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Review of Ryoji Ikeda Datamatics [ver 2.0]

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Review ofRyoji IkedaRyoji Ikeda
Datamatics [ver 2.0]
Centre Pompidou, Paris
October 29th 2007 20h30

Datamatics [ver 2.0] is the latest electronic audio/visual creation of Japanese composer Ryoji Ikeda where he mines data mania for both the material and the theme of his work. The intention is a meditation on the wild relationship between the sound of data and the data of sound today. The effect, however, is a furious formalism that effectively entices, but flattens and thins out the longer it goes on. That said, the macabre grandeur of Datamatics2, with its repetitive super-coded/anti-coded rigor, is stunningly beautiful on début. A furious rhythm of inscrutable data discord is established from the beginning, necessarily entailing a process of attraction/repulsion that intimidated me while spawning some sublime ideas.

Ikeda makes speed manifest here, including the various speeds and slownesses that extend the retinal limit in a way that would be previously regarded as outside of phenomenological thought. The complex installation work of Tatsuo Miyajima came to mind at points. Specifically Miyajima’s 1996 installation at La Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, where he made two large installations which dealt with the abstract constitution of time in the digital age. Both installations consisted of abundant LED signal-lights which flashed a countless bevy of over-excited digital numbers in what appeared to be a random order. One installation, "Time Go Round", had twenty green and red digital modules spinning in various circular orbits against an imposing dark wall. One discerned there a mystifying data constellation in transit, reminiscent of passages from Mona Lisa Overdrive.

Time Go Round was an attempt to delineate the crisis of time in relationship to the dispersed ontological self in the information age (where digital time as the only time has become non-problematic in computational work environments). Miyajima’s artistic sense of time in crisis served to encourage me to value the freedom of my own interior sense of time.

By contrast, Ikeda’s evocation of data time is riding high on speed, and tempo here took on the implication of a dark temporal pop-cultural product pit into which my accurate perceptions were poured - even as I resisted fragmentation and remained fixed in the logocentric seat of Renaissance three-point-perspective. This principle of hyper speed coupled to visual overload makes inoperable the usefulness of the term ‘minimal’ in association with Ikeda; as Datamatics2 animates a crumbling of the normal monuments to human difference we construct daily. Ikeda’s mixture of technical precision with perceptual overload presented a significant challenge to experiencing interior time. Perhaps it would have been possible had I been able to divorce the musical experience from the visual torrent.

Ikeda’s rapid techno music is created from slight electronic hums and pops that build into gargantuan sonic textures, sometimes reaching the noise intensity of Merzbow. Given his cornucopiastic range, Ikeda, quite scrupulously, defies melodious categorization. This range allows for virtuoso moments that provide the opportunity of exploring the intricacy of his hard-edged myriad-colored dexterity as he plays back-and-forth with elaborate but lucid musical aggregates that facilitated mild waves of aural imbrication. In piercing clouds of cacophony I heard traces of Xenakis, La Monte Young, Boulez, and Aphex Twin.

But Ikeda’s primary tool of coherence is what in acoustics is called ‘duration’, the steady-state of a sound at its maximum intensity. My supposition here is that Ryoji Ikeda takes this musical phenomena of duration and extends it into a general spatial intelligence based on petite bursts of sound. The attraction to such an adjoining structure is strong, but it wanes quickly. I suppose it must be like doing business with a rather spectacular whore.

Conceptually, Ikeda’s music reminds me that our once basic Euclidean conception of space has been expanded to include the formation of many-dimensional space. In Ikeda’s music the Euclidean concept of space is modified via excess by enlarging the number of vectors which may be constructed within it from three to some much larger number (designated as n). Such n space implies the existence of a higher-dimensional geometry that mimics Euclidean geometry. Inevitably this approach shaped me as the viewer/listener into an inert subject. The audio is both clean, noisy and hardheaded in such a way that the individual's personal extension into the virtual tends to be blunted.

There also, however, is another proposed spatial reality relevant to Ikeda, most notably the topological space model of fuzzy space where there exists only a concept of nearness. In this respect he reminds us that hearing and seeing is not an activity divorced from consciousness. But really, any account of Ikeda’s sonic dexterity as related to consciousness is inadequate to the facts of our actual experience of it. Yes, his music is conceptual in that his sound deprives us of our habitual perceptive boundaries by surpassing them. Through the excessive, Ikeda makes us remember that throughout time there have been consensual realities that have proven to be nothing but vast daydreams. But Ikeda’s music spectacularly fails to be in opposition to what Donald Lowe in his History of Bourgeois Perception identifies as the "bourgeois perceptual field"; a mode which he characterizes as fundamentally linear, non-reflexive and overtly objective.

So, to conclude, Ikeda’s initially mesmerizing presentation was an experience always about to come. I say ‘about to come’ as Datamatics2 contains much manic machinic stuttering (full of Nietzschean multiple affirmations and shattered teleological art-historical/art-hysterical continuums) that never resolve. The stuttering I am addressing here rests, of course, in the spectral repetitions of his mental-machinic procedures: we see and hear a digital/mechanical shifting again and again and again and again and again and again, but with slight variations full of dazzling élan. So it is a vigorous abstract stuttering I sensed in the work that took me down into a deadening sensation of unfathomable data: the data of anytime-anywhere. Given that implication of mythic indifference, Ikeda’s a/v stuttering could be properly aligned with the dada artistic legacy of Hugo Ball and Tristan Tzara. It is a form of digital-dada post-conceptual art-music in its absurd machinic indifference.

How does Datamatics2 achieve this meticulous indifferent stuttering? Ikeda uses the precision of digital technology to fracture data into tangled networks of beeps and lines - initially delightful and exquisite nihilistic manipulations that tease our mind with their multiple syntactical/semantic gestures of sadism, strenuously massacring the social source material along the way. But like Op Art (which it resembles) on crack, this stuttering stuttering stuttering turns tedious and cold, shutting down feeling, reflection and contemplation and hence imagination in my mind. In that sense Ikeda only created pictographic and aural excavational moments that cannot be sustained, but are instead mental acts worthy of short but frequent revitalizations: again and again and again and again – a visual/audio whiplash that slashes into the burnt annals of symbolist romanticism. To follow Ikeda there is to evaporate into the puzzling archives of some geek heretical doctrine and pop out again into a dead excess vis-à-vis ideology writ large as system. In that sense he pictures/sounds as an obscene thrashing of, and ongoing onslaught against, innocence.

Alors? So are these subsequent revelations an abiding labyrinthian form of abject nothingness? Yes, Datamatics2 is a blustering, bursting, blatant banality, but even so I saw/heard in Datamatics2 the melancholy monstrous traces and dissimilative Dionysian mannerisms of Novalis, Chateaubriand, Nerval, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Aragon, Bataille, Lautréamont, and Roussel. That is hardly farcical nothing (albeit by way of negation folded upon negation / instrumentalization upon instrumentalization). But what is missing in Datamatics2 for me is vague imagery and sound that does not depend on induction or deduction, and exists prior to these forms of controlling cognitions. In that sense, Datamatics2 cries out for access to the libraries of other people’s subconscious experiences and hard drives.

So Ryoji Ikeda’s Datamatics2 is a stuttering in a hygienic but deranged tongue within the vernacular of shattered techno signs and computer music clichés. In that way Datamatics2 is anti-automatismic. We are forced to think creatively and distinctively if we hope to un-pack and self-interpret it’s quintessentially dancing chaotic vision par excellence. And when we do: we finally do come - enigmatic-lithe jouissance. But the jolt has been sadly self-inflicted, lacking, as it does, the tragic/emphatic psychic dimensions of artificial life (I saw or felt no field of intensities invoking the inchoate and the savage) and the open multiple model of atmospheric free associations. Thus the event went a bit lacking, for me, in what Deleuze suggested to us via Proust: something "real without being actual, ideal without being abstract."

Joseph Nechvatal
Fall 2007 Paris

Computer Graphics, Programming:
Shohei Matsukawa
Daisuke Tsunoda
Tomonaga Tokuyama

For information on Ryoji Ikeda see: