Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto Learn a Valuable Lesson about Glass Houses

‘Glass’ is a recording of an inspired live improvisation by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto (the pseudonym of sound experimentalist, Carsten Nicolai) at the architect Philip Johnson’s hallowed Glass House, in the bucolic setting of New Canaan, Connecticut. The structure’s transparency and seamless continuity with nature was given another dimension by the addition of this performance, whereby the building, location and audio coalesced into one perfect, harmonious whole.

Stylish, stunning and elegantly minimal, the duo’s architectural sound design evokes and synergizes with the space creatively, acoustically and literally – by using the building’s fabric as an instrument. Although the work is largely tonal, textural and spatial, fleeting moments of melody appear towards the end, which despite their scarceness, achieve a profoundly moving effect. Built between 1949 and 1995 by feted architect Philip Johnson and exemplifying modern architecture and the International Style, The Glass House hosted this site-specific event. It was commissioned by Curator and Collections Manager Irene Shum, who recalls the experience”

Rehearsing only one day before, Sakamoto and Nicolai experimented with a keyboard, mixers, singing glass bowls, crotales, and the architecture of the building. Contact microphones were attached to the surface of The Glass House, and using various weighted gong mallets with rubber heads that were gently but firmly dragged along the surface of the glass, they transformed the walls into an instrument, creating wistful sounds of contemplation and longing.

Similarly, Nicolai played two sets of high and low octave crotales with a horse hair bow. The pair improvised in what could be described as an intuitive call and response manner.”

“When I was offered to perform at The Glass House, the first idea that came to my mind was to use the house itself as a musical instrument”, recalls Sakamoto. “It was completely musical and 100 percent improvised, as that’s what we usually do”, he adds. “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.”

This intimate evening brought Ryuichi and Carsten back together for their first live collaboration since Sakamoto’s cancer diagnosis and treatment in 2014. Prior to that, Nicolai and Sakamoto had worked together on and off since 2002, releasing 6 albums as a duo.

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