Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Ryoji Ikeda, datamatics [ver 2.0]


I'd been working at the AJ for about two weeks when I got to go on my first press trip. I don't even think I really knew what a press trip was at that stage. Obviously, I knew that journo types flew to Zimbabwe for free to stay in lip-smackingly snazzy tents in the middle of nobutwhoacheckoutallthestarsyoucanseeherewhere, but I didn't really realise that an admin assistant could get a lovely weekend stay in Paris swanning around the most amazingly inventive art installations during Nuit Blanche. But along I went to Paris - thanks to ever-brilliant Forma - where I was introduced to Ryoji Ikeda and his incredible work. I've already written about what I saw in Paris, which still stands as one of the best pieces of installation art I've ever seen.

I'd heard about but never seen Ryoji's other works, his audio visual/music works, and so I was thrilled to hear that datamatics [ver 2.0] was being performed at the Barbican as part of the SPILL Festival. As far as I know, this is the first time it's been performed in London since the prototype version was performed at the Tate Modern in 2006. Since I'd seen some of his other work I had a vague idea what to expect, but I tried to forget what I knew and go in with an open mind.

I've seen a few other projects (wi-fi light painting is a good one) that try to use data as a source for sound and visuals, but no one does it with half as much finesse as Ikeda. It's that moment when you know what you're looking at, like intellectually know what you're looking at, and that it's data and that the date is literally the source of the sound, but your brain just doesn't know how to process what it's seeing and how to reconcile what it's seeing with what it's hearing with what it knows it's seeing. 


So what do you see? There's a gradual build up from 2D sequences of patterns created from studies of software code and hard drive errors to rotating 3D views of a star map of the universe to a four-dimensional space created by mathematical processing. The soundtrack is built up through layers of sounds created (or inspired?) by the data and is sometimes intense and powerful (the bass is AMAZING! - good sound system at the Barbican, too), sometimes hypnotic, sometimes a little bit annoying, but always very interesting. Which is basically how I like my music. It's good to be challenged. I like having to really pay attention to what's going on. It makes my brain feel good. Having said that, I found a little bit of James Turrell behind the eyes seeing syndrome creeping in while I watched, though strangely I was able to see the visual patterns of the data more clearly when my eyes went a little bit out of focus. It made it easier to look at the big picture instead of just the individual components.

There was one point about a third of the way through the concert, just after an incredibly loud and rather prolonged burst of sound, when a guy in the audience shouted "whooooooo" and everyone in the hall started laughing. When Ikeda came down from the control deck on to the stage after the concert was over, everyone was clapping and cheering. I've seen a lot of performances at the Barbican, but I've never seen anyone get that kind of reception. Amazing stuff.

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