Alva Noto

Mixtape #21 : Noise

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With noise is born disorder […] In noise can be read the codes of life, the relations among men. Clamor, Melody, Dissonance, Harmony […] when it becomes sound, noise is the source of purpose and power, of the dream—Music.

Stirring words from the opening chapter of Jacques Attali’s marvellous book Noise: The Political Economy of Music, and noise is the focus of the new 5:4 mixtape. As such, i suppose it could be deemed the least accessible of these mixes, although my interpretation of noise here extends beyond fortissimo walls of abrasion; there’s a lot more to noise than just that.

Three of Alva Noto‘s miniature renderings of computer files pepper the mix, blurring the distinction between active and passive compositional intent. To some extent, the same could be said of Richard James’ AFX track ‘Ktpa2’, one of a pair of ferocious static blasts that remain his most brutal music to date. Most of the tracks included here, though, are less single-minded than these, and drag a variety of æsthetic manners into their obstreperous orbits. Three Trapped Tigers (whose first album is one of this year’s most outstanding releases) explore a complex amalgam of math rock and glitch, while Ukranian soundscapists First Human Ferro put noise at the core of their paradoxically radiant dark ambient. Japanese experimentalist Lethe takes hard metallic field recordings in abandoned resonant spaces as his starting point, while Nine Inch Nails do what they do best tucked away deep in the bowels of a studio. Noise is a sine qua non of all music with a hauntological aspect, heard here in the hissy nostalgia of Black Swan and the searing, gritty glitter of The Stranger (in my view, Leyland Kirby’s most riveting persona). My own work the Ceiling stared at me but i beheld only the Stars is a large-scale conflict between noise and pitched material; the excerpt included here is from the centre of the piece, where bell-like pitches first emerge. One could hardly have a noise mixtape without Merzbow; i’ve included part of the opening track from one of his latest albums, a typically kaleidoscopic feast of electronic mayhem. At the end comes a fittingly curt signing-off by Thomas Bangalter, from his soundtrack to Gaspar Noé’s film Irréversible. Read more

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Mixtape #17 : Lay the Voice to Rest, Dear Mist (In Memoriam Danielle Baquet-Long)

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How quickly a year passes. On this day, 12 months ago, Danielle Baquet-Long died, bringing to an abrupt end the remarkable musical project that she and husband Will had crafted together for several years. Of course, music, like life, goes on regardless, and the prospect of plenty more releases yet to come from both Celer and Chubby Wolf (Dani’s solo project) continues to be an exciting one.

To mark today’s sad anniversary, the new 5:4 mixtape is in Dani’s memory, bringing together a diverse selection of music that broadly falls into the ‘ambient drone’ category. Drone has entranced me since i was pretty young; in the right hands, it has a quality that always seems familiar, yet somehow achingly inscrutable and difficult to define; close and intimate, yet also impossibly distant. But this kind of music (and certainly on an occasion such as this) is perhaps best not written about in too much detail; suffice it to say the examples here range from vast, dazzling textures that seemingly envelop everything in sight to gentle half-heard whispers. Of course, Dani’s own music is included, the final (very brief) example of which gives the mixtape its name.

In total, two and a half hours of music to commemorate the life of one of ambient’s more insightful and imaginative figures. The complete playlist is as follows: Read more

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Mixtape #15 : Late Night

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It’s been a while since the last mixtape, and i’ve decided to return to the theme of the the first two mixes, music particularly suitable for late night listening.

Steve Peters‘ work is always fascinating, and his field recording project Here-ings is a masterpiece. i wrote about it at length early last year, and its profound sense of hush, allowing the space and its environment to speak, is unparalleled, and a fitting way to start this sonic foray into the night. Lovesliescrushing have dominated my listening in 2010; their lavish 2CD box-set Girl. Echo. Suns. Veils. arrived a few weeks back, and earlier this week Crwth (Chorus Redux) arrived. As the title suggests, it’s a retake of Chorus, their superb classic from 2007, as laden with velvet gentleness as the original (the CD comes with a voucher to download the original free of charge, so you get the best of both worlds). Ambrose Field‘s Being Dufay was one of my best albums of 2009, and the whole release is arguably best heard at night, when everything else is still; this is especially true of “Sanctus”, which emerges from the solo voice into some breathtakingly beautiful textures. sc140 was a project in conjunction with The Wire magazine, where composers wrote short snippets of Super Collider code, no longer than the length of a tweet (140 characters). The result is a mixed success but Nathaniel Virgo‘s contributions are invariably engaging; the pink noise in this track, punctuated by deep booms takes on the transparency of a field recording, all rain and thunder. Read more

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Mixtape #14 : Best Albums of 2009

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Today marks the 2nd birthday of 5:4, so a big thank you to all of you who are regular readers for your time and interest in this blog. Following yesterday’s run-down of my favourite 40 albums from 2009, here’s the accompanying mixtape, featuring a track from each album. It’s probably the most diverse mixtape yet on 5:4, and lasts a little under four hours. 2010’s going to have to try pretty hard to surpass this remarkable music—enjoy!

Here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

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Best Albums of 2009

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* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

Embarking on another list such as this, i’m reminded again of what i think of as “Paul Morley’s Dictum”; in his superb book Words and Music he writes of the provisional nature of all “best” lists, describing how they could (and perhaps should) change, perhaps quite radically, from day to day. i think he’s absolutely right, and there are many albums released in 2009 that i haven’t heard, so feel free to treat the following as the gospel truth with a pinch of salt. Put it this way, it’s true now, at the end of the year, and that’s perhaps as good as anything else. There really has been a dazzling display of imagination and innovation this year, of which these forty are, in my view, the best. Read more

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Mixtape #12 : Electronics

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Back, not so much with a vengeance as a new mixtape; the theme this time is simply electronics. Many of the pieces are rather long, so this mix, more than the others, features excerpts rather than complete works.

The mix opens with one of the most exciting electronic works by the duo FURT. Taking Brahms as its starting point, “Rigor” immediately slows, seemingly descending closer and closer upon its surface, the ensuing music seemingly scrutinising the Brahms material at the microscopic level. i was fortunate enough to witness this piece performed live (at the ICA, back in the mid ’90s), and it was thrilling, a truly memorable experience. The complete work can be downloaded free from FURT’s website; link below. “fol4” is Autechre‘s expanded version of “Fol3”, found on the limited double edition of Quaristice. It’s just as mercurial as its sibling, darting between the speakers with nervous, frenetic energy, from which assorted rhythmic patterns obtrude. A brief interruption comes in the form of Alva Noto’s “fontlab4.0”, one of his assorted miniature slews of (presumably) raw data from his superb album Unitxt. i’ve been interested in Ambrose Field‘s work since i heard him give a talk at Birmingham University about 15 years ago; he has a unique and fascinating approach both to sound itself as well as to its relationship to the listener. Included here is an episode from his splendid electroacoustic work Expanse Hotel, “Orient Express”. Next a work taken from an ancient off-air radio recording lurking in my archives, a work titled “Augustine’s Message” by the Welsh composer Robert Mackay. i’ve not heard anything else by Mackay, and sadly this piece doesn’t appear to be available on any releases, but i’ve been able to clean up the recording very well, and it nicely demonstrates the composer’s joint interest in music and drama. Despite its brevity, “Augustine’s Message” is an intense, beguiling listen. Then a lengthy excerpt from one of my very favourite composers, Roland Kayn. Kayn’s electronic works are nothing short of amazing, spanning vast durations with equally vast slabs of sound, slabs that are constantly re-shaping themselves. To my knowledge, few of Kayn’s works have been reissued on CD (the main exception being Tektra), but most of his vinyl releases can be found in high quality rips on the web (particularly here). Included here is a portion from the first part of his 1979 cycle Infra, “Isotrope”. Also conceived on a large scale is Pan Sonic‘s album Kesto (234.48:4), encapsulated in its 61-minute final track, “Säteily (Radiation)”. The excerpt here demonstrates the track’s beautifully radiant, shining character. Read more

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Cut and Splice 2005: John Cage, Yasunao Tone, Signal (Frank Bretschneider, Carsten Nicolai & Olaf Bender)

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Returning to the archives, here’s an eclectic variety of electronic music from the 2005 Cut and Splice Festival in London, beginning with the archetypal cut and splice work, John Cage‘s Williams Mix. The piece sounds as wonderfully kaleidoscopic as ever, its fast-edit approach causing much the same effect as 4’33”, rendering no sound incongruous, and its all-too-brief duration still surprisingly modern after more than 50 years. In Paramedia-Centripetal by Japanese composer Yasunao Tone, the music emanates from Tone’s ‘performance’ on a graphics tablet of a number of calligraphic symbols, and i suspect this was more engaging to witness than it is merely to listen to; bereft of visuals, the material itches frenetically throughout, with occasional similarities to the sharp juxtapositions of Cage’s piece (and towards the end, to Jonathan Harvey’s Mortuos Plango), but ever with the sense that something important was missing. Indeed, after a while, the comparative similarity of the material coupled to its relatively narrow pitch range (deep bass sounds are virtually non-existent), and lengthy duration (almost half an hour) lend the piece a dull, even irritating quality.

The festival included a focus on three composers associated with the German Raster-Noton label: Frank Bretschneider, Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto) and Olaf Bender (aka Byetone). An interview with Frank Bretschneider is illuminating, particularly when he speaks of the issues he and the related composers experienced when first presenting their music, and how it relates to electronic, contemporary and other traditions. Bretschneider comments on the disinterest shown by record labels towards their work, as it didn’t (he says) correspond to existing traditions in contemporary music; although why no-one felt the connection to minimalism is beyond me. With its emphasis on rhythm, and without depending on tired quasi-‘tonal’ harmonic ideas, it’s the kind of minimalism i can engage with; it’s “in your face”, confronting the listener with unavoidable glitches, blips and poundings, and all the better for it. Bretschneider’s untitled piece that follows is a superb example of this, exciting and irresistible, at times seeming to evoke the complexity of African drumming patterns. Read more

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