Alva Noto: Transrapid/Transvision/Transspray

The three EPs constituting Carsten Nicolai's Alva Noto Transall triptych—Transrapid, Transvision, and Transspray—evidence the customary distinction of Raster-Noton products. The twenty-one minute discs are inserted within double-gatefold cardboard designs, with the respective sleeves displaying texts composed by Ulf Poschardt, Kodwo Eshun, and Marco Peljhan designed to illuminate the recordings' themes. Quoting Nicolai, the discs deals with “the problematics of speed, the vision of utopia, and the dissolution of our ideas into fragments.” Excerpts suggest the texts' theoretical tone: Poschardt writes, “Human yearning to go astray and to run away is deterritorialized,” Eshun contemplates “a utopia as an event of intensive experience in which the enigma of the sonic makes life vivid,” and Peljhan asserts that “ahfm—alternate high frequency material—absorption, not scattering, is the final goal.” If all of that sounds too obscure or abstract for your liking, relax: the music succeeds perfectly well on its own without the supplementary intellectualizing.

Nicolai indicates that text, image, and vector graphic files were converted into raw audio data and used as source material for the EPs' tracks (track titles like “f 117.tiff” suggest he can be taken at his word), with the primary emphasis on rhythm. True enough, there's rarely melody per se (though Transvision's “Remodel” includes a memorable minimal theme), just propulsive interweaves of syncopated funk patterns and tactile electronic sounds. Noto's music impresses for the richness of its cold palette—steely signals, biting bass throbs, prickly starbursts, industrial thrums—plus its marvelous merging of the sensual and cerebral, with Nicolai repeatedly generating hypnotic material using a modicum of means. Listen to how artfully he arranges disparate cold sounds (whirrs, wipes, smears, bass growls) into classic funk patterns in “J” (Transvision), for example, or how “Future” escalates into a disorienting mass of combustible noise, its layers coming together in a violent clash.

Make no mistake: the essence of this material is deep funk, no matter how abstractly presented. Like past Noto releases Transform and Prototypes, Transall is advanced music, attested to by Transvision's sleek fusion of hip-hop and bass funk in the mesmerizing “Postfabric.” When strangulated voice fragments writhe amidst slithering bass throbs and squawking splatter in the grimy “Bit” (Transspray), you're in the presence of metal machine music of a most beautiful kind.

April 2005