Raster Noton is a label that has garnered a reputation for its superior quality releases. They have over the years cultivated an enviable roster of artists, creating coherent editions of work encapsulated in CD sleeves that are a packaging fetishist’s wet dream. Very rarely does this label miss the mark (with a few notable exceptions, one being last year’s pointless C.M Von Hausswolf release, “Leech” that failed to connect on any level, only to be eclipsed by the subsequent debut release by Kangding Ray that was markedly superior to the point of brilliance).
Xerrox, the latest conceptual collection by the label’s founder, Carsten Nicolai, is arguably one of his most eagerly awaited releases of late, particularly after last year’s disappointing “For” release on L-NE. Xerrox sees Nicolai (under his Alva Noto moniker) presenting a more refined collection of works. Gone are the stripped-down-to-the-bones sub-techno beat workouts of old, and the pin sharp electronic glitch experiments, only to be replaced by a fuller, richer sound palette derived from all manner of obtuse sources such as in-flight programmes, telephone wait loops, and seven-eleven’s in Tokyo, reflecting Nicolai’s status as an underground globe-trotting celebrity, a la Scanner.
These source recordings are putatively subjected to subtle deformations and degradations via a piece of software enticingly called a “Xerrox sample transformer”, a device whose function is not explained within the sleeve notes, but whose inevitable task will presumably be be to add noise, fractures, and digital agglomerations, the kind of errant phenomena that most sound producers would strive to remove. The brief sleeve notes imply that what is presented here is an audible facsimile of familiar, or semi-familiar sounds, rinsed out to the point of near extinction, but retaining an imprint of the original, except in a more degraded and mutated form. To anyone who hasn’t been living on the Moon for the past ten years, this all smacks of a regurgitated thesis on the origin of the “glitch”, a sonic meme that is now the stock –in- trade of fringe electronica practitioners the world over, to the point of being a cliche. Reading the sleeve notes to this release echoes much of what was being said ten years ago by the likes of Kim Cascone, Rehberg & Bauer, and a host of sonic evangelists in the vanguard of the “clicks and cuts” movement at that time. Putting aside the conceptual weaknesses of this CD though, Alva Noto has emerged with an amazingly fresh take on experimental ambience, with a warm, rich production, washed over with bursts of static, erroneous noise, and digital breakdown. The opening track, “10-22-38 ASTORIA” opens in classic Noto style with a scratchy electronic drizzle, giving the impression that it’s business as usual. Expectations are short-circuited however, when it surprisingly blossoms into uncharacteristic warm tonal ambience. This essentially sets the tone for the whole collection, and will no doubt consolidate Alva Noto’s pole position in the constellation of contemporary sound workers. The success of Xerrox lies in it’s relative accessibility, satisfying the more commercial end of the experimental sector in the market place, yet still still retaining flashes of radical inventiveness combined with a polished exterior that puts Mr Noto head and shoulders above his contemporaries. This being the first part of a series of related recordings in a similar vein to Noto’s “Transall” collection, “Xerrox” is no doubt the beginning of something very special indeed…essential. BGN