Ryoji Ikeda: the mathematical composer of light and sound

Ryoji Ikeda uses data and algorithms to craft disorienting light artwork and sound performances. His work dazzles, merging glitches of light with unpredictable electronic sounds, captivating all senses.

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From the Land of the Rising Sun emerges an unexpected, avant-garde, unconventional light. It is the light of Ryoji Ikeda, a Japanese composer and artist born in 1966 in Gifu Prefecture. He gained international fame in the 1990s through revolutionary experiments in electronic music

Ikeda’s style, which blends minimalism with allure, has enabled him to build a varied identity over time, seamlessly moving beyond the usual labels and categories. Indeed, music quickly found an inseparable companion in visual art, while disciplines such as science, mathematics, and computer science debuted as authors of a new light.

1.Ryoji Ikeda during a live set - ph. LU Kuo-wei

Today, Ryoji Ikeda stands as a true institution in audiovisual art, with his installation works and live performances reaching across the globe, from the Centre Pompidou in Paris to the Barbican Centre in London and the Venice Biennale.

The Light and Sound Duo in Ryoji Ikeda’s Artistic Practice

For Ryoji Ikeda, light and sound are more than mere waves propagating through space. They represent the final output of an incredibly detailed and complex artistic process grounded in the artist’s passion for the sciences. Each creation starts with in-depth data, seen by Ikeda as raw material to resonate with the human senses. 

Next comes computational processing, codes, and algorithms that, developed in collaboration with a team of programmers, translate incoming information into visuals and musical tracks. The result is a duo where light and sound coexist, multiply, and engage in dialogue. Light dazzles with the whiteness of screens turning on and off according to the rules of binary code; sound creates an unknown atmosphere, marked only by the chaotic succession of electronic impulses.

2. Test pattern [no.5], 2013, Ryoji Ikeda - ph. Zan Wimberley

Test Pattern [enhanced version]

Many of Ikeda’s creations resemble monumental dynamic barcodes, and Test Pattern [enhanced version] is undoubtedly one of the most representative examples. Commissioned by Park Avenue Armory for the Annual Visual Art Exhibition, it debuted in New York City during The Transfinite solo show in 2011. 

3. Test pattern [enhanced version], 2011, Ryoji Ikeda - ph. James Ewing

This digital installation, featuring projectors and two large screens, showcases iconic black and white stripes generated by specific data packets. The horizontal and vertical screens define the flooring and wall of a space, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in an environment where light and sound envelop them in an experience at the edge of sensory perception.

4. Test Pattern [100m version], 2013 Ryoji Ikeda - ph. Jay Peck

Spectra III

Spectra III, an installation of greater immersion and intensity, showcased the Japanese artist’s remarkable contribution to the 58th Venice Art Biennale 2019. Part of the Spectra series, a group of works employing intense white light as a sculptural material, the piece presents itself as a blinding small corridor. Numerous neon tubes are mounted on the ceiling, emitting a powerful white light that reflects in a continuous interplay, bouncing endlessly off the structure’s reflective walls. 

5. Spectra III, 2019, Ryoji Ikeda - courtesy of La Biennale Di Venezia

The result is a forced passage through a corridor of light, a brief experience that has an immediate and absolute effect on the person: the asphyxiating whiteness of the light sources makes vision impossible and physically impresses the potential power of light.

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