Carriageworks, June 8–July 1
Given that most experimental computer music performances consist of a furrowed brow just visible over the backlit screen of a laptop and a few discreet clicks of the mouse, it’s hardly surprising that so many in this field simply throw some moving pictures up on a big screen in an attempt to keep audiences engaged. And it’s precisely because this approach is so ubiquitous, so often thoughtlessly executed, that a true mixed-media virtuoso really stands out.
Paris-based Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda started out as a DJ before his instinctive yet masterful grasp of sound and mathematics found expression in large-scale audio-visual projects. His test pattern [N.o5] installation and one-off live performance datamatics [ver.2.0], at Carriageworks as part of Vivid and the International Symposium of Electronic Art created seamless links between image, sound, light, movement and rhythm, stripping away the chaos of our digital universe to reveal its purest form.
Ikeda’s test pattern [No.5] is based on a program that converts data and stimuli into binary code, with five projectors and a strobe rendering the code as flickering, black-and-white lines and shapes scrolling rapidly across a 28-metre illuminated platform. Visitors, removing their shoes as if entering a Japanese temple, can walk the length and even stretch out on floor, basking in its digital glare as the intricate patterns and glitchy, perfectly synched soundscape wash over them. It’s a truly immersive experience, right down to the thousands of photos of the exhibit that will inevitably make their way onto Facebook and Instagram: just more data hurtling through space and time.
Ikeda’s work is full of contradictions. It’s minimalism writ large. It’s cold and imposing, yet viewers are encouraged to clamber on it and take photos. In fact, the space could have been mistaken for the interior of an exclusive electronica nightclub in which Aphex Twin fans dance only telepathically in code. Processes involved are complex and academic; but one doesn’t have to understand them to experience the results viscerally, and to understand that they are a highly stylised representation of the data that regulates our everyday lives.
In his real-time performance datamatics [ver.2.0], the information is just as cleanly and precisely articulated on a cinematic screen in numbers, Japanese text and even galactic coordinates. As in the real world, the information floodgates are open and, visually, it surges through like a plague of locusts or a tsunami wave. Still, Ikeda tightly controls this dataflow, creating sprawling digital vistas with the sparsest of means. And yet all this cold, hard tech seems, somehow, beautifully organic, in perfect balance with the mathematics of nature.
Though I found it riveting and at times meditative, an hour of this extreme audio-visual immersion, with its unrelenting rumbling beats and high frequencies, was overload for some – the silhouettes of walkouts were thrown into sharp focus on screen as they sheepishly edged passed. Then the ghost in the machine emerged to take a bow: Ryoji Ikeda himself, in dark sunglasses, black beret, black bomber jacket and black scarf, of course.
Ikeda’s most ambitious large-scale work to date will launch the first Dark MOFO winter festival in Hobart later this month, with 49 searchlights pointed towards the sky, triggering soundwaves as throngs of spectators move between the beams of light down below.