Carsten Nicolai is really prolific. Not content with producing some of the most intricate musical structures you’re likely to hear, he is also a visual artist and runs the german math-sound-art label Raster-Noton. Over the last few years, he has really upped the ante with his releases. He began another cycle of work- the ‘Xerrox’ series, which involves sculpting torrents of sound from microsamples of things like call-waiting music and aeroplanes lifting off. He made an album consisting of all the numerical data he could find about himself last year (‘Unitxt’) and then collaborated with Olaf Bender and Frank Bretschneider (to form Signal), Ryuichi Sakamoto, and recently with Blixa Bargeld of Einsturzende Neubaten. Four years after releasing his first ‘For’ record of songs dedicated to people he admired, Nicolai has released a follow up.
‘For 2’ is an interesting record for fans of Nicolai’s music, not least because it is obviously made up of disparate pieces that are not designed to go together, unlike almost everything else I have ever heard him put out. It showcases a dramatic range of styles, from the more recognisably “Noto” tracks like Interim (for Dieter Rams), or parts of Anthem Berlin. Garment (for a Garment) sounds much more like a Ryoji Ikeda track than a current Noto track, but their styles clearly have influenced each other and there is the xerrox glitchy string sample. The piece moves in a delightful way, building much more like a typical techno track. Pax (for chain music) seems like an outtake from the sessions that he did with Sakamoto, and it’s charming but very brief.
The less “Noto” tracks are Villa Aurora (for Mara Feuchtwanger) which is a beautiful field recording of some birds and someone hitting a piano. The editorial touch on this is very light but it’s a very beautiful piece. The most interesting tracks on the album are the two least “Noto”, the two versions of Argonaut (for Heiner Muller). The first version seems on the surface to be simple MIDI sketch for an orchestral piece, a development which would be most exciting if it ever came to fruition; a departure from the intense electronic composition into something much more traditional… Then on the second version, it actually does! (Either that or Nicolai has used very good VST instruments.) It also sounds a lot like some of the ‘Lost in Translation’ soundtrack, conjuring up that grey-Japanese beauty.
Like ‘For’, this record offers nods to those who inspire Nicolai, which is once again fascinating. Dieter Rams, the great industrial designer is an obvious choice, and there are two strong pieces here in honor of him prepared for an award ceremony. Stalker, the piece for Andrey Tarkovsky does sound like it belongs in the eponymous film, ramping up the creepier side of ambient noise with a lilting russian voice over the top. Early Winter is for Phill Niblock, a fellow minimalist composer, and ANS is for Evgeny Murzin, a scientist who worked with sounds and images. Overall, definitely interesting, if a little disjointed but well-worth exploring.