Interview: Carsten Nicolai (Alva Noto)

univrs seems to be continuation of the concept raised in your previous album, unitxt. Was there any reason for deciding to revisit/expand on the concept? Was it spurred by a want to return to a more rhythmically-driven sound?

First of all, unitxt was a set mainly produced for clubs, and grew out of that club context. I’m still interested in very rhythmic patterns, and raster-noton are interested in driving ideas of experimental club music. I wanted to continue that work. In my performances of unitxt, and in previous years, I’ve always been working on new tracks. In a way, this is a follow up – a continuation as you’ve said – that grew out of the live context in which I played these tracks over previous years.

How is the concept of univrs conveyed through the sound?

The concept is a bit more open that unitxt, which was really in the 120bpm grid. Univrs shared that idea in using 133.333bpm in the beginning, but it also uses 125, 124, 128…so it’s not so static. But it’s a continuation as I’ve said.

There is also a visual element to univrs, based on the “real-time manipulation of software-generated test images by audio signals”. How do they enhance the experience or help to convey the concept?

The visuals have always been very important for me when performing. In the beginning, as I tested audio signals, I wanted to have visual representation – especially for high frequencies. In the performance situation, I think the visuals become a really strong element – you are lacking in performance as a laptop-based performer. I wanted to shift the performance into the visual aspect rather than just me performing on stage. Even with a touch screen controller, you cannot visualise the complexity of the sounds you’re playing, so this complexity is presented in the visuals. They became a really strong element in my live performance, and that’s why I want to continue with them.

A quick word about the software/hardware that creates these visuals…with unitxt, I started developing a very strong colourful line system based on audio distortions on visual test patterns. But at the moment I’m using what you would describe as “circuit-bending” and classical programming at the same time in order to visualise my sound.

There are also different versions. One is called uniscope, which was developed with Derivative. There will be a special edition of the new CD, which includes a recording of a concert using that kind of visualisation.

Anne-James Chaton returns to provide a vocal part for the track uni acronym. Was there any reason for deciding to work with him again?

I wanted to continue the collaboration with Anne-James – I really love to work with him, and I’m a big fan of his voice and his concepts. raster-noton also released his solo album and we are really proud of and happy with that. We’ve also performed together a few times, and I think that from that situation – performing together, touring together – there was always this idea to continue that collaboration. I really like his personality and his work a lot.

What is the intention (if any) behind the “random narrative” of 3-letter acronyms?

Actually there was no intention in the beginning, and I think everybody will read these acronyms very differently. Many of the acronyms are known to one person or another – of course, I know all 208 – and in a way, the ones you know create a kind of narrative. You connect the ones you know to specific things, and the order creates these strange jumps from one thought to another. This triggers a narrative, and I think everybody has a very different experience.

Is there an ideal listening environment for univrs?

As I’ve said, it was developed from a club context, but recording for the album was done in the studio. You could listen to it in a quieter situation, but a very strong aspect of the work is to experience the tracks in a social, live performance situation with the visuals. I think people will really appreciate seeing and experiencing it.

What can be expected from your performance at Supersonic Festival?

To be honest, I just hope that people appreciate the experience, and that I can give a little of the intensity – maybe an aspect that the album itself doesn’t reflect. I just hope people enjoy it.

Are there any acts on the line up that you’re planning on checking out?

I’d have to check who’s playing! I just know that my label-colleague Olaf Bender (byetone) I also coming …I’m always very curious about who else is playing on the night. I’ll check a bit of everything.

Do you have any thoughts on the festival as a whole?

I’ve heard about Supersonic a lot. I’m very curious – I’ve never been there before, and I’m really looking forward to it.

This year is raster-noton’s 15th anniversary. Are you satisfied with what the label has achieved thus far? What’s next for the label?

The most surprising thing is that we’re already 15 years old, and that we’ve survived all this time. I’m very happy about the fact that we still do experimental music, but with the help of followers, buyers, and supporters, we’ve been able to create a platform for this kind of music. We hope that we will continue in the future in that same manner, and hopefully we can release and produce many more ideas.

What’s next for yourself and your music?

I’m going to step back from recording for a moment and concentrate on my live performance. I’m also going to start working on some new, bigger installations for my visual art, which I may be able to present in 2013 or 2014. Maybe I’ll concentrate on the xerrox series again a bit more, and perhaps step back from the intensity of this year.


Supersonic Festival website –

Alva Noto website –

Raster Noton website –