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Ear Data

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Sometimes it seems as though you needn't spend a penny on music anymore and that everything should be freely available in some form or the other: Netlabels are offering brilliant albums without even the thought of commercial exploitation, artists are uploading their entire back catalogue on their homepages (electronic pioneer Richard Lainhart just did so, for example) and if you want to find out about a certain act, all you need to do is surf the web for extracts from his or her work, right? In the case of Japanese composer Ryoji Ikeda the answer, however, is no!

As a matter of fact, it's a hard exercise retreiving anything at all and if you do, the best you will get are short, 30-second samples. Which is even more suprising when considering the fact that Ikeda has been hailed as one of the most influential and important proponents of the new minimalist-movement (no brackets, please, as this is not an "official" term) and has been embraced by a diverse crowd - you can find reviews of his work on specialised electronics portals as well as in open-minded independent magazines. His own homepage (which is a complete desaster if you're easily lost for orientation) even calls his early albums "the most radical and innovative examples of contemporary electronic music". Will you just have to take his word for it?

Not entirely. Since, even though Ikeda has indeed founded his own label by the name of cci recordings, he has been an occasional collaborator with various colleagues and parts of his oeuvre have been published on other imprints. He is one half of the duo "cyclo" with Carsten Nicolai (which focusses on the visualisation of sound and has returned to live performing after a 1,5 year hiatus) and the UK-based "Touch" label has been responsible for three of his albums: "+/-" wandered between dry clicks and cuts (extremely short sample, which are put together in new ways, forming rhythms and minimal melodies), glitch (smudgy, smeary and somehow imperfect, organic sounds layered against each other) and drones (long, abstract, stretched out tones). "0 Degrees C" (released three years later in 1998) explored harsher territory, juxtaposing somewhat longer sound sources in seemingly random order. And "Op" was the most surprising of them all, a short stab at string quartet composing, with two extremely experimental movements, highlighting high-pitched, almost ethereal harmonics and a lavish third one. This last contribution earned him comparisons with Morton Feldman and put him in a league with the classically-trained American artists of the 50s and 60s (even though the Barber parallel is somewhat far-fetched).

As this short overview already indicates, Ikeda has neither stagnated nor has he stuck to one genre or style for all too long. In the course of ten years, he has continously redefined his boundaries and travelled the outer limits of what was thought possible sound-whise. Never, however, has he drifted off into art for art's sake territory or maltreated his listener's ears with mere provocation. If he may be called a radical, he is for sure the most sympathetic and accesible one - maybe that's also the reason, why his "revolution" has caught on so strongly (at least in an active and fertile underground). What singles out his approach (as is so often the case with leading artists) is the sheer purity of his work. His aim has always been to go back to the most essential, basic elements of sound - and to the way the human body perceives music. "Matrix", for example, puts the listener into direct confrontation with sine waves, moving them from one speaker to the other, using them to build new formations and allowing them to overlap. The idea is that the listener can explore the composition by moving in the room and changing the position of his head - and thereby disocvering the very physical qualities of the sounds.

Now, with his seventh full lenght album, he may be taking a small step back and yet moving ahead at the same time. "High-frequency raw data" is the basis for the pieces, which slowly but surely become longer and more complex, before falling back into its original state again. Still, even in their purest and least manipulated moments, these tracks are filled with a captivating "musicality" and a cliff-hanging aural design. And despite their hermetic nature, they open up large plains of white. Or as the Raster-Noton label puts it, who have been entrusted with unleashing this effort: "dataplex opens up avenues of pure musical abstraction whilst simultaneously embracing complex, unique and elegant individual composition. In its entirety, dataplex remains inscrutable; a mystery whose secrets require individual investigation and discovery. Its defiance of appropriate definition, description or comparison, ultimately underpins the pioneering nature of this long-awaited release."

Raster-Noton is also responsible for the first complete monograph on Ikeda's work, entitled "Formula" . which features on his audio pieces just as much as his installations and constitutes a piece of art in its own right. Just reading about his music already makes one's mouth watery and with this 96-page compendium, which comes with a DVD on top, you can dive even deeper into his cosmos. Maybe an excellent point to start discovering a man who has done quite a lot to remain a mystery to the world.

Homepage: Ryoji Ikeda
Homepage: Ryoji Ikeda at Raster-Noton
Homepage: Ryoji Ikeda at Touch UK
Homepage: Ryoji Ikeda at Artist Direct

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