Concert Review: Alva Noto & Ensemble Modern, at Veletržní Palác, Floating on Waves
The sonic journey that Alva Noto and the Ensemble Modern took us on, in the wonderful setting of Prague Sounds at Veletržní palác, was unique, to say the least. An unforgettable, multi-sensory experience that, even after the performance, left its traces on us. A mix of traditional compositions and glitch intermissions, noises and natural sounds, made us forget that we were in a mortal body – at least for one evening.
A magical atmosphere pervaded the Veletržní palác on a cool autumn evening. In a packed room, the silent and attentive audience witnessed one of the most significant experimental performances of the year. Alva Noto brought on stage his Xerrox Vol. 4, the latest in a Xerrox five-piece intended series that began in 2007.
Carsten Nicolai (known to all as Alva Noto) is considered one of the most influential modern composers of electronic, experimental, and avant-garde music. Born in Chemnitz in 1965, he has a long career behind him that has helped mark him as one of the most striking examples of modern-day experimental music.
He has collaborated with many high-calibre artists, including Ryuichi Sakamoto, Björk, John Cale and Ludovico Einaudi. His musical approach ranges between art and performance, and his musical composition unwraps sound, eviscerating the notes he takes, uses and reuses, almost as if he were a puppeteer.
Xerrox is a project that consists of the manipulation and reworking of sounds that are captured, modified and reworked, using infinite reproductions. Xerrox is focused on the process of endless replicated sounds, which are altered to be difficult to associate with the source material.
The sound carpet created by Carsten Nicolai was rich and dense, with sound images and mental landscapes that blended with the magnificent visualisations that appeared behind the artist. The contribution of the Ensemble Modern enhanced the performance and added an interesting musical turning point.
The Ensemble Modern is an international ensemble formed in Frankfurt in 1980 and made up of musicians who promote the music of modern composers. The background of waves and vaporwaves, interspersed with glitchy spikes and random composition, merged with the orchestral arrangements spectacularly, giving the audience an impression of floating in the sounds, rather than listening to them from a distance.
As the audience listened in religious silence to the full performance of Alva Noto's album, sound permeated the room as if the whole ensemble of musicians, audience, hall and visuals were one breathing organism. Indeed, the visuals blended with the sounds, and one had the impression of abandonment of the body and total immersion in the musical composition.
Alva Noto is no stranger to contact with artistic venues, having already performed and taken his art installations to places like the Biennale in Venice, the Guggenheim in New York and the Tate Modern in London. The combination of art and music in his work is consistent, and thus there was no better venue in Prague than the Veletržní palác to perform his Xerrox Vol. 4.
This is probably Alva Noto's most contemplative and dreamy album, where the artist has recreated soundscapes that stretch on forever. Listening to the album at home is a great experience, but imagine the difference hearing it live and with an exceptional orchestra. Pure magic.
"Xerrox Kirlian", is an ambient celebration of sound and harmony. In fact, unlike the other previous albums in the same series – Xerrox Vol. 1, 2 and 3, which are more focused on manipulating existing samples and repurposing sounds that are processed – Xerrox Vol. 4 is more melodic, with warm sonorities and long droning notes that are lost in the vapour of sound.
Alva Noto seems to have let go of the precision and musical accuracy of his works in the previous series, abandoning himself here to emotions and sensitivity. A more intimate and honest approach, and in live performance he returns these feelings to the audience. The orchestra had a fundamental role, because, in addition to compensating the harmonies created by Nicolai, it enormously enriched the composition, accentuating its intimate sound.
The melodic parts, played on the piano by Ueli Wiget and Hermann Kretzschmar, fundamentally contributed to the harmonies, together with the beautiful harp of Aline Khouri. The string section (Jagdish Mistry, Giorgos Panagiotidis on violin, Megumi Kasakawa on viola, Eva Böcker and Michael Maria Kasper on cello), served as a counterpoint to Dietmar Wiesner's woodwinds.
An interesting role was played by the percussionists (Rainer Römer, Vanessa Porter and David Haller), who in addition to the use of classic instruments, also used various materials to recreate vaporwaves and noises, such as sprays, water instruments and various objects. The constant rhythmic background that formed the backdrop to the composition was provided by Paul Cannon's deep double bass. Alva Noto was set in the middle of the scene, surrounded by the orchestra.
The performance was part of the Prague Sounds festival which has existed for over 26 years and represents one of the most revealing musical events in the Czech Republic.
Alva Noto and Ensemble Modern created an immersive sonic multiverse that left us stunned. And at the end of the performance it lingered with us, because the impression we had was that the music was within us already, only that we needed someone capable of extrapolating it, of giving it a name.
Alva Noto & Ensemble Modern
Prague (Veletržní palác)
Xerrox Calypsoid 1
Xerrox Sans Retour
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