the pitches normally hidden between the keys of the piano”. Or, in other words, the group investigate “the inner dimensions and outer limits of Just Intonation.”

For the uninitiated (like myself) that may sound as complex as it is. But as a listener we don’t need to truly understand the theory behind it to enjoy the musical result (or not to enjoy it, of course). We have our ears. And there definitely is a lot to be enjoyed on this release.

Tonaliens are Hilary Jeffery (trombone), Robin Hayward (microtonal tuba), Werner Durand (invented wind instruments), Ralf Meinz (live sound, electronics) and Amelia Cuni (voice on Vesta).

Vesta and Pallas are two long-form drone pieces, divided in four parts because of the release format: vinyl. I personally think that a release on CD or digital would’ve better suited music like this because the music can be played uninterrupted, but it’s a policy of the Edition Telemark label to release all their titles on vinyl only.

Both performances are recorded live in 2015: Vesta in Amsterdam during that year’s Sonic Acts festival, and Pallas in a somewhat smaller setting for the Labor Sonor series in Berlin. Amelia Cuni only performs on Vesta, her voice somewhat reminiscing an Indian raga performance. Pallas is fully instrumental.

The music and chord explorations are a fascinating interplay of acoustics and electronics. With the kind of timelessness that is induced by the prolonged chords it is easy to see why Hilary Jeffery referred to the Tuning Vine as a spaceship, and the Tonaliens as “explorers of parallel harmonic universes that have remained largely obscured for so long.”

How to end a performance that explores the spaces where time seems absent? Just a long fade, perhaps, to illustrate that the sound could go on for an indefinite time? Not this time… Surprisingly something strange seems to happen in the last minutes of Pallas: it’s as if one of the performers suddenly loses concentration and control over his instrument, and so the performance comes to an end. Somehow, it’s a funny kind of relief: the Tonaliens appear to be human beings after all.

TONALIENS – VESTA (fragments)

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Jason van Wyk; Stefano Guzzetti; Iggy Pop-Tarwater-Alva Noto; Inside the Baxter Building; Alex Lucas-Olan Mill



From Cape Town, South Africa, comes Jason van WykThis is his second solo album, and Eilean Records first venture in the modern classical scene.
Van Wyk‘s main instrument is the piano, but not exclusively: he also adds synth and electronics on beautiful floating ambient in the second half of the album, in tracks like Found, Evanesce and Outset.

“An immersion in the deepness of the elements, near from the oceans and the breath of the air, a fragile and delicate release with some strong ambient colors.”

It’s a very intimate recording, partly because of the compositions but also because of the way it was recorded: including the tiniest details and vibrations from the inside of the piano. Mastered by Ian Hawgood. 

Stefano Guzetti - Leaf

…who also did the mastering job for Leaf, the new album from Stefano Guzzetti on Home Normal.
Thirteen compositions for piano and different ensembles (violin, viola, cello, double bass, clarinet, with piano, glockenspiel, field recordings and sine waves performed by Stefano Guzzetti) dedicated to ‘one of the most common things we can find in everyday’s life”:  a leaf.

Like a leaf in the various seasons, these pieces each have different moods: from lively and joyful to melancholic and sad.

Also on Spotify

Leaves of Grass

If you immediately associate the name Iggy Pop with I wanna Be Your Dog or the explosive Lust for Life period, you may have to re-group after listening to this  22 minute mini-album. On each of the spoken word tracks Iggy Pop recites a poem by American wordsmith Walt Whitman (1819-1892), and James ‘Iggy’ Osterberg has the perfect voice for the declamations of Walt Whitman’s poetry.

“I think (Walt Whitman) had something like Elvis. Like Elvis ahead of his time, one of the first manic American populists. His poetry is always about motion and rushing ahead, and crazy love and blood pushing through the body. He would have been the perfect gangster rapper. “

The background score for the recitals is created by none less than Alva Noto (Carsten Nicolai) and Tarwater (Bernd Jestram and Ronald Lippok), to stunning effect. However, it is not easy to distinct who did what exactly musically. Do they play together, collaborating on the tracks, or do they separately perform on different tracks? I don’t know… But in fact it doesn’t matter, since the overall result is organic and fits together perfectly.

This is a vinyl-only release, with no digital counterpart planned. So: when it’s gone it’s gone.


Seldom Somber

A gloomy atmosphere, unearthly jazzy horn arrangements over electronic soundscapes. Inside the Baxter Building is clearly not your average jazzclub outfit – although they would perfectly fit a Twin Peaks setting.
Their Seldom Somber debut is a stunning release of ‘real-time electronic music’: improvised music that was recorded live in the studio.
Simon Petermann (trombone, electronics), Samuel Würgler (trumpet, electronics) and Fabian Gutscher (electronics) manipulate the sounds of their instruments  ‘to create a rich palette of sounds with which they lead the listener into unexpected soundscapes’.
The title track also includes a spoken word poem, directly linking their music to the Krautrock tradition.
Inside the Baxter Building manages to break through stereotypes of the electro-acoustic genre…“and to keep their music lively and mobile, which in electronic music is a rarity”.

And – in case you didn’t know: The Baxter Building is a fictitious 35-story office building appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics.


Olan Mill (Alex Smalley) has released a steady flow of albums since 2010 on labels like Serein, Preservation, Facture and Hibernate. Alex Lucas is a less familiar name to me, and there is not much information about him (?) on the internet. 
Both have worked together on this album in 2012, when the tracks for this album were recorded by Bruno Sanfilippo.
It’s not clear who does what exactly, but I assume Alex Lucas provided most of the piano playing, while Alex Smalley provided the electronic embedding. But of course they could also each have done both. Stylistically the compositions are somewhere between Nils Frahm and Philip Glass, but with more emphasis on the electronics, that is as prominent as the piano, so not just there for its enhancement.

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Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto with Bryce Dessner – The Revenant OST


Soundtracks are hot. And quite a lot of them border on ‘ambient’ music because of their inherent atmospherics. Or on ‘post-classical’ music because of their instrumental arrangements.
‘The Revenant’ combines the best of both worlds!

The movie’s director Alejandro Iñárritu chose to have a lot of layers of both acoustic and electronic sounds, and for that he invited Ryuichi Sakamoto to work together with Carsten Nicolai (Alva Noto) as well as with Bryce Dessner.
A very impressive trio – but it must be noted that this album is first and foremost a Ryuichi Sakamoto soundtrack, with Noto and Dressner in strong ‘supporting roles’.

Ryuichi Sakamoto has a long and impressive musical history. He is no stranger to composing soundtracks, which he did for some quite remarkable movies, too.
Alva Noto is a near-legendary composer of electronic music but not a name you will easily associate with soundtrack music.
Bryce Dessner is known as a member of The National, and also for his compositions for Kronos Quartet, Bang on a Can and such, as well as for his collaboration with Johnny Greenwood.

With 12 Oscar nominations, The Revenant has had its share of attention by now. There was no nomination for the score, however, but the soundtrack wás nominated for the 2016 Golden Globe award.  I don’t really know what Oscars and Golden Globes réally mean… after all it’s your own personal experience that counts.. And for that matter: I haven’t heard a better soundtrack in a lóng time.

These are not “full” compositions re-arranged into thematic fragments to fit the screenplay.  It’s a ‘true’ soundtrack in the basic sense: most of the pieces are fairly short (with some exceptions), and thematically they are often mere sketches, but each with an intense and haunting atmosphere.
The themes are  restrained and supportive, a very subtle approach to background music design. There are some remarkable performances by Hildur Gudnadottir on cello, and Motoko Oya on Ondes Martenot.

Movie soundtracks have become a genre in itself, and there are many to choose from. But if I had to pick one to listen to this year, It’d be this one – even though it’s only still January!

This album features the original music specifically written for the movie. But The Revenant features a lot of other music too. In fact, a jaw dropping list of contemporary music is credited in the end titles: compositions by John Luther Adams, Alva Noto (some of his Xerrox work), Eliane Radigue, Hildur Gudnadottir, Olivier Messiaen, Ryoji Ikeda and Vladislav Delay.
How many Oscar/Golden Globe nominated movies can boast a soundtrack like that?!

links: [Amazon US] [Amazon UK] [Amazon DE]

Also on Spotify

Ryuichi Sakamoto/Alva Noto – The Revenant Theme (Alva Noto Remodel) 

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Alva Noto – Xerrox Vol. 3

Xerrox Vol. 3

Xerrox Vol. 3 is the third part (duh!) in what is going to be a five part series inspired by the process of copying.
All three parts have their subtitle: “Old World” (Xerrox Vol. 1, 2007), “New World” (Xerrox Vol. 2, 2009) – and  now Vol. 3 is labeled: “Towards Space” .

It took five years to release this part of the Xerrox series. There were other Alva Noto releases in that time, but this one returns to the basic concept of copying (sometimes referred to as Xerroxing):
“using the process of copying as a basis, the xerrox series deals with the manipulation of data by means of endless reproduction. Due to the inherent vice of the procedure that becomes especially visible when copies are made from copies, everyday sound are so much altered that they can be hardly associated with the source material anymore. As a result, entirely new sounds are created that, being copies of originals, become originals themselves.” 

When comparing this third album to its predecessors in the same series, it seems that the sounds here are somewhat more ’emotional’ than before.
I don’t mean to say that the previous editions were without emotions (because they weren’t) – but there ís a difference… It’s as if the copying process has been made secondary to conveying more personal emotions this time.
As if the copies have become originals, maybe?

No doubt this can also be related to Alva Noto‘s source of inspiration: his childhood film memories from the 1970’s including Tarkovsky’s Solaris and La Isla Misteriosa Y el Capitán Nemo.
The combination of the xerroxed sounds, detached from its originals, with the quiet, unhurried melodic arrangements indeed breathes the same mysterious atmosphere that has made Solaris into one of the greatest movies of all time.

While the concept of the repeated copying as a continuous process sounds somewhat theoretical, the result is suprisingly personal: “a personal reflection of dreams, an imaginary journey through emotional landscapes”.
A suprise also for Carsten Nicolai himself: “I have to admit that this emotional output is a surprise even for myself”.

If Xerrox were intended to be a trilogy, this would have been the perfect finale.
But it does not stop here, and with two more parts to go we can only wonder where Alva Noto will go from here. I guess the only one possible destiny can be the future
 … and – no doubt – far beyond.

Also on Spotify


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