After four joint albums together over the span of a decade, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto thought they had nothing left to say. If it had not been for director Iñárritu, who brought them back together in 2015 to make them work on the score of his film The Revenant, perhaps the duo would have parted ways, considering also that Sakamoto was still recovering from throat cancer.
Yet, seeing them perform together in 2018 makes you wonder why they might have believed their collaboration ‘exhausted’. On stage at the Barbican, they were in a constant motion of action and reaction, feeding each other constantly with new material to build on, exchanging inputs, transforming outputs, going in and out of melody, and following paths they might not have envisioned a few seconds before.
On one hand, there was Ryuichi Sakamoto, experimenting with instruments and everyday objects, like a grand piano and a few sheets of paper; on the other, Alva Noto was standing behind what looked like a spaceship cockpit, manoeuvring the electronic gear and possibly controlling the 3D visuals in the background as well – as they were in sync with the music.
But the two did not stand in opposition – they complemented each other, and they did it so well, it was hard to tell what was improvised and what was not. Towards the end of the 90-minute session, a couple of tracks off their albums could be recognised, but the links in between were probably relative to that time and space. Yet, they did not become one – one could easily tell what was Sakamoto’s doing and what were Alva Noto’s elements. Their tools were different, as their musical histories also are.
Alva Noto, aka Carsten Nicolai, has a background in architecture and landscape design, and has almost always leaned towards minimal electronic music, glitch, ambient, techno. Sakamoto, together with his band Yellow Magic Orchestra, was certainly a pioneer of electronic music, and is also famous for his ambient and classical works, but has experimented with pop, boogie, funk, and many other genres too. Perhaps that is the reason behind the choice of the name ‘Two’ for their joint performance and tour – in complementing each other, they still maintained their individuality. They were two musicians in conversation, rather than a duo or a band.
What they delivered was such a performance so enchanting and immersive, it was hard to return to the real world once over.
Photo ©: Chiaki Nozu/WireImage