Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto: summvs (Raster-Noton)
Another gorgeous installment in the collaborations between signal-noise master Carsten Nicolai and all-around electronic music legend Ryuichi Sakamoto. Their collaborations have largely showcased Sakamoto’s talents as a piano instrumentalist, with Nicolai then layering, editing and resequencing those sounds with his own signature digital pulse. summvs comes a couple of years after their last album together, a rather severe collaboration with Ensemble Modern called utp_. However, the sounds here are much closer to the duo’s 2005 release Insen, picking up pretty much right where it left off. The result is a rather serene albeit moody collection of instrumental pieces, tending to lean more on Sakamoto’s piano than anything else. The duo has done well to complement the more stark and pretty moments of the album with the slightest amount of tension, tempering it away from being merely precious and instead feeling reflective yet hesitant. Just when it seems as though a piece is fully resolved and sure of itself, there is something either in Sakamoto’s playing or in the surrounding treatments and drones that lends it the right amount of doubt. The longest piece, “Naono,” yields the biggest surprise, deteriorating from beautiful, haunting simplicity to murky meandering on the low end of the piano, the only truly obvious tumult to come through Sakamoto’s playing. The most handsome combination of sounds for me is “Reverso,” which has a seductive low-end piano phrase reinforced by rhythmic crinkles, snips and pulses. The combination of minimal electronics, edits and piano is not anything new, especially given their past collaborations, but rest assured this is completely gorgeous from start to finish. Highly recommended.