Alva Noto: Univrs

Having developed over the course of many years and releases, Carsten Nicolai's sound is instantly recognizable, and as such it takes no time whatsoever for Univrs to identify itself as the latest contribution to a steadily growing discography by the German producer and Raster Noton overseer. Spreading fourteen quintessential Alva Noto tracks across an hour-long running time, Nicolai's follow-up to 2008's Unitxt possesses little of the soothing tone of his Ryuichi Sakamoto collaborations. Instead, the focus is on raw, beat-based settings that are, on production grounds, refined yet nevertheless hit with an aggressive forcefulness.

“Uni Iso” pushes the template to a near-rave pitch with ten minutes of industrial emissions and writhing noise textures (violent scrapes, scratches, squeals, and squawks) powered by jittery funk patterns and thudding bass tones, after which Nicolai distills its force and energy into a two-minute microcosm called “Uni Mode.” The album also finds him taking his music to an aggressive extreme not often witnessed before. Hear, for example, how much he loosens the controls for “Uni Deform,” a noise exercise that writhes spasmodically like some Alva Noto-Merzbow collaboration. In “Uni Rec” (which includes an ear-catching Siren synth contribution from Martin L. Gore), one hears traces of Kraftwerk in the track's marriage of high-pitched bleeps and funk patterns. “Uni Acronym,” featuring the manipulated voice of Anne-James Chaton reciting 208 three-letter acronyms (set in alphabetical order), also recalls similarly styled monotone voice-based tracks by Kraftwerk, especially when the voice in the Alva Noto track is presented as a robotic male.

The album's interspersed with experimental explorations and beatless interludes (“Uni Asymmetric Tone,” “Uni Asymmetric Noises,” “Uni Asymmetric III-IIII,” “Uni Asymmetric Sweep”) but for the most part Univrs is classic Alva Noto: relentless, intricately woven rhythm-based workouts that unspool with the micro-precision of advanced industrial machinery. Light-speed electronic funk and low-end bass throb are the primary focal points, and melody, while not altogether absent, is handled unconventionally with the focus not on melody per se but on melodic fragments that gain force when assembled into complex patterns.

December 2011