Barbican Main Hall, London
The only time Ryoji Ikeda took to the stage at the packed-out Barbican Main Hall was for his curtain call – the leading Japanese composer has always pushed his art, rather than the artist, into the spotlight. He had just presented two performances which, on paper, appeared as stark contrasts to each other: a dichotomy of simple acoustics and complex computation, human and machine.
Ikeda has long drawn on a fascination with the beauty of binaries and mathematics, and the second composition of the night – titled datamatics [ver. 2.0] – fitted neatly into the digital landscapes of his vast body of work where art and science harmoniously coalesce. Real-time programme computations were projected onto the screen onstage, and soundtracked by an amelodic, electronic range of sound from piercing, flickering clicks to tectonic crunches of sub-heavy bass. Moments of rhythm provided fleeting anchors into his lineage of minimal techno, but you are otherwise lost amongst a rapid sea of data, moving visually in and out of microscopic 2D scanning to a technically-complex 3D view of our universe.
The fact that datamatics was preceded by music for percussion came as a playful surprise. Performed by members of Swedish collective Eklekto, the four-part composition explored the sonic properties of acoustic, rather than digital, sources: handclaps, crotales, cymbals and the humble triangle. With mesmeric synchronicity, they manipulated the simple sounds of their instruments into unusual textures that echo electronic music. The rapid taps on a triangle would blur together into a feedback-like pitch, and the slow swirling of mallets over wide cymbals created layers of slurring, droning low frequencies.
Despite their obvious contrasts, both worked together as explorations of sound in its most pure, raw form. And whether that be the polyrhythmic precision of two pairs of clapping hands, or the short and sharp beeps of mathematical processing, it provoked a visceral response that pushed the limits of your hearing or shook the minute fibres of your muscles. Conceptual but by no means inaccessible, the pairing of music for percussion and datamatics gave a fascinating view into Ikeda’s artistic world.