Sunday, 22 March 2009

A Review of Insen by Alva Noto

Insen is the 2005 follow up album to the highly acclaimed Vrioon (2003) album created by Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto. Insen is a modern album done in the minimalist electronic tradition. While its modern sound may not be readily accessible to the general listening public, research of professional musical reviews shows that Insen has been well received by music critics.

According to BBC writer Colin Buttimer,1 Insen is an exploration of electronic sounds combined with traditional acoustic instruments, which in the case of Insen, uses the piano skills of the multi-talented Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto. Alva Noto is the pseudonym of Carsten Nicolai, one of the three members of the recording label Raster Norton (the other two members being Frank Bretschneider and Olaf Bender).

The Raster Norton label is renowned for its spectrum of electronic based music that is largely experimental and ranges from stripped down incidental sounds to abstract and experimental music. The music can be linked with art movements such as Minimalism and Futurism and harks back to the days of Kraftwerk and early electronic music of the past 1980’s, although it belongs to a more creative and artistic plane than popular music.2

The album is the result of Nicolai’s masterly dissection and rebuilding of Ryuichi’s delicate piano scores, complimenting these notes and rhythms with a network of interwoven electronic sound that has the effect of encompassing the entire album in a reflective ambience, tugging at the emotions and heart-strings of the listener.

The music takes on a simplistic, elegant yet stripped-back style to produce delicate sounds which provide both contrast and harmony. The subtle notes of the piano are complimented and augmented with the meanderings of digitally created sound, as if they are being carried on the air like delicate bird song.

On the first opening notes of the leading track ‘Aurora’ the feelings of melancholy and heady emotion are already apparent. The bass elements of the track vary in intensity and volume, grabbing the listener’s attention without warning.

‘Morning’ has the feel of a clear and still air of an early winter’s day; cold repetitive notes become hauntingly familiar as the track continues.

Both of the tracks ‘Logic Moon' and ‘Moon’ combine sudden stops and interruptions by using a glitch effect to break into the gentle melody.

Berlin’ is perhaps the most memorable and distinct track, having a more defined rhythm countered by an infusion of background recordings, giving an ethereal feel which includes the distant sound of birdsong.

‘Iano’ begins with a brief introduction of piano notes, electronic background samples and a crackle which forms into a part of the rhythm which picks up slightly before being rejoined by the piano. Static sounds become blended into the mix gradually giving a feeling of rainfall in the background. The beat can then be picked out and becomes pronounced with a more obvious fusion of piano and digital pulse before gradually fading away.

It seems clear that the two artists have worked together to create a natural fusion of their own individual and highly developed skills into creating a piece of work that is both mesmerizing and emotionally charged.

1 Buttimer, 09 May 2005, Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto: Insen,, Accessed 20 March 2008.
2 ibid

No comments: