d|b – bright reflection versus dark wave (and vice versa)

‘db’ is the cryptic title of the actual show by the Japanese artist and composer Ryoji Ikeda that by no means can be emphasized as an ‘empty set’. This notion, which is used to express the smallest unit in mathematical philosophy, constitutes as well an attractive field for the artist who is known for his transcendental and dissecting philosophical approach. Ikeda denotes the process of reducing down to the raw inherent structures, maybe better described as the attempt to show the core elements of sound and light as essential for his work. ‘db’ which is the last show of the series Works of music by visual artists at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, convincingly conveys this attitude as an strongly aesthetical, almost austere composition in itself.
Five different work groups from the composer’s recent period are presented in strict arrangements almost reminding to a sanctorum. Each of the pieces reduced to display its core principle. All are centered around the juxtapositioning opus ‘db‘ that on the one side literally takes on the decibel (db) by cutting it down to a pure wavering sinus tone in a glaringly white room, and contraposes it by a black room with an intense white light beamed within. The mirroring effect is also contextualized in another layer that is added by the artist’s keen observation of the buildings symmetrical, though quite extensive floor plan. Between these two similar rooms that are located distant and without a map not easily findable, a correspondence occurs on the floor plan guide handed out by the museum. The discovering of this congruence allowed Ikeda to mirror his bright room at the west wing with the dark one at the east side. And he left it to the visitor’s decision of route whether the bright reflections reverberate in a dark mirror – or vice versa.

There is a playful and accessible attitude surrounding the d|b ’mirror‘ effect. The work is based on an elder version of a similar piece by the same title which Ikeda equally oriented along strict lines of juxtaposition. But if the focus back then was clearly set on dark – bright, it now got extended into a list ending on the sophisticated do – be contraposition. Just as its earlier version, the current installation deals with the minimization of sound to sine waves and impulses, and pixels for light. In fact the artist has a very stringent body of work building on infinity and transcendence by following the consequent notion of his concept based on a mathematical imaginary. Starting from his early music album ‘+/- ‘ that already features just such a single tone and about which Ikeda says that “a high frequency sound is used that the listener becomes aware of only upon its disappearance”.

Disturbance and disappearance (noise and emptiness) are acknowledged minimalistic methods in the attempt to accentuate the ungraspable moment of appearance. Yet Ikeda’s attitude is a thoroughly performative one, which might derive from his understanding as a musician and work as a DJ. His scenario creates an undeniable element of invitation upon entering these rooms. An open call to people‘s experience ahead of it all that makes these works so temptingly accessible despite their aesthetic rigor. “In a live performance the first thing you do is listen and enjoy; the experience comes before any consideration of melody or meaning.“

Accessing the black room, the visitor is confronted with a beam of white light thrown through the back wall’s circular recess, which almost magically draws the audience to explore that space behind and play with the light and their own shadows. Entering the oppositional white room the magical attraction point becomes discernible as a black super-directional parabolic loudspeaker at the back of the room. When walking closer through the sonic sine wave every movement produces a noticeable change in the audible. In both rooms the amount of visitors influences the experience. While the light is too bright to stare into, it allows us to see the dust dancing in the air or another person‘s faint shape. The sound experience might even be subtler, as every person coming into the room changes the wave introducing an exciting sharpening of the senses.

The two room settings are generally arranged in a similar way. Climbing up the stairs to the upper level of the Hamburger Bahnhof the visitor is welcomed at the doors by a wall-high partly ironic list like deconstruction – bla-bla-bla of oppositional word groups, all starting with d / b. Passing on into each of the contrasting set-ups the senses need a moment to adjust either to the bright- or darkness. In both cases the eye deciphers a perfect symmetry of a smaller pedestal center piece in a front room which opens up to the main room that is arranged with ten oppositional work groups/projections – within their pivot – either the sound or light work of the ‘db‘ opus.

The pieces comprising the two work groups in the opening rooms and those alongside the walls of the main rooms correspond again in their analogue setting. The pedestal piece is in both cases a sort of ‘matrix‘ for the series that follows. All are based on numbers following the set theory that the construction of ordinal numbers is solely based on the idea of empty sets, pressing on as infinitum . The group displayed in the black room, the transcendental [no3] (2010) on the pedestal and the transcendental [no4] (2012) along the side walls, is a real-time generated computer based projection of a continuous flow of numbers, just momentarily stopped by their self-referential translation into sound bites. In contrary to this the group in the bright room, the transcendental (π) [no1-a] (2009) pedestal and the irreducible [no1-10] (2009) in the main hall, is a stand-still, in this case en-graved and dark-on-dark printed indicator towards the same referentiality “that almost all numbers are transcendental, having no pattern, and existing infinitely in an infinitely continuing succession of numbers.“

The scenarios of Ryoji Ikeda display the strictness of a sanctorum. His set-ups seem to operate within a binary system as if he attempts to decipher the infinite and transcendental inherent to the data stream that surrounds our daily life today. Though in his reference to principles of mathematical sources and philosophy he regains access to the beautiful and the sublime inducing a „sense of the beauty, while at the same time evoking infinity.“ It is a meditation based on and evoked from electronic minimalism. One that accurately explores its origins and takes into respect that it is “the nature of the human beings to be able to observe the same thing from different perspectives.“

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