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Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto
Asphodel Ltd.

In this collaboration between Sakamoto and Alva Noto (aka Carston Nicolai) it is very easy to see why it was voted 2004's electronica record of the year by The Wire. Ryuichi Sakamoto is an acclaimed composer for both orchestra and film who has an Oscar, a Grammy, and a Golden Globe under his belt for his composition of the music in the film, "The Last Emperor". Knowing this, it is even more impressive that a composer of this caliber would extend his talent to the realm of electronica to come up with this outstanding album. Carston Nicolai, a noted electronic composer and visual artist, brought his expertise in the way of post production and interpretation of Sakamoto's music. With the collaboration of the two musicians, a most excellent ambient album resulted.

The album Insen is one of the more hauntingly beautiful compositions that I have heard in quite some time. Sakamoto, with his slow and deliberate piano, mixed with the beats and digital sounds of Nicolai, creates an incredibly complex album from the simplicity of the music which has been composed. The music is incredibly well written with a great mixture of discord and harmony, complexity and simplicity. The main theme that I was able to extract from this album is that of balance through opposition. The album is along the same vein as some of the works of Brian Eno, considered by many to be the father of ambient. Eno claimed that ambient music can be either "actively listened to or as easily ignored depending on the choice of the listener", which this album expertly proves.

This album, which likely could be confused with one in the new-age genre, tends to break the boundaries of the category and morph into a mixture of organic ambient and dark ambient in the electronica genre. There is no shortage of un-dampened piano chords played by Sakamoto, such that there is a memory of the previous chords in each following chord. The digital beats and experimental sounds, created by Nicolai, in many instances can be confused for the sounds created by a vinyl recording listened to on an older record player. In other cases the digital portion of the track takes over as the melody or harmony to supplement the lone piano.

"Aurora" and "Morning" open up the album with the first being a more melodic song with more of an emphasis on the piano. The second is more dissonant and dark with clashing chords and a constant, yet soft, driving beat. "Logic Moon" almost sounds like the CD is skipping, yet this phenomenon is integrated into the song perfectly to add another tier of originality to an already strong album. "Moon" brings in a new element of digital post-production which in some cases makes it sound like chords are being played in reverse. In "Berlin" there seems to be an undertone of dissonance which is balanced by the melody played on the acoustic piano. "Avaol" is a track entirely made up of what would seem like background noise, or a recording whose levels were too low while being recorded. There are no melodies, but a calming, almost wind-like, sound creeps from the speakers accompanied by an almost non-existent beat.

If you love calming ambient or even downtempo electronica this is a must-hear album. It is complex enough for the most discerning listener, yet still enjoyable for the casual taste.

-Liger Woods

Track Listing:
1) Aurora
2) Morning
3) Logic Moon
4) Moon
5) Berlin
6) Iano
7) Avaol

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