Art

Sound Artist Ryoji Ikeda Visualizes Big Data

Ryoji Ikeda’s overwhelming sound and video installations, exhibited at Centre Pompidou, evoke the totalitarian grip that Big Data holds on our daily lives.

Ryoji Ikeda, “code-verse” (2018) (Installation view) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

PARIS — Situated within an art-historical/art-hysterical continuum that mines big data for thematic material, Centre Pompidou’s two-part “continuum” show is Paris-based Japanese sound artist Ryoji Ikeda’s latest audiovisual cornucopia.

Part one, “A [continuum]” (2018), is a sedulous sound installation featuring five colossal Meyer SB-1 speakers with a minimalist sculptural look. The woozy, torpid sounds they transmit are based on audio samples of the many different frequencies that have defined concert pitch A over the centuries, from Bach’s era through the 1970s—thus obliquely referencing a huge swath of Western music.

Moving through the white-walled room, one hears over the speakers an acoustic, abstract ocean of loud sine waves, similar to the sounds of tuning forks—very much in the vein of La Monte Young’s 1974 Theatre of Eternal Music recording “Drift Study 14 VII 73 9:27:27-10:06:41 PM NYC” (the basis of Young’s Dream House), but less bountiful.

Ryoji Ikeda, “A [continuum]” (2018) (Installation view) (photo by the author)
The second part, “code-verse” (2018), is an audiovisual Op Art animation presented on a huge room-sized screen. It immersed me in a manic black-and-white dazzle of intricate computer graphics—patterned visual translations of various kinds of numerical data. Ikeda developed this impressive, doomy piece with the assistance of the Moscow-based Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in conjunction with the Centre Pompidou. I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying being run over by this piece of slick sensational entertainment when first encountering it—nor not being freaked out, heaven help us, by its big-data/Big-Brotherism vibe, which calls to mind the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal and the Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections that helped bring to power Putin poodle Donald Trump.

At first this coded wonderland tempts the viewer to lay down on the floor and surrender to the crisp stream of computer graphics, accompanied by a flow of minimal electronic noises and drones. Indeed, “code-verse” is stunningly beautiful on début, with a chilling grandeur, but the sway of the spectacle wanes quickly. Aesthetically, the furious formalism of “code-verse” flattens and thins the longer you sit with it. Its flickering graphics, which move so fast it feels like something outside of normal phenomenological experience, are noticeably dated and ultimately hackneyed—like ostentatious passages from a yellowing copy of William Gibson’s Mona Lisa Overdrive. If “code-verse” was an attempt to evoke the mind-boggling speed of data transmission in the digital age, it does that rather well, but the time for such louche naïve awe has passed.

Ikeda’s relentless, overwhelming audiovisual works evoke the totalitarian grip that digital media holds on our daily lives. I attempted to break free a bit by walking in and out and around the space, something I couldn’t do at Ikeda’s even more oppressive theatrical presentation Datamatics [ver 2.0] in the Centre Pompidou theater in 2007.

Ryoji Ikeda, “code-verse” (2018) (Installation view)

Since 2007, nothing much artistically has changed in Ikeda’s fevered projection works, except expanded scale. Like “code-verse,” Datamatics also featured a furious rhythm of abstract graphics, which intimidated me while spawning feelings of entrapped awe. Not a great feel, for me. Yet I am an enthusiastic fan of Ikeda’s sublime noise music albums (particularly +/-, dataphonics, document 02 – sine, test pattern, tracks 1993–2011, supercodex, and his work with Carsten Nicola, cyclo).

What is classically good in “code-verse” is Ikeda’s techno music, created from slight electronic hums and pops that build into gargantuan sonic textures, reaching the dazzling élan of a harsh Merzbow masterpiece. These mesmerizing, hard-headed sounds still facilitate mild waves of aural imbrication in me. But when I open my eyes, the spectacle of pictographic clichés turns tedious and tepid: my flighty feelings and contemplations are washed away in a stream of digital decoration.

Ryoji Ikeda,”A [continuum]” (2018) (installation view) (photo by Audrey Laurans)
Ryoji Ikeda, “code-verse” (2018) (Installation view)
Ryoji Ikeda, “code-verse” (2018) (Installation view)
Ryoji Ikeda, “code-verse” (2018) (Installation view)
Ryoji Ikeda, “code-verse” (2018) (Installation view)

Ryoji Ikeda: continuum is on view at Centre Pompidou (Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France) until August 27. 

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