The New York Timesby DEC. 29, 2014


The New York Times, words Ben Ratliff  OCT. 19, 2014

Ryoji Ikeda’s ‘superposition’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art


Amélie Grould, left, and Stéphane Garin, with sound waves on a screen at rear, in Ryoji Ikeda’s 65-minute multimedia piece “superposition” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the weekend.CreditRuby Washington/The New York Times

In “superposition,” Ryoji Ikeda’s 65-minute multimedia piece at the Metropolitan Museum of Art over the weekend, what you may have noticed first was the artist’s preoccupation with design, symmetry, the mechanics of light and sound, and perfect execution as a general rule.

The viewer sat in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium facing a stage, as if to experience a movie or a musical performance; “superposition” was both of those, sort of. In between bracketing columns of speakers, 10 small digital screens were arranged across the lip of the stage, 10 larger ones across the middle, and one floor-to-ceiling screen across the back.

In front of the large screen two performers — unusual for Mr. Ikeda’s work — sat at ends of a long table. They appeared to be demonstrating the uses and limits of data processing. They tapped out a script in a kind of Morse code, at nearly the same speed but, of course, not quite. (The script contained statements like “Logic is not a body of doctrine but a mirror image of the world.”) They jammed the computations of old IBM key-punch cards by imposing a crossword-puzzle-like graph over them. They rolled marbles on a flat surface: The marbles moved around randomly, and then a computer program captured their positions, fixing them as points in relation to a central axis.

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The sound and visuals, for the most part, were representations of digital data: sine waves, visualizations of code in black and white, or sometimes primary colors. It was high-contrast, high-resolution, pointedly loud or carefully soft, rhythmic, with intermittent puffs of white noise. If you weren’t inclined to it, you might have thought it antiseptic, nearly inhuman.

But there is, always, a human stink in Mr. Ikeda’s work. “Superposition,” if I understood it right, is about the tension between what can be graphed, plotted and perfectly represented, and what can’t. He’s interested in cold data — “superposition” is a concept from quantum mechanics — but more interested in how we can use it as a language, how we can make it talk or sing. He’s a kind of translator, converting principles into words, numbers into code, code into sound and image. Translation is an imperfect job, never finished. And so when Mr. Ikeda’s artistic will assumes the right proportions to his sets of data, producing the right tension, his work can feel much greater than the feat of digital programming you see or hear.

Mr. Ikeda, born in Japan, lives in Paris. (The first performance of “superposition” happened in Paris two years ago, and its United States premiere at the Met — I saw it on Friday — was presented in collaboration with the French Institute Alliance Française’s Crossing the Line festival.) He started out as a sound artist; his music — the best I’ve heard is still “+/-,” a CD from 1996 — is superminimal, organized into gradual events. The visual work, in the form of bar codes and graphs and the like, projected on large screens (the larger the better), can be extremely beautiful if or when you give in to having your ocular functions scrambled.

His 2011 installation at the Park Avenue Armory, “the transfinite,”part of a continuing series called “datamatics,” was a pure hit of Ikeda in a dark controlled environment, an 11-minute audiovisual loop of bar codes: zeros and ones in excelsis. Mr. Ikeda doesn’t grant many interviews and tends to talk about mathematics when he does. Every night this month in Times Square, thanks to Times Square Arts and the Times Square Advertising Coalition, you can stand behind the New York Police Department station, look up, and see Mr. Ikeda’s “Test Pattern” — a three-minute, soundless passage of datamatics — from 11:57 p.m. to midnight: blinking and sliding panels of white and black on multiple electronic billboards. Quoted in a news release for “Test Pattern” in Times Square, he offered this: “00110110 01100001,” and so on, for 271 more characters. That indicates a sense of humor and maybe something else: an endless desire for code and a frustration at being limited to it.

“Test Pattern,” experienced a few weeks ago, didn’t shake me. In the right state of concentration, the viewer supplies his own meaning to the “datamatics” works, and in Times Square the smell of hot dogs and other things that don’t reduce to code are too distracting. “Superposition,” on the other hand, plunges you into messy meaning, moving toward an undergraduate cosmic mind-blow, a kind of all-digital “Koyaanisqatsi”: at times frustratingly opaque, and at times blindingly clear.


Libération: Algos et techno au diapason à Némo par Marie Lechner


Cybernétique. Figure de l’avant-garde électronique, Ryoji Ikeda manipule indifféremment son et image dans des installations et concerts audiovisuels à la précision chirurgicale. Le flux d’information est en même temps le matériau et le sujet de compositions abstraites qui tentent ici de rendre perceptibles ces énormes quantités de données invisibles.

Avec Superposition, l’artiste japonais, féru de mathématiques, dit vouloir explorer «une nouvelle théorie de l’information, l’information quantique». Mais inutile de comprendre ce qu’est un «Qubit» (qui, à la différence du, bit, peut prendre la valeur 0, 1, ou une superposition des deux) pour être saisi par l’extraordinaire machine cybernétique déployée sur 21 écrans.

Symphonie de l’âge digital, Superposition donne une forme à cette hégémonie des données, oscillant constamment entre l’inaudible et le strident, l’ultra et l’infra, l’infiniment petit et l’infiniment grand, les structures moléculaires de l’ADN et les constellations d’étoiles, l’atome et l’univers. Une nature que l’homme s’efforce de mettre en équation, de décoder et d’encoder mais qui reste impénétrable. Comment déchiffrer le monde quand la vérité est à la fois ici, là et peut-être ? Et d’afficher la fameuse citation d’Einstein : «L’information n’est pas la connaissance.»

Pour la première fois, Ikeda projette de la chair dans ses froides images : un homme et une femme qui font résonner leurs diapasons, tapotent leurs messages codés dans un exercice de morse musical ou tracent des traits sur des cartes dans le crépitement frénétique des algorithmes. Mélange de performance sonore et de spectacle vivant, Superpositionest une expérience totale, autant physique que mentale, laissant le spectateur au bord de la catalepsie.


Futuresequence - experimental music label and magazine, review: Andy Gillham

Over three hundred years ago at Oxford University, polymath Robert Hooke ran a bow along the edge of a flour covered glass plate and observed nodal patterns developing. Some fifty years prior to this, Galileo was the earliest to record similar activity when bashing a brass plate with a chisel. Hooke and Galileo's work inspired further experiments from Ernst Chladni in the 1780’s (sand on bow stroked metal plates) through to Hans Jenny’s coining of the term ‘Cymatics’ in the 1960’s - a phenomena derived from exhaustive experiments converting frequencies into vibrations and visible resonance. Essentially ‘Bringing Matter to Life with Sound’ and influencing art and music along the way.

A modern day tangent of this work is found in Ryoji Ikeda whose grand scale ‘datamatics’ shows have used pure data as a source to generate sound and visuals. Utilising frenetic abstract audio pitched around the fringes of human hearing in combination with perfectly sequenced multi dimension visual data representations, the shows left this writer reeling from their sheer intensity and technical prowess.
Billed as 'a project about the way we understand the reality of nature on an atomic scale', tonight’s performance has a typically scientific angle with quantum theory at its heart and also, for the first time, a human performance element in a piece mixing art, science, music, maths and philosophy. 

The stage is set with three banks of projection screens - one huge at the rear, twenty smaller screens in two rows at the front and a large rectangular table behind these. Things commence with a deep sub resonating around the theatre as numbers and images scatter across the screens at stroboscopic pace. Flashes of white noise accompany explosions of mathematical structures until a withering crescendo of sound brings silence and darkness.

Performers Stephane Garin and Amelie Grould emerge to sit at the table in the roles of 'operator/conductor/observer/examiner'. Using various types of morse key machinery they laboriously tap out messages that are relayed on the screens. The on/off bleeps are also displayed as real time wave forms - even Ikeda's human participants are initially reduced to a zero/one binary state. Both performers spell out different sets of words - much is unintelligible yet phrases emerge: 'informationisnotknowledge', 'whatismatter', 'whatismind' and questions arise around science, religion and human existence.

Musically things are as pounding as you'd expect, veering from foreboding drone, to abstract glitchy rhythms and low end vibrations. Unusually for Ikeda there are also surprising hints of melody - humming pads and progressions take occasion to weave through punishing combinations of explosive subs, white noise and high frequency sine waves. It's almost as if the human presence in 'superposition' has lent an organic air of beauty to the music. At very least it's trying hard to push through the barrage of information.

The performers examine and observe old microfilm of newspapers and random numbers with the reader output projected on the huge screen behind. They make notes and choose random letters and digits to focus on. Their work looks precise but it's chance outputs they generate. Occasional glimpses of words or phrases appear to make sense - a kind of half understanding. Superposition theory states that an object is only understood if you measure or observe it - otherwise it is in all possible states. It feels like the performers are painstakingly attempting to understand and catalogue these states - perhaps a fruitless task.  Eventually it is so and the machines take over as precise object recognition software overlays the screen - detecting, filing and mapping the human activity with alarming digital accuracy. Things build to a climax as a disorientating exhibition of 3D data visualisations and techno noise pummels the audience with sensory overload.

'superposition' throws the historical work of Galileo, Hooke, Jenny and Chladni through a highly technical modern prism, raising philosophical questions around human existence through our modern understanding of the universe at atomic level - with what feels like a fearful outcome. 

Later we see Ikeda and entourage drinking lagers in a Whitecross Street boozer and perhaps things are not so terrifying after all. The same guys that presented these questions with such brilliant technical and conceptual mastery are now slurping beers in a backstreet London pub. It's fine. Everything's OK. We're in control after all.



Ryoji Ikeda’s Superposition: A Collision of Worlds - Fluxmagazine, words Jess Onacko

It seems that what could be construed as two artistically distinct domains are in fact more closely related and compatible than we can imagine…Ryoji Ikeda, on the 27thth and 28 March, demonstrated the extraordinary unity of science and art in his recent UK premiere of Superposition at the Barbican, through a stunning and thought-provoking collaboration of visuals, sound art and – for the first time in his career – onstage live electronics.  The result of such a glorious fusion of art forms by far exceeded the expectations of your typical “performance”; the Superposition experience was more of a sensation: a beautifully crafted attack on the senses – an intellectually weighted thrill ride.

Superposition – the scientific phenomenon itself – plays a significant role in the work, as one would expect, the most immediately obvious being the nature of the visual imagery (credit to Yoshito Onishi for the outstanding visual art in the work) utilised in the performance of the same name. Visual representations of quantum mechanics (of which superposition is a fundamental principle); and, by association, mathematics, equations and formulae, data, atomic structure, numerical sequences, elements of the cosmos, all flashed – often at a disconcertingly rapid speed – in sync with Ikeda’s wonderfully formulated minimalist electronica score, across the numerous screens facing the audience (one large cinema-style screen at the back, a lower, rectangular one fronting a large desk and ten computer monitors lining the front of the stage).

Does this idea of quantum theory run deeper than this immediate, visual performance surface, however?  Well, yes, in the sense that Ikeda’s composition is driven by his interest in mathematics, whereby mathematics is the foundation of music; music is, in turn, deeply rooted within the inner workings of our world, and our world lies within a universe that we have attempted to understand on an atomic and sub-atomic level, through the principles of what we have called ‘quantum mechanics’… a profound and complex relationship that becomes more bemusing and more fascinating the further it is considered. But – and this is an important ‘but’ -Ikeda affirms that an understanding of such concepts is not integral to a full appreciation of his work. This, I believe, is of great importance; Superposition is not a work purposefully packed with esoteric allusions designed appeal to the intellectual elite and baffle the majority; Superposition is a piece created to, in Ikeda’s own words, “challenge people’s thinking a bit.” After all, the probability of the audience majority being sufficiently educated in quantum theory and advanced mathematics in order to entirely understand this side of the work would, of course, be zero to none. So, why should such a wonderfully mystifying and compelling concept be accessible only to a select few, when it’s so relevant to us all?

This is not, by any means, to imply that the ‘scientific’ visuals of the work are only there to initiate a thought process/synchronise well with the music and otherwise have little meaning. The visuals all hold relevance to the scientific background of the work, and that’s one of the greatest things about Superposition; if you are intellectually equipped to understand these things, they actually make sense, but even if you don’t (as would be the case for most of us, I imagine) the experience is intended to be equally as enjoyable.  As Ikeda says, “The show is an immersive and viscerally exciting music experience, be the viewer a music and art lover or a physicist – or both. Quantum mechanics plays a key role in my approach to composition, but they will be invisible to any spectator who doesn’t understand them and that won’t stop them enjoying the work.”

Concept aside, the music is blinding in its own right. Most of us know Ikeda for his seminal album, +/- (1996), a work that pioneered and inspired a new and radical realm of minimalist electronic composition (which employs the glitch ‘failure’ aesthetic – a reaction to our new digital society) through the use of ‘raw’ music states such as sine waves and white noise. The music in Superposition is not dissimilar to this on a base level, but the sound palette is much more varied, as is the rhythm. The compositional layering too is much more complex, which makes for a much more captivating experience overall (it goes without saying that the powerful speakers used in the auditorium at the Barbican enhanced this beyond measure).

The performance began as it intended to go on; the first sound that pierced the darkness of the eerily silent theatre (a low, rumbling frequency) was uncomfortable, intense, and highly dramatic. Discomfort is, in a way, an inevitable (and absolutely necessary, I would say) by-product of Superposition; anyone who has listened through +/- will understand this. Frequencies that our ears aren’t accustomed to, played for prolonged periods of time – particularly at a high volume – can feel very strange, often painful. Relentless repetition of rhythmic patterns, notes, textures, images…continuous bombardment of unnaturally pure waveforms, rapid alternation of pitch black and bright light, extended periods of live electronics sequences (the performers of which were astounding in their precision and control), unusual combinations of tones resulting in tone clusters that are really quite frightening, all for a straight, seventy-four, uninterrupted minutes. The experience is not something you would encounter anywhere in life and, as a result, it was a treat to observe as much as it was disorientating and brilliantly unsettling. Walking out of the theatre doors and back into the real world was particularly strange: comparable to returning to solid ground after being on a trampoline for a long period of time, except your feet are your ears and the solid ground is the bland soundscape of uninspiring reality.

© Amélie GROULD 2013