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alva noto - Xerrox
It's been quite some time since the last 'proper' full length from German sound manipulator Carsten Nicolai under his own Alva Noto moniker. Okay he's hardly been slouching; we've had the insanely good collaborations with Ryuichi Sakamoto, the incredible Transall series of EPs and last year's compilation of odds and ends on the Line label 'For', but it's been six years since 'Transform', his last long-format album. So much has changed since 2001 too, the glitch scene has come and gone, digital minimalism has drifted out and then back into the avant garde and Carsten Nicolai has gone from being a critically lauded member of the Mille Plateaux gang to being a respected international sound artist and public figure. I suppose that all this would mean the expectations are high for 'Xerrox Vol.1' and in true Alva Noto style, he manages to turn our pre-conceptions around and come up with something so good it left our jaws dragging along the office floor for a good few hours when it first turned up. "Xerrox Vol.1" is the first of five in an intended series and is based on the idea of 'copying' (hence the title). Together with Christoph Brünggel, Nicolai designed a 'sample transformer' which would take audio fragments and manipulate them beyond recognition, taking something familiar and de-familiarising it. Samples were taken from the most obvious sources; advertising jingles, airport tones, telephone hold music and film soundtracks, but the resulting album manages to sound totally unlike any of these things. Rather this is the most haunting and intricately realised work that Nicolai has produced to date, re-contextualising his token 'glitches and bass' sound into long, organic and sometimes almost orchestral pieces of work. The digital elements are beaten into a submissive static whine leaving only traces of radio static and white noise, and underpinning this is the sampled theme - building and falling graciously. As drones and hums layer under this bed of slowly building noise it brings to mind Machinefabriek or Tim Hecker and the austerity of the dwindling Mille Plateaux scene is lost in an instant. For proof of this just head over to 'Haliod Xerrox Copy 1' which sounds something like Deaf Center being played back from answerphone tape, gorgeously cinematic and effortlessly experimental in the same breath. Without a doubt Carsten Nicolai has excelled himself with this album, and has proved yet again that he is one of the most important figures in modern electronic music. I really don't think it's very likely there will be another album of its kind that comes even close to the majesty on display here in 2007... 'Xerrox Vol.1' has truly blown us away and if this is setting the bar for Nicolai's next four albums then he's got quite a task ahead of him. ESSENTIAL PURCHASE!