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Ryoji Ikeda - Test Pattern

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Artist: Ryoji Ikeda

Album: Test Pattern

Label: Raster-Noton

Review date: Jul. 25, 2008

Once you’re done with brass tacks, where do you go to get to the essence of things? If you’re Ryoji Ikeda, the answer is raw data. For better or worse, Ikeda’s always been loath to editorialize or dictate regarding his own work, preferring to leave it to the audience to glean what they will from the bare facts. Sometimes this works against him. The book/DVD Formula is an exercise in frustration; it documents installations by providing the specs of the speakers, electronics, lights, and room colors used to present them, but tells you nothing about why. But by cutting music down to bass pulses, sine waves, and solitary pitches, +/- (Touch) located minimalism’s ground zero, the point in space where the paths of Pan Sonic, Steve Reich and Alvin Lucier intersect. But even +/- seems flabby compared to Ikeda’s Datamatics project, which explores the ubiquity of data and acknowledges its ubiquity.

Test Pattern is Datamatics’ second CD, and it’s as stripped back as music can get. The premise is simple – take any sort of data, transform it into bar codes, then turn the codes into digital sound. Does Ikeda want us to consider the fundamental mathematics of the music of the spheres? Or is he suggesting that we are one, united by the binary mark of the beast? He’s not telling, so its up to the listener to search for meaning or give in to the music’s utter physicality. The CD comes adorned with a sticker that warns against playing at high volume. It’s no joke; the disc is encoded with frequencies so high that if you did crank the thing, they’d pierce your eardrums like shrapnel.

So, please, we can’t emphasize this enough: do not play this loud.

Test Pattern foregoes the body blows of techno in favor of an insistent, impossible intricate flutter, as though a flock of hummingbirds were tapping out sped-up talking drum dialogues on your skin while accelerated Morse code communications flash through your bones. Subliminal patterns spin behind other patterns, flashing right up past your auditory nerves on the way out of the audibility spectrum. That warning isn’t just for your ears; the music can baffle your player and mess with your speakers. But give it its due respect and it’ll give back to you; the rapidity with which it flies past your ears sharpens your hearing just like the right light brush of fingertips on skin charges and heightens your sense of touch. Test Pattern takes your world and spits it back, changed and new.

By Bill Meyer

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