Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto
s soon as you heard the two names together, it made complete and utter sense, right? Sine-wave manipulator Carsten Nicolai with the pointillist piano master Ryuichi Sakamoto? Guaranteed. And vrioon was exactly that. Voted one of the records of the year by avant Bible The Wire, vrioon was exactly what you’d expect from the two, Nicolai weaving digital bursts, bumps, and bass into a synthesis with Sakamoto’s piano clusters.
We get much of the same here on the follow-up, insen. The main difference in the two is that now, Nicolai has taken it upon himself to intervene directly with Sakamoto’s contribution, reconfiguring and reconstructing the track’s to his liking, pulling them apart and dissecting. It makes for a more unified whole, in the long run, as insen seems all the better for the fact that Nicolai isn’t constrained by moving around what Sakamoto has sent to him. Instead, he’s working inside.
The philosophical implications are ripe, but mostly boring. Acoustic elements have, for too long now, been modified by the digital to have much actual meaning past the actual sounds that emerge from the collaboration. “What does it mean?”, as it should nearly always be, is trumped by “Does it sound good?”
Judging by the fact that this record sounds so similar to vrioon, it’s hard not to answer in the affirmative. Take “Morning,” for example: it’s probably the messiest that Nicolai allows things to get, allowing each digital pulse to mass together into an indistinguishable ball of sound (an atom with hundreds of electrons rotating in their own particular orbit wouldn’t be a bad way of explaining the sound). Nicolai obviously turns up some of Sakamoto’s piano notes, distorts them ever so slightly, or allows them to pierce through the haze. It’s a guessing game as to what’ll happen next.
Later highlight, “Berlin” seems to be the most composed of anything here, featuring an urgent digital backing and the bird sounds from outside Nicolai’s Berlin studio. Instead of the relatively abstract contributions that have come before, the track is full of menacing bass and the sense that we are, indeed, moving to some inevitable end, rather than stuck in the stasis that permeates much of the album.
Despite the fact that Nicolai has seemingly begun to devote himself to installations and art projects and Sakamoto is well known for his sometimes new-age contributions to whatever project he happens to be gracing, insen finds the two at the peak of their powers, coming together for a rare follow-up that equals its predecessor.