Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Datamatics Ver.2.0 - Data Viz Black and White

As part of the Spill Festival of Performance 2011 at the Barbican, Ryoji Ikeda played a set. It was another installment of his Datamatics Series started back in 2006. The new Datamatics [ver.2.0] series has evolved quite a bit from the first version already played at events around the world including Sonar, Barcelona (2006); Mutek, Mexico City (2007); Centre Pompidou, Paris (2007); RomaEuropa, Rome (2008); Itaú Cultural, Sao Paulo (2009) and Second Nature, Aix-en-Provence (2010) to name a few.

The soundscape is an artwork based on purely mathematical parameters transforming electronic data into sound and visualisations. Ikeda describes it: "Using pure data as a source for sound and visuals, datamatics combines abstract and mimetic presentations of matter, time and space in a powerful and breathtakingly accomplished work."

Image taken from ryojiikeda.com / data.tron [8K enhanced version] audiovisual installation - 2008-09. Materials - 8 DLP projectors, computers, 9.2ch sound system. Dimensions - W16 x H9 x D9m. Date / Place JAN 1, 2009 - DEC 31, 2010 Deep Space venue, Ars Electronica Center, Linz, AT. Credits - concept, composition: Ryoji ikeda, computer graphics, programming: Tomonaga Tokuyama commissioned by Ars Electronica, 2008-09.

Breathtakingly it definitely is. The installation has you on the edge of the seat from very early on. The level of abstraction, the volume and the frequency of the flickering on screen mount to a experience very close the the limitation of the actually perceivable. After onl ten minutes the first people leave.

This work is clearly set in a wider context of sound art and electronic music. A few references to spring to mind immediately are John Cage as the very early highlight, Daft Punk with the Tron collaboration. Then there are also some more recent web project where data visualisation has turned into very playful results as for example with the Subway Conductor by Alexander Chen.

Interesting are Ikeda's use of geometrical elements for the visualisation. The main elements obviously are lines, both as geometrical lines but also as animated data lines. The Datamatics 2.0 performance then also starts with a linear setup, first vertical scrolling, then horizontal scrolling. The next element is the data point. Here again in many different variations, including as a node connected to other data points in 2D and 3D. Additional elements are planes and then effects such as spinning, copy and fast forward. With this basic setup the set reminds also of the short story 'Flatland' (if you haven't read it pdf is available HERE).

Image taken from artshool.cfa / John Cage Liberation of sound.

However the visuals are not limited to the geometric elements. From early on, also with rather simple elements the screen is only showing a flat representation. The visuals are always rendering, an abstract, three dimensional scape. The visuals have clear references, of ist and arrays all the way to interstellar arrangements, the big bang and the glow of a sun with the removing of the geometries keeping only the texts. The audio on the other hand also has its elements that it evokes, from highway traveling to train journeys or rain you'll find it all in the sounds scapes.

Of course on is curious what sort of data sets Ikeda is using for the performance. Is it a sort of stream like a twitter feed, or is it a more static field like property data, but maybe it is some medical data on DNA sequencing or the time table of the Moscow subway?

At first the performance at the Barbican feat like a film screening, only at the very end as Ikeda rushed from the back onto the stage during the applause it became clear he was actually present and involved in the performance. However how much of it was live and 'interactive' remained unclear.

Nevertheless the audience was engaged from early on. Each time the performance released the audience from its strong grip of audio visual bombardment sighs of relieve and cheers spread the ranks. This almost physical link through the intensity of the experience was challenging, but at the same time created a very intimate connection.

A trailer of Ikeda's Dramatic [er.2.0] set.

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