Alva Noto is the pseudonym of German audio-visual artist
Carsten Nicolai; techno producer, video and installation artist, event organizer and manager of the renowned Raster-noton imprint. Nicolai founded the label noton.archiv für ton und nichtton before joining forces with Raster Music in the late 90s. Nicolai also operates under the aliases Noto and Aleph-1, and is a member of the groups Signal (with Frank Bretschneider and Olaf Bender) and Cyclo. (with Ryoji Ikeda). He is also well known for his early 00s collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto, ‘Vrioon’, ‘Insen’ and ‘Revep’.
Carsten Nicolai was born in Chemnitz, in 1965. After studying architecture and landscape design, he developed an interest in the theoretical properties of sound and space, and began experimenting with electronic music. In the mid 90s, Nicolai founded an experimental music label, 'noton.archiv für ton und nichtton', as a platform for his conceptual sound experiments, and in 1996 began working with the moniker Noto. His first album was ‘Spin’
(1996). Nicolai was fairly prolific through the late 90s and early 00s with production and exhibitions.
Raster-Noton was created in 1999 from the merger of 'noton.archiv für ton und nichtton' and Rastermusic, founded by Olaf Bender and Frank Bretschneider, also in Chemnitz. A 1996 idea for a conceptual cd magazine was finally realised as the 20`to 2000 series on Raster-Noton between 1999 and 2000, making the label famous internationally.
Nicolai’s first solo album as Alva Noto was 2000's Prototypes on Mille Plateaux, a ten-track, 50-minute album of untitled sound collages using precisely arranged electrical hums and clicks. Transform followed the next year, developing the style that would soon be dubbed glitch or click and cuts. The aesthetics of Nicolai’s world have a lot in common with a science laboratory – clean lines and precisely calculated tangents. Many of his works have a direct link with the natural sciences, particularly his installation works employing video, sound, light and processes such as ice-formation, with titles such as “Crystalline Beauty in Mathematical Space.”
Nicolai’s release on Richard Chartier's LINE imprint, For (2006), revealed a more organic, personal approach, leaving the conceptual frameworks in the background; it’s an album of nine compositions connected only by their presentation as audio installations and their existence as personal dedications.
More recent Alva Noto productions, xerrox and Unitxt (2008) have seen a further broadening of Nicolai’s stark and at times ascetic mandate. For Xerrox, the name and subject matter are taken from the original Xerox machine: the compressions, multiplications, scale changes and shifts in resolution. While previous Alva Noto releases rarely used sound sources external to the computer, xerrox features a collection of (processed) found sounds; Noto works with samples from muzak, advertising, soundtracks and entertainment programs, including samples from these sources: Narita airport Tokyo, in-flight program Air France, telephone wait-loop Lufthansa, hotel Apollo Paris, Suizanso hotel Yamaguchi, Seven-Eleven Tokyo, Forma London. The sounds are manipulated into unrecognizability through repeatedly degraded copies.
Unitxt (2008) signaled an increase in musicality and muscularity. The album featured poet Anne-James Chaton reading ephemera extracted from Nicolai’s wallet in a collision of deep precision and identity flotsam. Nicolai performed a live set based around Unitxt at Berlin’s biggest techno club, Berghain, in mid 2008.
Nicolai has performed and exhibited in many of the world’s most prestigious art spaces, including The Guggenheim NYC, documenta x and the 49th and 50th Venice Biennale, He’s had two comprehensive solo exhibitions at Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Germany (anti reflex) and at Neue National Galerie in Berlin, Germany (syn chron) in 2005, as well as Watarium in Tokyo.
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