Music

Alva Noto: The Cosmonaut Of Sound

30.04.2019 | By PAOLO BOCCHI

Real name: Carsten Nicolai. Better known with the stage name of Alva Noto.

A scientist of sound, not just an EDM deejay. His music research stretches from Pitagora ’s ancient Greece to the Guggenheim museum in New York.

 

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Alva Noto gave an image to sound. And not the other way round, as it’s now the norm.

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Because Alva Noto doesn’t have much to do with “norm”, convention nor custom.

Alva Noto is a peculiar figure: multifaceted, complex, unattainable.

Noto is elusive.

Especially if you consider him as a part of today’s EDM world, that mostly comes as a combination of deejays/starlets/flash drives .

Alva Noto is a “non-character character”; a one-of-a-kind presence.

Not just a deejay.

Not just a musician.

Not just a producer.

 

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Alva Noto is “beyond”: a bit like Sir Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner; like a Roy Batty that looks into infinity as he whispers his heartfelt, legendary monologue: “…and all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain…”.

Alva Noto is absolutely atypical; what’s great about him is his constant tiptoeing on the fine line that separates “groove” and “experimental”. A fragile balance; thus pretty intriguing. And riveting.

 

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While performing on stage in front of a crowd, Alva Noto often looks like a mathematical genius, completely absorbed in the research of a hyper-complicated, almost unattainable and still unknown formula for the salvation of humankind.

Alva Noto is a scientist-musician; someone who “draws” music, portraying it in real time while playing it, live.

His research is constantly evolving in a never-ending development.

And it stems from the illustrious studies of other giants of science history; the likes of Pythagoras (mathematician), Galileo Galilei (physicist-philosopher-astronomer), Ernst Chladni (physicist), Hans Jenny (physician), Rudolf Steiner (scientist) and James Gleick (author of the essay “Chaos: making a new science”).

 

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Such pursuit belongs to the field of of “Cymatics”, from the Greek “kymatica”, meaning “the study of waves” (“kyma” = wave). Basically, this is what it’s about: think of a flat surface, like a slab or a membrane; now imagine sprinkling its surface with some kind of powder, like sand or flour, then throw in music i.e. sound vibrations: the powder will start shaking and jumping around, forming grid-like shapes that become marvelous geometric patterns, each lasting for a tiny, small moment, as they turn into one another.

Such designs, generated by the vibrations emitted by sound – musical or non-musical – take shapes that remind a lot of Tibetan mandalas (and, like them, only last for a very limited time): hence the parallels with Zen, with breathing, with the concentric patterns of the ancestral Sanskrit chant/syllable “OHM”; hence, also, the reference to Pythagoras’ statement that sums up the whole universe in a concept, utterly simply and complexly at the same time: “There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres”.

 

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In other words, Geometry is music in solid form; apparently, the best definition of Alva Noto’s music was given a long time ago by Pythagoras.

That concludes this glimpse into the music quest of artist-musician-deejay-scientist Alva Noto.

Attending one of his shows is like going on a trip to Ancient Greece; stepping into a cave and listening to the sounds sea waves, the screaming of seagulls, the wind rustling through the trees, then trying to give them a visual appearance; a stylized, temporary portait, as ephemeral as a wave crashing against a cliff. And here it comes: a brief moment in which religion, Physics, New Age, fractions, abstract art, music, noise aesthetic and the whole universe come together, giving its spectators the emotion of grasping, for a second, the immense infinite nature of the cosmos.

Carsten Nicolai, also known as Alva Noto: a cosmonaut of sound.

 

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