Alva Noto is a stage name of sound artist Carsten Nicolai who uses art and music as complementary tools to create microscopic views of creative processes.
He is a member of the music groups Signal (with Frank Bretschneider and Olaf Bender aka Byetone) and Cyclo (with Ryoji Ikeda).
Nicolai was born in Karl-Marx-Stadt, East Germany. His interest in sound and its physical qualities may be inspired by his childhood obsession with bats, whom as a child he believed he could communicate with. He first studied architecture and landscape design before pursuing an interest in the theoretical properties of sound and space. Resettling in Berlin in the early 1990s, Nicolai founded the experimental music label Noton as a platform for his conceptual and experimental musical concerns. In 1996 this was to become Raster-Noton. Archiv Für Ton Und Nichtton with the collaboration of Olaf Bender.
Nicolai transforms sound by looping oscillators and tone generators. He does not use sequencers, but edits his work to give his compositions rhythmic structures. Clicks and glitches are not used as ornamental additions to the compositions but make up the essential rhythmic and harmonic elements of the work. He frequently samples electronic information transmission sounds such as fax tones, modem sounds, and telephone pops and clicks, among other overlooked sound sources.
Nicolai has recently written an opera, ‘Sparkie: Cage and Beyond,’ in collaboration with composer Michael Nyman. Carsten Nicolai also works as a visual artist. Using the principles of Cymatics (the study of visible sound and vibration) he visualizes sound. Nicolai’s practice is formed by a convergence of sound, painting, and sculpture which expose the limitations, and potential beauty and creativity, possible within strict logical systems.