words by tom johnson
Initially conceived to celebrate the 110th anniversary of architect Phillip Johnson, and then performed at Johnson’s historic Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s ‘Glass‘ is now being made available to a much wider audience, the live and improvised piece, captured during that special performance, now released as a stand-alone album, and one of many that the pair have worked on together since their musical relationship first began back in 2002.
Completed in 1949, Glass House is perhaps Johnson’s most celebrated work. Billed as “an essay in minimal structure, geometry, proportion, and the effects of transparency and reflection” the building, which Johnson himself lived in, showcased striking transparency and fluidity, aiming to embrace a continuity with the surrounding nature.
Performed in its entirety during that special event – which was also celebration of the 10th anniversary that the house has been opened to the public, ‘Glass’ is a subtle and meditative ambient work, the pair’s exquisite sounds reflecting the habitat which they were first conceived in; as close to a natural soundtrack for the space as can be imagined.
Released in full this-coming Friday, February 16th, were very pleased to unveil a six-and-a-half minute outtake from the full piece here today, a shorter prelude to the 45-minute recording, and it’s as graceful and elegant as expected, offering graceful moments of escape amid the static nature of its main body. Throughout the piece, gentle waves of ambient noise are occasionally joined by short experimental fluctuations, these adornments drifting in and out of focus throughout, like small pockets of weather suddenly meeting the opaque walls of that glass structure, little moments of otherness briefly glimpsed from within; natural vs unnatural, but so closely aligned you can barely notice the difference.
“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,” says Sakamoto, the Japanese musician, composer, artist, and environmental activist. “Looking at the beautiful landscape through the glass wall…affected me, affected us, a lot.”
Working alongside his frequent collaborator, Berlin’s Carsten Nicolai, who performs under the name Alva Noto, the pair have created something quietly, astoundingly pretty; a reflective piece of music not just in the spirit of Johnson’s work but one that sits as something peculiar and illusory in its own right, in its own world, too.
The full album is available to pre-order now, via Noton, and you can listen to the new excerpt from the recording below right now. Alva Noto also plays at the Barbican on March 4th – find the full details here.
main photograph by jasper bernbaum / glass house photograph by eirik johnson