This is not your conventional album review because this is not your conventional album. Back in 2002, Mika Vainio, Ryoji Ikeda and Alva Noto played together for their first and only time. The event which took place at the magnificent Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Newcastle was as much an artistic event as a musical one. The recording of the event which forms Live 2002, is a continuous piece divided into movements rather like a classical or ballet piece.
Alva Noto, pseudonym of Carsten Nicolai, and Ryodji Ikeda met on common ground through their work at the intersection between art, science, sound and music. With an especial interest in reductionism, they have explored mathematical patterns, the possibility of blending people’s sensory perceptions and frequencies on the edge of human hearing. In collaboration with the late Mika Vainio, whose own work has experimented with abstraction and industrial noise, Live 2002 is a skilful piece that distorts and disorientates.
There seems to be no overall narrative structure to Live 2002 being more of a sensory piece and inducing different physical and emotional responses at different points. What is certainly impressive is that all these nuances were captured and created live. There is almost a human detachment from the creation of the music, as if it has been composed and played by artificial intelligence. It is the music robots would create as in ‘Movement 8’ which has an electronic call and response, altering the speed to the point of dizziness.
The sounds are used beyond the usual use of samples. Often the movements consist of one simple line being joined by a quieter other until they change place and cross like railway tracks diverting. ‘Movement 5’ is a perfect example of this where the sound of some serious hair-singeing electrolysis is overtaken by a helmeted welder engaging in energetic soldering. ‘Movement 10’ is a word processor typing out the complete works of William Shakespeare overcome by the hum of electric appliances coming to life once everyone has gone to sleep.
The sonic odyssey has some eerie, dystopian moments. ‘Movement 6’ is a montage of unconnected sound. There is a palpitating heart, a laser gun piercing through metal, an electric bandsaw in an abattoir. Then to everyone’s irritation, a possessed child flicks an electric switch on and off, on and off. Live 2002 also has more melodic places, even moments bordering on the conventional such as Movement 4. Here the beats are tapped out on a trouser leg and a curious tap dancer performs in the rain like a cybernetic Gene Kelly.
The final piece is a washing machine onslaught of a finale. It is the most raucous of all the movements, as if a powercut has triggered the need for everything to be reset and only Jim and William Reid and Kevin Shields are expert enough to sort it out.
Terrifyingly powerful stuff.
Live 2002 will be released on 20th January 2018 through Noton Records.