ALVA NOTO LIVE IN BERLIN
Alva Noto presents Unieqav Live at Funkhaus
Getting to Funkhaus in the depths of the Berlin winter can be a daunting task. Located in Treptow-Köpenick, it's at least a 30-minute trek across town for most people. By the time you've walked another ten minutes along the icy River Spree, the warmth and shelter of the immense brick structure are a welcome relief. On Thursday, a crowd assembled to see the Berlin debut of UNIEQAV, the new album and audiovisual performance from Carsten Nicolai, AKA Alva Noto. Studio 1 was already packed when I arrived, as Leipzig artist Stanley warmed up with a set of white noise and vibrating sub-bass.
The event wasn't governed by regular tempos. While Stanley brought the music back into an almost rhythmic pattern, the audience wobbled between entrancement and paying attention to not being stepped on. After he finished, everyone began scavenging for seats in the former GDR broadcasting centre. When Nicolai took the stage, a swift hush replaced the chatter. The studio, which holds around 1000 people, was full. Slivers of hardwood disappeared under a mass of coats, hats and scarves.
What followed—after the initial power failure five minutes in—was an increasingly relentless melange of sonic frequencies. Some highs mimicked electrifying tesla coils, while the mid-section punched with dizzying accuracy. "The sound in here is incredible," someone said near me. "Everything is so crisp." Each time Nicolai flirted with a 4/4 tempo, dancers had to dodge those in a more meditative state. He fidgeted with multiple iPads, a studio mixer, a laptop and an Alpha Recording System isolator, building up a set of tense and sometimes harsh noise. At one point, he was almost dancing.
The sounds were crystal clear, reminiscent of Nicolai's two previous albums in the Uniseries, Unitxt and Univrs. Combined with the room's intimacy and acoustic treatment, it was an enveloping visual performance. With these kinds of minimalists, the difference between sound and music—if there is one—has always been a subject of discussion. As Thursday proved, the lines are becoming increasingly blurred.