Both Alva Noto (Carsten Nicolai) and Ryuichi Sakamoto seem to be on a trajectory of increasing success. From a sound track for the Golden Globe and Academy Award winning The Revenant to their recent critically acclaimed works, both solo and in collaboration, the two are showing no desire to stop anytime soon.
The duo released five albums and an EP over fifteen years of collaboration – until Sakamoto was diagnosed with oropharyngeal cancer in 2015. He returned to music after a year-long hiatus for recovery and performed live alongside Noto in Phillip Johnson’s Glass House, utilising the building not only as an instrument but as an extension of the icy notions the pair had hinted at on The Revenant.
The recording of this performance entitled Glass, forms a crucial element in the understanding of Sakamoto’s current musical trajectory. After recovering from cancer, he faced his 42nd year as an acting musician. On 2017’s Async, we saw how Sakamoto’s illness had affected him. With a now quiet and soft voice, Async was a reflection on morality producing one of the mot well received ambient works of the year.
Glass works not only as a stepping stone between Noto and Sakamoto’s future works, but also as a sister work to Async, prototyping many themes and ideas found on it. Drawing inspiration from the sound sculptures of Harry Bertoia, Noto and Sakamoto take an impressionistic delve into close listening. Dreamlike to its core sounds are amplified to their breaking point leaving them unrecognisable. Musing on themes of existentialism, Sakamoto utilises the Glass House to its full extent, scraping rubber mallets across it’s mic’d up glass walls, producing a dread-inducing wail through digital processing.
Glass is a calculated exercise in making music that is refrained. After years decades of producing some of the most important synth-pop in history, it is interesting seeing Sakamoto return to his experimental roots. From his continual contributions to modern music, it seems unjust that Sakamoto is still as unrecognised as he is in the West’s mainstream.
(You can watch the performance here: http://theglasshouse.org/media/alva-noto-and-ryuichi-sakamoto/)
Words: Alex Weston-Noond