Somnambule - Writing About Music

Alva Noto ~ Transrapid, Transvision, Transspray

Alva Noto, despite sounding like a 1950s Modernist architect, is in fact the operating name of electronic musician and visual artist Carsten Nicolai. Each of the three cds that form the Trans~ trilogy is housed in a portrait format, folded card cover decorated with a uniform latticework on the outside and an essay within. The packaging conveys a sense of elegant inscrutability redolent of J.G. Ballard at his most stylishly reductive. Transrapid’s essay, penned by journalist and author Ulf Poschardt, addresses the acceleration of art, technology and culture and concludes that a key aspect of the contemporary is the embracing of both speed and stasis. Theorist Kodwo Eshun’s essay for Transvision turns on ideas of freedom, intuition and possibility in the service of erecting a nonument (sic), his most attractively cogent observation states that “... the enigma of the sonic makes life vivid... ” Both resonate tangentially with the music they presage, which impresses as a harsh, new poetry: diamond hard, laser-cut, it’s chatter is the sound of circuit boards, fileservers and email headers. Nicolai allows very little extraneous matter to intrude upon the music’s rhythmic exoskeleton: think of a vehicle with a perfectly tuned engine, wheels, chassis, but no seating, feedback dials, outer shell or steering column. It moves effortlessly, needing no intervention, but only in the direction in which it’s pointed. The experience of this avid minimalism in sonic form is both unsettling and fascinating: the Trans~ series comprises information cleansed of association and abstracted into rhythmdata. Perfectly functional, seemingly untroubled by narrative. However, in the click and splutter of ‘Funkbugfx’ and the syncopation of ‘J’, the ghost of the corporeal can occasionally be spied. Whether the trilogy is viewed as a call to humanity or disembodied bystander to its loss, the questions embodied in this music prove fascinating.
Colin Buttimer
April 2005
Published by Signal To Noise magazine