World-renowned Japanese pianist, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and German electronic musician, Carsten Nikolai, AKA Alva Noto, may have seemed an odd match up on paper before they made their very first collaboration Vrioon back in 2002. But as luck (and no doubt immense mastery of their arts) would have it, their seemingly disparate styles were almost perfectly suited to each other, and the many collaborations between the two since have proven equally as fruitful.
2018 sees the arrival of their latest work in the form of an album (and accompanying live performance video) entitled Glass, recorded live in the ‘Glass House’, a recording and performance venue in Connecticut, USA to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the venue’s designer, Philip Johnson’s birth.
Glass is their first since working together on the Original Soundtrack for Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s film The Revenant, and it ploughs a similar furrow to their previous efforts. That’s not to say that the work is entirely derivative – there’s more than enough space for both musicians to experiment in these sonic landscapes – but thematically, it doesn’t stray too far from what we’ve heard from the duo before.
What does, however, make the album unique is the venue that it was recorded in. The Glass House, as its name suggests, is built almost exclusively from glass, and was designed in a way that allows the building itself to be a key part of the recordings made there. Sakamoto + Noto (their ‘+’, not mine!) were no doubt intrigued by the possibilities this presented, and the resulting piece is as much about the venue as it is their own performance. Hooking up contact microphones to the glass walls of the recording space, the duo then ‘played’ the walls themselves, as well as host of other instruments including crotales, synthesiser and Noto’s signature electronics, live sampling the noises created by their sparse and seemingly random taps, strums and strokes.
The resulting effect is at times positively haunting, but is equally as relaxing and meditative, and its near 37 minutes running time feels neither too long nor too short, simply existing and then disappearing in a way that is wholly representative of the performance itself. Ethereal crackles of static float in and out, piercing shrieks appear and then quickly dissolve, a ghostly drone permeates throughout. If it’s not really your thing, it’d be difficult on a first listen to hear it as anything other than a random assortment of noises. But anyone with a taste for the work of either of these two extraordinarily talented musicians, either as solo artists or in tandem will lap this up. A beguiling and intriguing listen that rewards repeat playbacks, and another fine piece to add to a brilliant body of work from a less-than-likely duo.
Author: Chris, Liverpool store