Ryoji Ikeda review – techno data storm assaults the senses

Barbican, London
The Japanese composer and visual artist’s polyrhythmic techno confronts our digital dystopia

Ryoji Ikeda has waited patiently for the future to catch up with him. Since his 2005 album Dataplex, the Japanese composer and visual artist has explored the dazzlement and darkness of our digital age in electronic works that are partly generated by algorithms and blur the border between music and maths.

Performing behind a wall of intense 3D light patterns, his hour-long composition Datamatics [ver 2.0] – reworked from a piece that debuted shortly after Dataplex – packs an even heavier punch in 2018 than on its first unveiling in 2008.

That was a time of relative online optimism: before botched elections and social media security breaches, when most lived blissfully unaware of how their data was being mined, manipulated and sold back to them. In today’s era of digital dystopianism, Datamatics’ amelodic frenzy of wall-shaking bass rumbles, Autechre-esque techno polyrhythms and contorting frequencies pull the venue walls closer together as the audience undergo a claustrophobic assault on the senses.

The result is a work that presents the internet’s constant churn of information as an oppressive, unrelenting rain. More playful is the evening’s other performance, a collaboration between Ikeda and the Swiss collective Eklekto that glides through musical movements focusing on single acoustic instruments. Body Music is a rhythmic odyssey created by two seated performers clapping, while Metal Music III sees four percussionists produce intricate, otherworldly drones using cymbals. Like an MTV Unplugged rendition of his bombastic audiovisual work, it is a surgically precise, tightrope-walk melee of mechanical rhythms stripped to its essentials. The future was worth the wait.


Al Horner

The GuardianTramp

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