Posted on Jul 22nd 2009 10:36 pm
ALVA NOTO + RYUICHI SAKAMOTO WITH ENSEMBLE MODERN
10 Tracks. 71mins57secs / DVD 112mins07
utp_ is the fourth collaboration between legendary Japanese innovator Ryuichi Sakamoto and German sound artist Carsten Nicolai, as Alva Noto, following Vrioon in 2002 and Insen and Revep in 2005. In 2007, the pair were commissioned an audio-visual performance with eminent German contemporary orchestra Ensemble Modern, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the city of Mannheim, situated in the state of Baden-Württemberg, in the South West of Germany. Released as a CD, presenting the various compositions, and DVD, documenting both the live performance, complete with synchronised visuals projected at the back of the orchestra, and utp_ Tryout, a behind the scene documentary showing every aspect of the preparation for the performance, from composition to the creation of the visual components, utp_ is quite a big piece of work, totally in contrast with the minimal aesthetic of the work itself.
Right from the opening moments of Attack/Transition, the tone is set, its electro-acoustic context and modern forms, built upon long string drones which are repeatedly stabbed by much sharper, incisive and short orchestral shards in its first section (the attack, supposedly), then left to sustain the rest of the piece, placing it resolutely in a totally different league to the pair’s previous work. The piece then flows into Grain, which introduces richer and more consistent layers of sound, with Sakamoto digging deep in the entrails of his piano to source metallic noises or warmer wood textures, while the orchestra gives out autumnal resonances, contributing to the melancholic mood of the piece. On Particle 1, and later Particle 2, the entire formation turns to much more granular soundscapes, as each instrument is used to create microscopic elements which in turn disperse into the ether as soon as they appear or gather in effervescent grapes of noises, eventually growing in presence to the point of becoming overwhelming.
Elsewhere, the music relies on slightly more conventional orchestral exchanges, giving Ensemble Modern the chance to create interesting tones and shades. This is the case on the wonderfully pastoral and smooth Transition, with its vast plains of exquisite slow-moving string work, which become much more muted on following piece Broken Line 1 when Nicolai introduces piercing electronic dots, recalling the bleeps of early digital watches, and pneumatic rhythmic patterns, while Sakamoto finds here one of his most straightforward moments. The ensemble once again leads the way on Plateaux 1 and 2, this time with somewhat dense and threatening monumental orchestral slabs, which are not without recalling Murcof’s Cosmos I, while on Broken Line 2, bass, drums, piano and orchestra all join forces to push forward an elegant moment which, despite its overly reflective mood, hints at intense moment of happiness.
The DVD helps placing these compositions in context and adds to the overall impression of the piece. Performed live, they become even more visceral and intense, the hypnotic visuals, often changing at an extremely slow pace, mirroring at times the progression in the music, seemingly substantiating the abstraction of the music. With utp_, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Carsten Nicolai have created a superb piece, and have, in the process, moved forward into their collaborative work a great deal.
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