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Baker's Dozen

No Music: A Baker’s Dozen with Alva Noto
Ollie Zhang , February 21st, 2018 10:30

From Laurie Anderson’s United States Live to Meredith Monk’s Dolmen Music, Carsten Nicolai tells Mollie Zhang about 13 records that shaped his musical backbone. Photo by Andrey Bold


Laurie Anderson - United States Live
This had a huge impact on me, it was like a breakthrough. I was very interested in her poetic way of storytelling, but also her work with technology. She was one of the first people who worked with the Synclavier. During this period, sampling was fascinating. The technology was expensive, and only a few people had access to it. What I liked about Laurie was also that she came from a more artistic background, starting as a visual/performance artist who was using very simple technologies, like her violin.

United States is an incredible, innovative collection. These four LPs represent a rich archive of musical ideas. I liked that she spoke, rather than sang, and built a whole story this way. I think this is maybe one of the best concept albums out there; I’m a big fan of concept albums. Every album work on, I try to record as one topic. United States Live was so complex and rich, it was inspiring, and I think she made a huge impact on what modern music is today. The fact that her one hit ‘O Superman’ became so successful - I think it charted in the UK - was a lucky moment of music history. That’s probably very rare today, maybe even impossible. For an artist, I think it’s really inspiring to see avant-garde, difficult ideas become popular music, and Laurie Anderson is a great example of that.

How did you listen to it?

Record player, record player, record player!

I mean - it’s colossal! You would just sit down and listen to it all in one go?

Well there wasn’t much TV, there wasn’t internet. Your primary interests then came out of books or records. You read or listened, and I was a very intense music listener. I listened to music every day - I mean, I would really sit down and listen. The records I’ve selected today I probably listened to at least 100 times. Sometimes, you’d hear something that your friends recommended, that maybe you didn’t understand or even like at first, but over a period that would change. You’d listen so much more than you might today. Today, you skip through something thinking, “maybe this is my kind of music,” “maybe this isn’t.” This was the 80s, and there weren’t as many labels or platforms as there are today; there weren’t as many tracks as available, so if there was something interesting to hear, you’d listen over and over.