Review: Alva Noto - univrs

As with previous album unitxt, Alva Noto’s univrs presents Carsten Nicolai’s own interpretation of club music (see our interview with the man himself for more). It goes without saying that the club scene is infinitely more eclectic in Germany than it is over here in the UK, and to envisage the album as part of England’s nightlife would be to completely re-imagine the role and atmosphere of the clubs themselves. This music isn’t merely an undeviating beat by which hordes of youth can sway in vague, drunken unison, although it does tap into club music’s euphoric intensity – unlike the xerrox series, which presents sound as something to be quietly observed, univrs presents it as something to be sensed and physicalised.

And so to listen to the album through headphones is almost like listening to an entirely different work altogether. When made personal, these compositions revert back to multi-part constructions rather than singular, throbbing organisms surging out of speakers – the clinicalness of the process becomes a point of focus, just as with xerrox. There’s still heaps to be appreciated with the visceral quality subtracted. The intricacy is quite astonishing at points; bass thuds, high beeps and white noise jets all lock together to form complex electronic patchworks (such as in the opening beats of “uni c”), with monotonous techno synthesizers tucked neatly within. Tonality is often present, but it’s kept simple and subservient. Rhythm is undoubtedly the driving force.

“uni acronym” is a particular favourite of mine. Sound poet Anne-James Chaton returns to recite 208 3-letter acronyms in alphabetical order – some of them easily recognisable (“AOL”, “KFC”, “KGB”), while some perhaps stumbling unknowingly into a more personal symbolism. Connotations flash impulsively out of the stream of letters; sensations jumping out of the mass of otherwise meaningless data. Nicolai’s beats and bass throbs hang pendulously in the background, flickering rapidly like time passing at an unnaturally fast pace, but tempered by the relentless throb of first-beat emphasis.

This is perhaps my favourite Alva Noto work to date. Univrs is at home at high volume and out of speakers, at which point it makes a very primitive contact with its listener – via bass and recurrent rhythm – and it forcefully demands movement, in both the invisible buzz of air vibration and the dance moves of its audience. Yet it’s never enough to drown out the craftsmanship behind the placement of each beat and the beautiful interaction between elements. Somewhere within that club music euphoria is always embedded an appreciation for Nicolai’s impressive artistry – this is incredibly hypnotic stuff, but never ever mindlessly so.