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Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto - utp_

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Artist: Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto

Album: utp_

Label: Raster-Noton

Review date: Jun. 5, 2009

utp_ was commissioned for the 400th anniversary of Mannheim, Germany. The continuously flowing 10-section intermedia work derives its shape from a rasterized structure of the southwestern city, founded in 1608. The recording documents a live performance of electro-acoustic music by Alva Noto (Carsten Nicolai), Ryuichi Sakamoto and the Ensemble Modern, Germany’s premiere new music group – an ensemble of classically trained musicians known for venturing across musical and artistic genres (it has performed works by Frank Zappa, Anthony Braxton and Bill Viola among others). The audiovisual portion of the release that comes as a DVD, shows the digital “visual score” created by Nicolai and Simon Mayer, and lighting design by Nigel Edwards. Melded seamlessly into a single form of intermedia expression, and the result is an awesome theater of light and sound.

Slowly transforming minimalist tones and textures, and meticulously crafted formal structures based on conceptual principles – signatures of Alva Noto’s style – are central to utp_ both sonically and visually. However, Sakamoto’s compositional skills shine equally in this work. He orchestrates Alva Noto’s artistic language, borrowing techniques from French spectral composers like Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail.

The music is soothing, graceful, and poignant, and the encounters between the electronic and acoustic, the visual and sonic, dwells on the delicious liminal spaces between each. Basic elements of sound like attack, resonance and decay become musical material, and their reassembling becomes a structural principle: In the section titled “Broken Line,” single tones played on the piano by Sakamoto bleed into a sumptuous resonance-without-decay with expanding and contracting marimba rolls and long wind and string instrument tones. In another section titled “Silence,” the orchestration draws attention to the durations between sounds and actions by basing the musical material entirely on ephemeral and fragmentary gestures, like the sonic dust of that which once was. Additionally, the execution by the superbly skilled musicians of Ensemble Modern adds an incredible robustness to the performance. In counterpoint to Alva Noto’s sleek minimal gestures, the timbral subtlety and sweet intensity emerging from the interaction between the many players help this album stand out among Alva Noto’s many releases.

By Miki Kaneda

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