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Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto - Transall

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Artist: Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto

Album: Transall

Label: Raster-Noton

Review date: May. 26, 2005

Carsten Nicolai’s music is problematic for the critic. His output is pre-determined by theoretical articulation, so any lapse into pale description is insufficient. Why should it matter that Transall is ‘funky,' as most writers have observed? Given that one strain of Nicolai’s recent work had him recalibrating R&B rhythms for maximum austerity, it’s hardly surprising. What is more important is how true Nicolai is to his conceptions, how his theory manifests itself in sound, and how close the result is to the theoretical predication.

Nicolai is a contextual musician. He is more a designer than musician - he probably doesn’t need to hear the music (as) he’s making (it), as the interface between vision, computer screen, and edit function is where everything happens. For Transall, Nicolai transformed ‘text, image, vector graphic - storage files’ into ‘raw audio data,' coaxing the rhythmic out of the data translations. The resultant sounds - grainy, striated, notched, cracked - map the terrain of data flow. The rhythmic pulsations map onto order, the speed of electricity; the liner notes from Ulf Poschardt, Kodwo Eshun and Marco Peljhan thread together acceleration of progress, deceleration of utopian thought, and a short tract on ‘alternate high frequency material’ that calls on science and military analysis. "Fuel For Black Quartz" sources sound from a Quicktime movie at the Federation of American Scientists’ Military Analysis Network website. From the micro- of digital transformation to the macro- of cultural and military acceleration, we’re far from a simple ‘let’s get funky.'

If there’s any funk here, it is the ‘cut-copy-paste’ funk Szepanski once hailed as ‘the movement of zero and one made audible’ - making music out of pure form/process. Resting on rhythm is the misnomer here - if rhythm reflects hierarchical structure (and that is a problematic assumption in itself) then Transall is some kind of atomisation of structure through the translation of the ‘storage file’ into one molecule in a chain of gritted beats. The result? You’ve just been seduced by sterility.

By Jon Dale

Other Reviews of Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto

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