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Ryoji Ikeda - Formula

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Artist: Ryoji Ikeda

Album: Formula

Label: Forma

Review date: Aug. 25, 2005

Ryoji Ikeda’s music could not be more concrete. That’s concrete, not concrète; he’s not working from some Darmstadt or Paris blueprint, and he never departs from his own. Ikeda’s art works with the most basic elements – stark beats, repeated tones, pulsing lights, straight lines, neon hues, fading primary colors. The beauty of it must come from the spaces in between; how could one be moved by an unwavering bass thump, or a jittery telegraph pattern, or a flickering graph on a video screen? And yet Ikeda’s work can be absorbing and affecting. This book and DVD combo does not do a very good job of conveying that experience, though. The book presents technical description as though it were some sort of statement. You can read it and know what kind of lighting and speakers Ikeda used, but not why he used them the way he did. The book has no forward, no explanatory essay. It’s nice to not be dictated to, but please sir, may we have some context? The only text is data; the dates, locations, and component parts employed in various shows. For example, the entry for the “Just About Now” exhibition from 1998 in Rotterdam reads as follows:

speaker: Bose 101Wx4
power amplifier: non-specificx2
mixer: non-specificx1
CD player (w/repeat function); non-specificx1
HMI lamp (w/clamp); non-specificx5
white wall W1.5xH4xD6mx4
white linoleum H1.5xD6mx1
master CD-Rx1

Each exhibit is depicted in such fashion, with a few small photos and speaker-placement diagrams to ensure that nothing is left to the imagination. But there’s nothing about why his installations were erected, or what anyone thought about them; it’s all up to the viewer. The book’s small size (roughly 7 1/2” x 6”, the size of a DVD case) also works against it; the representations of Ikeda’s staged events are thumbnail sized, nowhere near as powerful as his visuals are when experienced in person. The DVD, of course, gets as big as your screen; given that some of these images once flashed across the back of large auditorium stages, there’s still a sense of something lacking. It includes the audio from 8 installations, and much of it indistinguishable from Ikeda’s CDs. The concert portion doesn’t offer much more in the way of new music, but it does allow the viewer to see the shifting lines and flickering patterns that provide an apt optical counterpart to Ikeda’s stark, simple music. Given the expense of this set, I can only recommend it to hardcore Ikeda fans. Novices would be better served by picking up +/- or Matrix, since each is a successful (if single-faceted), completely realized statement.

By Bill Meyer

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