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Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto - Xerrox, Vol. 1

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Artist: Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto

Album: Xerrox, Vol. 1

Label: Raster-Noton

Review date: Apr. 19, 2007

As its name suggests, Xerrox, Vol. 1 focuses on the idea of duplication. In this first installment of an intended five-part series, alva noto (a.k.a. German sound artist Carsten Nicolai) uses sounds culled from the white noise of contemporary life - advertisements, voice mail hold messages, jingles, film soundtracks, in-flight entertainments - as his basic ingredients. Nicolai then processes these various samples through a custom Xerrox software program, transforming them into faded sonic shadows of themselves. There are no recognizable samples here. With each copy, the signal degrades, the original's edges fray and blur until only a hazy auditory afterimage remains. It's out of these spectral copies that Nicolai creates the music of Xerrox.

The results mark a departure for Nicolai both in terms of source materials, as well as overall structure. As one of the premier exponents of conceptually-minded post-techno, Nicolai has created abstract, pixelated funk modeled closely on the rhythmic schematics of contemporary hip hop and R&B. In the fine-tuned sound world of alva noto, the art gallery was rarely far from the dance club. Although it begins with a bracing bit of crackle and buzz, Xerrox is far removed from the pinprick percussion and sub-bass thump of so much of his past work. On this latest CD, Nicolai navigates a gentler, almost pastoral musical terrain, full of gently pulsing rhythms and simple melodic patterns. The omnipresent static typically comes in soft, swirling clouds rather than sharp, percussive bursts, bathing the listener in finely wrought hiss. It's a beguiling pretty record, which is not something you'd necessarily expect from a conceptual project so tightly focused on the process of digital reproduction.

Its unerring prettiness is also its greatest weakness. It's an immensely pleasurable disc, but the ideas underpinning Xerrox promise more than gauzed, seductive beauty. Nicolai is more than capable of fusing high concept with aesthetic enjoyment -- just look at his previous Transall. Ultimately, Xerrox, Vol. 1 falls somewhat short of the mark it sets for itself

By Susanna Bolle

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