The concert of the German author of electronic music Alva Noto with Ensemble Modern showed that ambient can fill surprisingly spacious spaces here: about 700 listeners came to the Veletržní palác. The event of the Prague Sounds festival showed how today’s music takes resources from electronic pop culture and the loftiness of the composer’s classics. The sound and the abstract projections allowed the slowly smoldering ritual to unfold.
What chances did we have on the international music scene as a post-socialist state? As you can see, with strong principles and style you can get ahead: the 58-year-old Carsten Nicolai from the former Karl-Marx-Stadt, now Chemnitz, is today probably the most distinctive and successful artist from the former GDR, “East Germany”.
His sovereign international position is strengthened by his good standing both on the gallery scene and in electronic music. While he mostly signs his visual works with his own name, he has been operating in music for a quarter of a century under the pseudonym Alva Noto. His precise work with digital sound has a physical, laboratory dimension.
The elusive nature of sound and the flow of rays had attracted him since childhood, when he believed he could communicate with bats. His material became sound and light waves, electricity. He also often sampled inconspicuous noises from everyday life with technology: the beeps and buzzes of fax machines, cell phones, computers. He started layering music from them, which obviously has his own style and can filter the resulting track to a subtly hypothermic beauty.
In addition, the short micro-sounds, which he chops into the stream at the rate of sixteen per second, also enable him to evoke speed and nervousness. Music rains intensely like data, which are immeasurably numerous: thereby prescribing itself among the diagnoses of the time. The contrasting series without pulsation and polyrhythms, bubbling in ambient surfaces, was called Xerrox by the author. He presented its fourth volume in Prague.
When Alva Noto signed up as a magician who could build on pure digital, he decided to break his own rules. He was no longer satisfied with the buzzing, beeping, crackling of static electricity, waves of noise and the sounds he cut out on the computer according to mathematical graphs. He married pure electronics with a pure piano, the history of music incarnate: he was helped in this by the Japanese composer, pianist and laureate of the film Oscar Ryūichi Sakamoto. Together with him, in 2008, Alva Noto also collaborated for the first time with this week’s Prague partner, Ensemble Modern, an international group accustomed to radical tasks from contemporary music. The program “utp_” (read Utopia) was created for the 400th anniversary of the city of Mannheim.
Alva Noto could make, for example, music for the opening of the Olympics. | Photo: Petra Hajská
Wednesday’s concert at Prague Sounds included music of supple, initially intentionally static surfaces. They were brought to today’s scene by the popularity of ambient and current, which exposes the human mind to the sound of long delays.
Alva Noto is an extraordinary master in this, so the fusion of strings, harp or flutes together with electronics sounded balanced and melodious. Even the mix for the acoustics of the hall of the Trade Fair Palace (at least in the front part of the hall) was accurate: only those at the top of post-technological music can do it like that. Alva Noto, in his right mind, could make, for example, music for the opening of the Olympics: if, of course, instead of pomp and euphoria, an atmosphere suitable for hibernation was required.
The concert showed the risks of this type of music. The listener’s mind can lie down and rest in the almost static surfaces, contemplate a little in them. But a number of such areas already raise the question of whether we lack direction too much here, whether in the slow movement from one vibration to another we are not entitled to ideas other than sound coloration.
In addition, the sound clouds were presented to a classically seated audience: didn’t a similar ambient originally have an interesting circumstance in the form of a challenge to the audience that they can listen in the background, i.e. walk freely around the hall during the performance or sleep peacefully in it? Both of these forms of concert are live here, see this year’s events in Prague’s DOX, the Punctum club and the Rudolfinum Gallery.
Prague Sounds Festival has the ambition to think about concerts “a little differently”, which is an excellent principle. But it also has a certain solemnity, flamboyance, bourgeoisness in its blood: sometimes it all comes together, this time the result was the feeling of a weak work caught up with pompous packaging. Alva Noto is an author and inventor who must be taken very seriously: in Prague, however, he did not present himself in what he is most exceptional at – the taming of pure electronics, as he demonstrates in the hard-to-reach Univrs, Unieqav or HYbr:ID cycles.
Video: Alva Noto with Ensemble Modern present Xerrox Vol. 4
Alva Noto presented the fourth part of the five-part Xerrox series in Prague, which began in 2007. Photo: Petra Hajská | Video: Ensemble Modern