The CTM and Transmediale festivals I attended earlier this year each had a different focus, however the clear connection was in how each explored relationships between sound and vision. Pattern Recognition was a concert performance sponsored by both festivals that featured two works. Materia Obscura by Jürgen Reble & Thomas Köner clearly focused on visual imagery while Test Pattern by Ryoji Ikeda was a stunning, immersive experience exploring sound mapped to visuals. Ikeda is primarily known as electronic sound artist, although his performances are always constructed around some sort of visualization of the sound elements he’s working with. His work examines the relationships found in data structures, and he uses patterns found in various types of computer data to generate both sound and image. From this, he has created a body of work that includes both performance and installation pieces. Transmediale 2010 included both with data.tron (3 SXGA+version) as an installation along with his Test Pattern performance.
Ikeda’s work extends from the idea that data itself, the actual patterns of ones and zeros, can be perceived as sound and visual elements in an artistic presentation. When asked about his influences in a 2008 Japan Times interview, Ikeda lists not musicians or visual artists, but mathematicians, and in examining raw data, he uses mathematical relationships to create form and structure. His conversations with Harvard mathematician Benedict Gross have led to the data.tron series of installations that include (3 SXGA+version) exhibited at Transmediale. In this large scale video projection that covers an entire wall of a gallery space, Ikeda creates a kind of 21st century pointillistic mural using raw data taken from complex predictive models scientist use to predict future events, to create a blizzard of numbers and geometrical shapes.
data.tron (3 SXGA+version) at Transmediale 2010
In Test Pattern, raw data is converted to bar codes, the kind found on just about everything you buy in a store, and mapped to a variety of noise sources, presumably generated from the same data. The bar code patterns are projected at a high rate on two sectors of a large screen. The synchronization here is very tight, and the visual patterns represent a kind of rhythmic visualization where placement and width of the bars represent attack and duration patterns in the sound. In performance, Ikeda plays with relationships between left and right stereo channels and the patterns appearing on the screen sectors. Part of what the audience experiences is a kind of manipulation of perceptual coordination. This can be jarring for some, and indeed there is a warning before the performance that those with epileptic tendencies might want to excuse themselves.
Test Pattern (live) at Transmediale 2010
So what does all this actually sound like? One of the points in Ikeda’s work is that data has a structure that can be assembled into recognizable patterns. These in turn, can be interpreted as rhythmic structures, so what we hear from this are clearly recognizable patterns that might sound like they’re coming from a drum machine on steroids. Nothing sounds random, and bursts of pure noise, clicks, and beeps punctuate these patterns, giving them a kind of musical form and structure. It’s hard to say whether this is the result of algorithmic processes or of painstaking orchestration through digital editing. While Ikeda is on stage for the performance, it’s not clear what he might be doing to effect the piece in realtime. While we’re used to seeing a clear correspondence between gesture and sound in a musical performance, perhaps one can think of the performer more as the captain of some sort of multimedia mothership in this type of work.
While "glitch" has become a recent buzz word for all sorts of music that incorporates noise, the work Ryoji Ikeda is doing here has a deep connection to a larger artistic vision, and in that sense, it transcends the whole idea of a popular style or genre.
- Cyclo (with Carsten Nicolai; Raster-Noton, 2001)
- Dataplex (Raster-Noton, 2005)
- Test Pattern (Raster-Noton, 2008)