Ryoji Ikeda

Ryoji Ikeda talks about his latest work

Ryoji Ikeda, the transfinite, 2011, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

Ryoji Ikeda is a Paris-based composer and sound artist. Ikeda’s musical work focuses on the essential characteristics of sound itself, which he manipulates in live concerts, recordings, site-specific installations, and publications. His largest sound installation to date, the transinfinite, will be on view at the Park Avenue Armory until June 11.

I HAVE MET MANY SCIENTISTS THROUGH MY WORK WITH NASA, and I am fascinated by the scales they work with, from molecules to the expanse of the universe. They are similar to artists in many ways, but they think beyond the conceptual. They can easily break the laws of nature through their practice and create an entirely new set of rules to follow. In that way, their work is very much like that of a poet or a musician.

Music and math are brothers. I have been obsessed by mathematical beauty for years, but I never really studied it. I dropped out of my university and didn’t attend art or music school. When I listen to classical music, like Bach, it’s so mathematically beautiful––it feels natural for me, as a musician, to dive into the mathematical world.

Over the past decade, I started to compose materials as installations, and now I am composing data. The structure at the Armory, and thinking about the space, is also part my practice as a composer. But I have never been trained as a classical composer. I can’t read scores, so instead of violins, violas, and pianos, I am always making my own score using pixels, color temperature, sine waves, square waves, triangle waves, and the ratios and proportion of screens. I like to orchestrate everything so it all operates at the same time.

I need the people to stand in the middle of this piece, on the floor, and notice the other visitors, because the visitors are all the performers. There is no correct position to see the piece, and since there is a huge wall in the middle of the drill hall, some people just enter the space and turn around to gauge their surroundings, which is also really interesting.

Sound shouldn’t be a slave to the visual. It has to be more democratic. My process can be very abstract or highly conceptual, with much back-and-forth from brain to hand. It is in this way that I consider myself different from visual artists, because I deal with sound and music as a vehicle for experience. This comes from my nature as a musician, you see: Without an audience my work is nothing.