Send me your track


Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto - utp_


Utp is an abbreviation of Utopia, which references the history of Mannheim itself, which was rebult in Quadrates after its destruction in the Thirty Years War. The design of the city is often considered to be a template for most of the urban city layouts of today. Sakamoto and Nicolai were commissioned to produce this work for the 400th anniversary of the city, which has a rich musical heritage as well, being home to a court of musicians during the 18th century under the stewardship of Carlo Grua.

Unlike previous efforts such as the much-lauded Insen and Vroon, Sakamoto and Nicolai take on a more austere, and dare I say it, musical approach to this piece, realising subtle melodic structures that grow with an organic shape, changing ever so slightly across the 11 songs. It starts almost inaudibly, and to these ears, the presence of Nicolai almost dominates matters from the start, his measured, strict take on composition that we hear in his solo work seems to constrain the more playful Sakamoto at times. Tracks such as “Grain” are so delicate that the presence of what sounds like chairs groaning with weight seem to surprise the listener, and we’re lulled into a false sense of security of peace before “Particle 1”  suddenly climaxes with an onrush of ambient noise before it falls away. Sakamoto’s serene melodies then re-emerge from this mess on “Transition”, only to be broken up by Nicolai again. I found it hard to really grasp any sense of strong narrative in this piece, although there was much to be admired in the brooding thunder of “Plateaux 1” and the final track, which reprises this coda and brings it to a heady, if somewhat uninspiring climax.

I find Nicolai’s work at times to be somewhat detached, and had hoped that the presence of Sakamoto would rescue this piece, but have to admit that I steadfastly refused to get excited about it. Much of it seemed to occupy that rather obvious world of sonic atmospheres that Raster-Noton seem to have cornered the market for, and Sakamoto’s presence here seemed muted and withdrawn. There is no doubt that both of these will undoubtedly collaborate again, but this effort falls short of the standards they have set previously.

Toby Frith



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