Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto - Glass Album Review

Story posted February 19, 2018 in Arts & Entertainment, CommRadio by By Scott Perdue

Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto are back once again with another inspiring collaboration. With decades of experience and expansive discography between the two of them, their unique and innovative style continues to expand in new ways. Sakamoto in particular has worked on a variety of films and collaborated with stellar artists such as David Bowie, Madonna and Michael Jackson. Recently the duo composed the soundtrack to the Oscar winning film, The Revenant. Their newest collaboration, Glass, is a one track, 37-minute-long journey that builds on the haunting and echoic quality from their past collaboration. Sakamoto and Noto performed this completely improvisational session in the famous Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, utilizing the house itself as an instrument. Many of the sounds created feel as if they are crafted right from nature, mesmerizing its listeners with a brilliant collection of engaging instruments and innovative techniques.

Glass gives the listener the sensation of standing in an icy cavern with rain pattering outside. The sounds are foreboding and ominous while also clear and fluid. Sakamoto was inspired by the vibrant landscape surrounding the Glass House, stating, “Looking at the beautiful landscape through the glass wall with Kusama’s dots was something, and it affected me, affected us, I should say, a lot. It’s a strange mixture of natural, nature, and artificial things, art.”  The echoes of the house’s walls and manipulation of its reverberation causes unique yet artificially tinged sounds that make's the listener question if they are natural or synthetic.

Sakamoto, who is now 87, continues to experiment throughout the session, keeping the sounds fresh and free-flowing. The track moves from near silence with occasional drips and chimes to a more frequently stirring and active sound that utilizes a variety of different tones. While the piece is without a doubt innovative and engaging, it requires a large demand on the listener’s part to remain attentive to its sounds. The single-track method incorporates no breaks and causes the entire session to blend together. While this is helpful to invoke the right feelings of isolation and calmness, they spend too much time in one sonic soundscape before moving onto the next. Most notably in the parts where they only use the sharp glass tapping sounds, the piece too often fails to fully immerse the listener, instead making them become aware of the long gaps between sonic changes. This, in turn, causes the listener to think "when is something new coming" rather than be captivated by the soundscapes.

Although, the sounds are beautiful and sophisticated, the role of the listener is very much inconvenient. However, this session is worth listening to precisely because of its demand of the listener’s attention. The sounds captivate and bring its listener through a variety of tones ranging from calm and free to desolate and alone. The use of the Glass House makes this album unique and groundbreaking in and of itself. Sakamoto and Noto’s improvisational utilization of the house’s features and natural echo make this album an inspiring and interesting listen, proving that music is everywhere and can be created with anything without the need for premeditated planning.

Rating: 7/10

Scott Perdue is a freshman majoring in film/video. To contact him, email rsp5246@psu.edu.