While the CTM Festival was truly an international event, featuring artists from around the world, there was a significant showing from German artists, and in particular artists featured on the label Raster Noton. Several upcoming blog entries will feature reviews and thoughts on specific artists, but to put things in a context, I want to take a look at Raster Noton.
Scenes and styles in general are often associated with specific labels. While there are a number of artists and labels that one might categorize as IDM (Intelligent Dance Music), Warp Records is recognized as the mothership of that particular genre, being the home of artists such as Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. To me, one of the most interesting things happening in electronic music right now is minimal noise techno, and if there’s an aesthetic motherlode for this music, it’s Raster Noton. The label was founded by three like-minded German artists, and came about through a merger of Olaf Bender and Frank Bretschneider’s Rastermusik and Carsten Nicolai’s Noton labels in 1999. The three are active performers, Bender as Byetone and Nicolai as Alva Noto. All three come from a background in visual arts, and visual presentation is a strong component of Raster Noton releases, as well as their artists’ performances.
Minimal noise techno really has two roots, German club music and a variety of noise musics. Minimalism in the arts has had a German home since the Bauhaus movement in the early 20th century. Bauhaus as an aesthetic seeks to strip elements of design to the bare essentials, combining form and function, finding beauty in commonplace objects. German electro-pop music going back to Kraftwerk has this kind of stripped-down elegance, where only the bare essentials are part of an electronic arrangement. Techno music, which had it’s origins in late 1980′s Detroit shares this aesthetic if only by virtue of the spare means of production available to it’s early practitioners. While it’s roots are still in the Motor City, (or what used to be the Motor City) Techno, and a multitude of sub-genres, thrives in Germany.
Noise in music goes back to the early 20th century with Luigi Russolo’s Art of Noises manifesto. Since then, waves of concert music composers, experimentalists, sound artists, and pop producers have used various kinds of noise as a structural element in their music and art. As visual artists, many of the Raster Noton artists look to pure sound and it’s relation to rhythm, form, and structure. Notable works among these are Ryoji Ikeda’s Dataplex, that uses various sounds from malfunctioning computers as source material; Alvo Noto’s Xerrox 1 and 2 that use environmental noise, and Noto’s Unitxt that uses data from Microsoft Office documents, as well as other file types, converted to audio data. These artists are looking for all sorts of connections between the audio and visual worlds, and their work offers a fresh approach to electronic music that’s radically different. I’ll be talking a closer look at some examples of this work in my next several blog entries.