Bleep Interviews Raster Noton:
Carsten Nicolai (Alva Noto)
Bleep: How did you come about making your visual and recorded work?
Carsten Nicolai: Actually, I started being really interested more in visual arts, it was actually through a certain sort of crisis I would call it, I was kind of stuck with my work and looked in to media, and what was more ephemeral or non material. I was really interested as well in time, basically, the philosophical idea of time.
At the same time I started experimenting on sine waves frequencies- very high and very low frequencies; and how we perceive not really music, but more like a perception of high frequencies especially. This was around the early 90’s and from this point on I realised that maybe the material I wanted to work with is sound. This really basically was a kind of break through for me – my work really started looking a certain way.
B: How does the output of Alva Noto and Carsten Nicolai differ?
CN: Actually that is very simple, as Alva Noto I use as a pseudonym for all more musical material, like releases that have a musical approach. The is still the Noto pseudonym that I rarely use, but it is more like for more rough material, more like physics, and Carsten Nicolai is really pure, my normal name. You can see Alva Noto as kind of a band name or project name inside of my work.
B: How do you sketch out your ideas and go about their execution?
CN: I have ideas and mostly I am sketching them, like for visual work I have my note books and my sketch books. But mostly I forget about them, and then I remember them, and after two or three times I then realise that ‘ok this idea is really belonging to you and it is not just a moment there’, and that I feel attracted to a certain idea or a certain phenomenon.
The execution is mostly a work process, and the music is very different as to visual arts, but I have a great team, and have a small studio here in Berlin, where we have an incredible efficient team that are around five people that work with me together. Mainly they are doing work, but as well they’re taking care partly of the label – as we do design things of course, because we really like to control our visual output and as well our sound output. The studio is here too, the sound studio, and this is of course work that I will always do myself – I can’t have help here, that’s impossible.
B: Your work investigates the visual correlation to sound, how do you go about deciding the parameters in how this is translated?
CN: Basically I am kind of using any possibility that sound can provide me. I use any kind of parameters from intensity, to frequency, to phasing, stereo imaging, to pure data. I think any kind of information that writes sound, is for me a parameter that I would like to use, especially because I am really looking more for graphical representation of the sound, where the sound grows really the image, rather than inventing a graphical pattern that get triggered by it. This takes time – a little bit of time of research and a little bit of luck as well, to find specific ways how you can do that, and translate it in a nice easy and connected way.
B: You have recently released an album with Blixa Bargeld, how did this collaboration come about?
CN: We were good friends for many years, and of course I grew up in Germany not only with Kraftwerk, but also the influences like Neubauten were really strong for me. Especially the moment when Neubauten started using samplers, I think this moment was really a radical moment, and it influenced my way of how I probably think or what I do now I’m sure. So of course to work with a voice like Blixa’s voice was a great honor, and Blixa was as well very much interested in it opening up new horizons for him.
B: How does working with a vocalist effect your practice, how does this work within a live performance?
CN: Actually from the starting point we really wanted a live performative aspect, and develop the recording out of a live performance idea, you can really hear this I think in the record. The songs sound almost as we play them right away, we did many takes, we did many recording sessions – rather than a multi-track recording situation. We had a studio that was perfect of course.
I created my sounds in a different way, and we wanted to have this collaboration to have some references to my work, but also to Blixa’s work. But in same time I wanted to have a really strong electronic sound, that had a certain sound quality that might reflect a real instrument – but is not a real instrument. Or might use space, like physical space like reverbs, or specific kind of reverbs to create a certain density, to create a room that you share for a collaboration as well.
B: Your work Unitxt has recently been installed in a space in the UK, what is it that you are wanting the audience to experience within this work?
CN: Unitxt is not only a record, it is as well a visualization, which I do a lot, in a quite interesting way – it is a kind of version of the record, which I could describe as a kind of installation version. I was really interested in this real-time translation of this kind of running tape loop. It is a kind of loop, it goes in real time, performed by the visual in a way, so it’s a kind of installed version of the Unitxt idea.
Ok I hope this helps you, thank you, Bye.
Customer Feedback Book from the recent Unitxt installation…
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