Tuesday, November 15, 2011

JAM DESHO: Ryoji Ikeda - Dataplex

By Steve Jones.

This is not a pleasant album, my Samsonite Samurais.  This is not friendly music.  This album uses some sounds which rather accurately simulate the feeling of having tiny drills boring into your brain folds.  But if you want some bold, fearless, glitchy, and moving electronic music, look no further than Dataplex.

Ryoji Ikeda is a Japanese artist who seems concerned with making electronic music that sounds truly electronic.  Much of Dataplex sounds like the insides of a computer, filled with the whirring and restless exchange of ones and zeros.  There are scattered and skittery drum patterns, rapid fire Morse code, and an apparent lack of most of the conventions we associate with music--melody, harmony, rhythm, mistakes.  But do not mistake it for soulless, because there is a human element buried beneath the tiny beeps and clicks that construct this album.  In a way, this stark display of technology resembles what music may have sounded like at its most primal, built with a limited sound palette and filled with unfamiliar rhythmic patterns and a sense of otherworldliness.  Yet I was still surprised by how much this album made, and still makes, me groove in my chair, foot tapping and head bobbing.

There are 20 tracks to Dataplex, all following the naming scheme of "data.----ex" (e.g. "data.simplex," "data.telex," "data.vortex," etc.).  I, however, cannot imagine listening to any one of those songs as an independent "single," and really the album feels more like one long 55 minute piece of electronic musique concrète.  True to form, some of these songs really hurt.  "data.minimax" is built around a very, very high pitch whining that sits dangerously close to the borders of the frequencies humans cannot even hear.  I was going to embed a YouTube video of it, but the pitch is so high it doesn't even show up in the video I found.  Its effect is so unpleasant it induces revulsion, but it is in that revulsion that I revel in this music.  Any composition which can effect me so viscerally, yet still have me snapping my fingers, is music that is engaging me on several fronts, and I like that.

I actually recommend listening to this out of your laptop speakers, to get the full effect of this "computer music."  If you're a braver soul, headphones will provide an experience like no other, but be sure to have that volume turned down.  Technically, very low pitched sounds are more dangerous to your hearing than the extremely high pitches found throughout this album, but I still would be cautious.

Ultimately, Dataplex is a fascinating collection of minimalistic electronic dance music.  Even if you are tempted to turn it off, I encourage you to make it to the end, where the last few tracks become substantially less harsh and actually quite gorgeous.  And, again, the range of responses and emotions that are evoked by this album is astounding.  Typically, we attribute intimacy to the sounds of lo-fi guitars and vocals, but I find in Dataplex an even greater sense of intimacy stemming from its carefully crafted sounds and structure.  It's cinematic, in the way it progresses through different "acts," builds up tension, satisfies that tension with a climactic "data.vortex" and "data.matrix," and then gives us time to reflect with a short but fun denouement.

We are all data, and Dataplex is music for all of us.

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