“There are few locations more emblematic of contemplative modern aesthetic than Philip Johnson’s 1949 residence, a transparent box stripped of much beyond its focused proportions and structure. And that seems a fitting location for the exposed materials of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto.” CDM
‘Glass’ is a recording of an inspired live improvisation by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto at the architect Philip Johnson’s hallowed Glass House, in the bucolic setting of New Canaan, Connecticut.
The structure’s transparency and seamless continuity with nature was given another dimension by the addition of this performance, whereby the building, location and audio coalesced into one perfect, harmonious whole.
Stylish, stunning and elegantly minimal, the duo’s architectural sound design evokes and synergizes with the space creatively, acoustically and literally – by using the building’s fabric as an instrument.
This is the sound of glass and of glistening condensation. Pristinely fresh audio stratus float amorphously by, unfurling from a meditative calm into an evocation of sparkling wonder, like a baby observing raindrops on a nocturnal window for the first time.
Although the work is largely tonal, textural and spatial, fleeting moments of melody appear towards the end, which despite their scarceness, achieve a profoundly moving effect.
Built between 1949 and 1995 by feted architect Philip Johnson and exemplifying modern architecture and the International Style, The Glass House hosted this site-specific event. It was commissioned by Curator and Collections Manager Irene Shum, who recalls the experience”
“The emotional drama of the forty-five minute performance was echoed in the natural environment. A sudden rain storm forced the evening’s guests into The Glass House at the start. During the performance, the storm cleared into a dramatic red and pink sunset and concluded in nightfall.
Rehearsing only one day before, Sakamoto and Nicolai experimented with a keyboard, mixers, singing glass bowls, crotales, and the architecture of the building. Contact microphones were attached to the surface of The Glass House, and using various weighted gong mallets with rubber heads that were gently but firmly dragged along the surface of the glass, they transformed the walls into an instrument, creating wistful sounds of contemplation and longing.
Similarly, Nicolai played two sets of high and low octave crotales with a horse hair bow. The pair improvised in what could be described as an intuitive call and response manner.”
To celebrate the 10th season open to the public and the 110th anniversary of Johnson’s birth, Irene Shum invited the 87-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama to exhibit at The Glass House, resulting in the installation ‘Dots Obsession – Alive, Seeking For Eternal Hope.’
Once the finishing touches to the exhibition were made, a party was thrown in the artist’s honour, which featured this private performance by Ryuichi Sakamoto (who was responsible for connecting Shum to Kusama) and Alva Noto. “When I was offered to perform at The Glass House, the first idea that came to my mind was to use the house itself as a musical instrument”, recalls Sakamoto.
“It was completely musical and 100 percent improvised, as that’s what we usually do”, he adds. “Looking at the beautiful landscape through the glass wall with Kusama’s dots was something, and it affected me, affected us, I should say, a lot. It’s a strange mixture of natural, nature, and artificial things, art.”
This intimate evening brought Ryuichi and Carsten back together for their first live collaboration since Sakamoto’s cancer diagnosis and treatment in 2014. Prior to that, Nicolai and Sakamoto had worked together on and off since 2002, releasing 6 albums as a duo.
Having met in 1999 during Nicolai’s first trip to Japan, the following year he was commissioned by the magazine Code Unfinished to remix a track by Sakamoto and impressed by what he heard, Ryuichi sent additional tracks to Carsten. This back-and-forth developed into a creative exchange that birthed their first long player ‘vrioon’, which was voted electronica album of the year by The Wire in 2004.
Most recently, the duo scored the music for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s hit film, ‘The Revenant’ which won multiple Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTAs and Critics’ Choice Awards.
Born in Karl-Marx Stadt, Saxony in former East Germany and based in Berlin, Carsten Nicolai studied architecture and landscape design before pursuing art and music, when his interest in David Toop’s ideas on the structural and spatial qualities of sound inspired his own endeavors.
In 2000, Nicolai adopted the pseudonym Alva Noto for his growing experiments in sound and music, to distinguish them from his visual art, for which he uses his own name.
Nicolai is part of an artistic movement whose work explores the intersection between art, science, sound and music, with a strong adherence to reductionism and a development of their own theories and sonic, acoustic and visual symbols/codes.
His musical oeuvre echoes in his work as a visual artist; Nicolai seeks to overcome the separation of the peoples’ sensory perceptions by making scientific phenomena like sound and light frequencies perceivable to both eyes and ears.
Influenced by scientific reference systems, Nicolai often engages with mathematical patterns such as grids and codes, as well as error, random and self-organizing structures. His installations have a minimalistic aesthetic whose elegance and consistency are highly intriguing – and using the principles of Cymatics – he often visualizes sound.
Nicolai has participated in important international exhibitions like documenta x and the 49th and 50th Venice Biennales, and performed or created installations in many of the world’s most prestigious spaces, including the Guggenheim, Tate Modern, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Sónar and Club Transmediale.
His extensive catalogue and diverse musical projects include collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ryoji Ikeda, Mika Vainio, Scanner, Bjork, Iggy Pop, Tarwater, Michael Nyman and Blixa Bargeld from Einstürzende Neubauten. He has contributed to compilations in tribute to Andrei Tarkovsky and Iannis Xenakis and remixed Björk, Hauschka, John Cale, Kangding Ray, Ludovico Einaudi and Pantha Du Prince.
Nicolai started the independent label NOTON between 1994 and 1996. A collaboration with RasterMusic began the same year, and by 1999 the two labels had merged into Raster-Noton, which operated until May 2017. Now Nicolai runs NOTON separately, although all parties will continue with special collaborative projects and activities under the name Raster-Noton.
Musician, composer, artist, and environmental activist Ryuichi Sakamoto was born in Tokyo and has been based in New York City since 1990. Sakamoto studied music composition and ethnomusicology at the Tokyo University of the Arts.
He pioneered electronic music as a founding member of Yellow Magic Orchestra with Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi, then expanded into other genres in his solo career – ranging from pop to classical piano composition, to feature film scores with full philharmonic orchestras.
He is the recipient of numerous awards including an Oscar, Golden Globe, Grammy and BAFTA for ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence’ (1983); ‘The Last Emperor’ (1987); ‘Sheltering Sky’ (1990), and ‘The Revenant’ (2015).
In 2009 he was inducted into France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and in 2016 he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by Belgium’s World Soundtrack Academy. He has collaborated David Sylvian, David Byrne, Thomas Dolby, Iggy Pop, Taylor Deupree, Christopher Willits, Jaques Morelenbaum and the Geisha Girls.
He released a new solo studio album this year called ‘async’, which received critical acclaim, including an 8/10 review on Pitchfork.
Alva Noto plays The Barbican (solo) on 4th March Info.