Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Ever since being profoundly shocked by the all electronic soundtrack to Forbidden Planet at the age of eight and the generative-procedural audio workout of Morton Subotick's Silver Apples of the Moon (Nonesuch was such a brilliant label for experimental electronica) - I have had a life-long love affair with computationally and electronically designed, composed, and performed music. Needless to say, Kraftwerk has been the creative influence of my life. Computerwelt, Tour de France (Single Version 1983), and Mensch-Maschine are the apex of popular electronica - their influence reverberates through the decades in ways that are too innumerable to specify. From Detroit to Tokyo to London to Berlin, the Kraftwerk ethos and exacting approach to crafting electronica in a myriad of genres has influenced more people than just about anyone I can imagine.
One of the most extreme research and performance tangents of electronica has to be microsound, the mathematical exploration of tonality at the ultra-low latency range. Championed by Curtis Roads and others, microsound is a sound designer's and mathematician's aesthetic paradise. Granular synthesis was developed to explore this space, providing a much needed antidote to the clash of the titans dueling between the subtractive-analog and frequency-modulation (FM) schools of sound design. With the advent of fantastic virtual synthesizer technology (both Steinberg VSTs and software such as Reason, Ableton, Renoise and Reaktor) along with sound design laboratories like Pure Data (Pd) and MAX/MSP, the aspiring sound designer has free rein to chart the methematical and audio realms that escape the classical chromaticism that many have been conditioned to accept as the minima and maxima of musical expression. As Jacques Attali once suggested in Noise: the Political Economy of Sound, where we make the distinctions of noise versus music is a cultural and political segmentation - it is not innate in the frequency spectrum. A microsound composer like Carsten Nicolai, who typically records under the nom-de-audio of Alva Noto, is a great example of the marriage of technology, mathematics, and a fine sense of symmetry - albeit in a different dimension than one typically encounters in either to classical repertoire or in popular music - which is typically (and dismally) a strict subset of the former. Nicolai's collaborations with the talented Ryuichi Sakamoto for Vrioom, Insen, and other mash-ups of microsound and classical piano are an exemplary entry point into the realm of mathematically generated and designed audio experience. The description of the Insen release is worth reviewing.
Insen is the second album in an ongoing collaboration between Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto and German electronic artist Carsten Nicolai (here credited as Alva Noto). The album's core sound is a blend of Sakamoto's impressionist piano melodies and Nicolai's digitally processed beats and sounds. Released in 2005 by Nicolai's Raster-Noton label, it follows the duo's debut album Vrioon, which was named album of the year in 2004 by The Wire magazine.
Insen is, by my estimation, the finest of the collaborations. Aurora and Logic Moon are simply mesmerizing. You can focus on macro-structures (piano chord progressions) or on micro-structures (sound shapes and tonal textures) and still be carried along in the aesthetic experience. This ability to straddle both ends of the continuum makes Insen so noteworthy. I have enjoyed the solo efforts by Nicolai too: For, Unitxt, and For2 stand out. For (Katsushito Hokusai) is absolutely a simple, Zen joy. If you enjoy electronica and designing and performance of noise/music (generative sound is the catch-all term I have for it), try out Insen or one of the other compositions.