Alva Noto is a German electronic artist, Carsten Nicolai, aka Noto or Aleph-1, founder in 1999 of the Raster-Noton imprint. He occasionally works in collaboration with others – recently active ‘groups’ include Diamond Version with Olaf Bender (Byetone), and Cyclo with Ryoji Ikeda, while other notable collaborators include Ryuichi Sakamoto and Blixa Bargeld – but Xerox vol. 3 is an example of Nicolai’s solo output.
He often produces works in themed series such as Xerrox, which examines the ramifications of data reproduction: copies of copies, transformations wrought on recycled sound and its disassociation from source material. As he says: “entirely new sounds, being copies of originals, become originals themselves.”
Nicolai’s work is typically couched in such cerebral constructs. For Noto music he conceives a special “code of signs, acoustic and visual symbols.” In his work as an audio-visual artist he explores cymatics (wave patterns in excitatory media). Factor in the minimalist graphics of his music’s presentation, and the impression could be that Nicolai’s music is as cold as it is cerebral and superficially austere. Not so. Not here, anyway.
The best case against that argument rests on his work with Sakamoto, and the two volumes to date in the For series, which Nicolai compiles from miscellaneous pieces dedicated to artists whose work he either admires, or admits as an influence. And the Xerox works, despite their explicitly abstracted nature exude a similar warmth – a quality that post-glitch electronica often lacks.
It seems there’s no overall blueprint for the five volumes of Xerox Nicolai has promised. It’s been five years since Xerox vol. 2 (Raster-Noton, 2007), which was conceived as an “open musical structure, …unfolding in an endless space.” That was already quite a shift from the nebulous, glitch-static ambience of vol. 1 (2009), but vol. 3 develops the cinematic drift further.
As with both previous Xeroxes, vol. 3 incorporates samples recorded “in transit”, but this time none are credited to anyone else, and all are date-stamped “Berlin 2008-2014”. The domestic provenance seems important. Nicolai says the album was inspired by childhood memories of 1970s films such as Tarkovsky‘s Solaris and the Jules Verne-inspired La Isla Misteriosa y el Capitán Nemo. It is, as he says, the “cinematographic emotion of a soundtrack to a film that does not exist…my most personal album so far.”
The deep warm swell of the adagio “Xerrox Helm Transphaser” incorporates identifiable string samples, and moves like slow-motion footage of an underwater leviathan, while digital glitches foam around it like bubbles and other sonics ping out like sonar pulses.
Subsequent pieces also bear classical/ambient associations. Where other Noto music can be compared to the explicitly byte-centric electronica of associates such as Ryoji Ikeda, tracks like “Xerrox 2ndevol” and “”Xerox Radieuse”, with its multi-layered, natural-sounding vibrations (the deeper the more voluminous, like a church organ) have more in common with, say, early Murcof: electronic music influenced explicitly, harmonically and melodically, by modern classical music and turn of the century liturgical minimalism.
“Xerrox 2ndevol2nd” is truly cinematic. With its marriage of drone to a naive synthetic melody, it could be an ambient remake of a notional synthesized score by John Carpenter. The segue from it to “Xerrox Isola” constitutes a soft-focus blossoming of the same ingredients, in which each layer swells tonally. This is ravishing stuff, and if it’s less readily attributable than some of Nicolai’s other works – that perhaps comes with the referential, nostalgic headspace territory he’s exploring here – then who cares, if it’s this good.
The last five tracks are darker in tone, and their ambience is noticeably colder. Sounds pulse into hearing like far-off detonations reaching us across a cold void of space/time, or flare in the background of radiating drones, which become eerily choral and numinously beautiful on “Xerrox Spark”. The nod to Solaris suddenly makes a whole lot of sense.
Two short final pieces, the linked “Xerrox Spiegel” and “Xerrox Exosphere”, form a coda, effectively summating and distilling the effect of the whole album into just seven minutes. Like polaroid mementos, they make me nostalgic, already, for where I’ve just been.
Buy Xerox vol. 3 direct from Raster Noton.