Alva Noto on 25 years of Sónar


The experimental artist, musician and designer on his experience of Sónar Festival over the years.

Few musicians can presume to have had as much an impact on the recent history of electronic music as Carsten Nicolai. Not only have his releases over the years on the label Raster-Noton (now NOTON), established a benchmark sound for computer music created through glitches, micro-beats and frequency manipulation; as a visual artist he also greatly influenced it's aesthetic - drawing on the legacy of the Bauhaus architects to design concepts that embrace minimalism of form, technological innovation and a sleek futurism.

Nicolai's contribution to advanced music, is mirrored in his involvement with Sónar over the years. Whether through providing a space for improvised explorations along with his close collaborators Olaf Bender, Ryoji Ikeda and Ryuichi Sakamoto, through to special large scale projects such as the inaugural SonarPlanta installation, the history of Sónar would be very different without his contributions. Below, Alva Noto describes this history in his own words, ahead of his 2 performances at Sónar 2018.

Hi Carsten, Do you remember your first time at Sónar?

Let me see...the first time I played must have been in 1996. We were asked to present the experimental project Signal, along with Olaf Bender and Frank Bretschneider who were the other two founders of Raster-Noton. I've been back regularly since then and there have been a number of high points over the years - not just as a performer but also as a spectator.

Are there any moments in particular that stand out over the rest?

Perhaps the most memorable was the performance with Ryuichi Sakamoto at Teatre Grec. It really is a unique location, and besides, the atmosphere created that night was just incredible. An unforgettable crowd and a wonderful night.

You were also the first artist comissioned for the SonarPlanta exhibition...

That was another great experience for me at the festival. Out of all the installations i've been involved in, I think "unidisplay" was the most important and definitely one of the most large-scale ones. It's really unusual for a festival to create an installation like this, especially given the amount of effort needed to put it together, but on this occasion I enjoyed it immensely. Especially in the sense that many of the people who visited the installation wouldn't necessarily have this kind of art on their radar.

You also seem very influenced by architecture, almost to the same degree as you're interested by art and music. How does the idea of space and location affect your work?

Without a doubt, architecture is one of my strongest influences, and yes, I think the place where you perform is fundamental and exerts a decisive influence on the concert itself. But it also has an effect on the way the audience responds. Some of these spaces produce shows that simply can't be recreated elsewhere, as well as the fact that if the location is unique, the concert also lives on in the memory of both the artist and the crowd.

Your record label NOTON just turned 20. What did you feel going through such a momentous anniversary?

The first thing about having done this for 20 years, is the feeling of how fast time goes. It really doesn't feel like 20 years have gone by at all, more than anything because you're always moving forward, without really looking back, and so it feels like you're still at the beginning of the project... And then 20 years have gone by and you realise that's an entire lifetime! On one hand it's a little sad, because it goes so fast, but on the other it's wonderful to have been able to explore all those things you find interesting, and feel nonetheless that in some way you're still at the beginning of that exploration.

What does 2018 have in store for you in terms of projects?

I'm always working on several things in parallel. Right now i'm working on installations and recording for a new project. I'm also composing a film soundtrack and of course preparing for my show with Ryuichi Sakamoto and my solo show at Sónar, which i'm incredibly excited about.

And finally: What has been your biggest discovery out of all the times you've visited Sónar?

The first thing that comes to mind is a tiny little fish restaurant in the city (laughs). It's true though that I enjoy the festival as much as the city, and the atmosphere over those days. One of the best parts of it is being able to catch up with friends, artists, musicians and dialogue with them, but I also love the city itself, from the architecture, to its culture in general.

A Sónar playlist by Alva Noto

”Sonar started as festival for advanced music. Over the years it has been fulfilling this idea by offering to the audience a unique setting to explore sounds from different generations of artists, geographies and music influences. In this specific, more ambient-related playlist I included artists whose music always had a big influence on me”.