Review: Ryoji Ikeda – Supercodex

Ikeda’s music has always been high-volume headphone music for me. I saw a live rendition of Test Pattern at the Barbican last year, and while there was a primitive pleasure in having gigantic whirrs of bass cutting through my guts, the music was also coated in an inevitable acoustic murk; the natural reflections of the space caused a certain blurring round the edges of Ikeda’s clinical language, and thus a dilution of the piece’s frequency precision and 1/O dynamics. Headphones plug me directly into Supercodex – I am an extra device on the Ikeda network, ingesting signals without the interference of the corporeal world to which his sound/data operates so obliviously.

But while these compositions make no explicit intersection with nature or incidental sound, that’s not to say that Supercodex exhibits no regard for the human listener; quite the opposite in fact. In amongst the squared-off hums and quantum beeps is a strong affinity with dance music: occasional bursts of regular pulse, euphoric blasts of low frequencies, deliberately structured escalations into climactic activity. But here it’s stripped of musical flab and reduced to pure sensation – each sound is a meticulous compound of specific frequencies, designed to both integrate seamlessly with the surrounding noises and maximise visceral impact. Human expression may be absent, but Supercodex is all about human connection; tapping into the mechanical processes of the body and bringing them to the fore, shedding the human form of all of its chance collisions to leave just a perfunctory hub of chemical reaction, skeletal resonance and hormone production.

That’s the wonderful paradox in Ikeda’s music, and it’s been exhibited beautifully throughout his Raster Noton trilogy (of which Dataplex and Test Pattern were the first two components). Within Supercodex are an incomprehensible series of quantum calculations and strings of computerised data, which would undoubtedly be rendered utterly incommunicative (to the vast majority of people at least) if observed optically. Through their translation into sound, electronic abstraction suddenly becomes a vehicle for primitive sensation, obliterating the potential for alienation by appealing to the most instinctive means of bodily connection. One can choose to perceive Supercodex as either a stream of complex binary formulae, or as pure blocks of sonic shape – squares of black and white – that negate all intellectual context.