BBC Review

The air-borne reverberations of the acoustic piano combine, impact and dissolve with...

Colin Buttimer 2005

Alva Noto is the operating alias of Carsten Nicolai, who, together with Frank Bretschneider and Olaf Bender, form the musical triumvirate that is Raster Noton Archiv Für Ton Und Nichtton. The label releases a spectrum of electronica that ranges from abstract to ultra-minimal. The roots of much of its output, together with its frequently attractive packaging, might be traced as much to fine art movements like Minimalism and Suprematism as the musical futurism of Detroit techno or Kraftwerk's negotiation of the man/machine interface.

Insen is heir to Vrioon (2003), Alva Noto's collaboration with Japanese multi-instrumentalist Ryuichi Sakamoto. Both represent something of a departure from the ascetic bent of their peers. Both explore the potential for interaction and tension between electronic and acoustic instrumentation, the latter taking form in Sakamoto's piano. This relationship lies at the core of Insen and continues Vrioon's cool melancholia in subtler, even more streamlined fashion. If each part of the marriage were isolated into constituent parts, they might prove too clinical or precious, but together a delicate vibrancy is created. The air-borne reverberations of the acoustic piano combine, impact and dissolve with digital loops, prods and waverings.

On "Aurora" notes are sustained and released as if Sakamoto were bidding a final, unwilling farewell to each one. On "Morning" he prods rising arpeggios gently as if afraid they might shatter. At the same time, echoing electronic streams and trembling resonances complement the pianist's performance. Such is the sympathy of these elements that, moment by moment, the sense of a remarkably unified form is created. This is the initial impression at least. However, the association proves to be a mutable one. At times,­ as on "Logic Moon" - the piano becomes so enswathed in its own gossamer-thin feedback that it seems to disappear like a receding, fog-bound figure. Later, the piano's surging conviction is undercut by subtle percussive glitches which suggest a delicate but troubling dysfunction which prompts examination of the cd player to ensure the counter is passing in regular time. The resulting creative interplay makes for beautiful, rewarding music which only gradually reveals its subtleties.

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