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CD Feature/ Ryoji Ikeda: "op"

img  Tobias

The more one looks, the more the 20th century of “new music” seems to “belong” to the USA: Minimalism, drones, ritualism – they all centered around artists based in America. As orchestral scores became ever more expensive to perform and electronic music devices ever cheaper, the world has once again turned on its axis and while some composers such as Reich, Riley and Glass have become – consciously or unconsciously – father figures of many contemporary developments, others seemed to have been forgotten: The legacy of Morton Feldman and Samuel Barber, where has it gone?

On closer inspection, it has merely changed its appearance. Feldman has been embraced by a whole new generation of American artists (such as Andrew Pekler) and both him and Barber have become darlings of electronic acts all around the planet. Ryoji Ikeda is one of them and we can only allow ourselves this lengthy introduction without a mention of his name, because he is one of the few composers who have stayed true to what must be one of the most unusual feats of our information society – namely, not providing any information at all, but for the most basic facts. This forces even the most fervent tabloid reporter to write about his music, not his persona, which is one (but certainly not the only) reason why he has never actually made it to the tabloids. Other reasons include his search for beauty instead of brute force, his whispering instead of hollering and – most importantly, that a music which consists of crackles and hisses to the layman’s ear will never make it to any charts, not even in the year 2525. “op”, however, is different and may even bring his name closer to a broader audience – given some time and luck, as always. On this disc, Ikeda, who was until now known to exclusively explore and exploit the bare wastelands and rich and fruitful fields of his hard disc, uses a nine-headed string ensemble for his means and proudly announces the fact that “no electronuc sounds were used”. What makes his endeavour so interesting is his total lack of ambition of creating a “thick” sound, something which is always at hand, when.electronics-centred artists start employing traditional instruments. Dynamics do play a role, but in a less conventional manner. Instead of moving from quiet to loud, respective chords stay at the same volume thoughout but swell and go down, leaving breathing spaces and holes of silence, which are subsequently slowly filled. “op 1” makes this principle most obviously clear, as it starts with flageolets, then adds more lower frequencies, increases speed, takes rhythm on board and then dives into the depths. In its final movement, the elements are recombined, as if the composer were trying to remember them after a few years of sadness – or as if he were mournfully saying goodbye. “op. 2”, in comparison, is almost static, a sea of slow string attacks and tiny melodic fragments, touching each other only to let go right away. Time has no meaning in this embryonic pre-universe, neither have words to describe it. Conventional factors such as melody and harmony are, however, clearly expanded on in the third part of the series, which uses variations on a four-note motive and chord shifts to create ever-changing moods.

Nothing academic about this, nothing revolutionary either. The latter is actually a good sign, as it shows that even if Rjoji Ikeda was not looking for parallels with the works of aforementioned godfathers, the perception and appreciation of his music has become so much easier. What once must have seemed hard candy, now comes across as a finely woven and definitely touching set of deeply emotional scores. Despite their relative absence from the media, not a single note by Feldman and Barber has been in vain.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Ryoji Ikeda
Homepage: Ryoji Ikeda at Forma
Homepage: Touch Music

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