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Ryoji Ikeda
Ultratronics Daniel Hignell , December 2nd, 2022 09:52

Drawing on audio material recorded between 1989 and 1999 and compositions created between 2013 and 2022, the Japanese visual and sonic artist's latest for NOTON offers a fascinating overview of his practice, finds Daniel Hignell

Ryoji Ikeda returns with more of his signature algorithmic composition, firing through seventeen frantic tracks of glitching, minimal electronics. Ikeda’s work is as rich as ever, drawing upon the extra-musical terrain of quantum physics, genetics, and computational form to further express the rhythmic potential of data. For all the heady intellectualism of its source material, however, Ultratronics is a surprisingly approachable work, distilling its already limited sonic palette - we are very much in beeps and bleeps territory here – into an album that, at times at least, could rub shoulders with more straightforward breeds of IDM.

Some clear compositional choices amplify such accessibility. The inclusion of both a defined, regular kick, and the recurring stream of robot voices, serves to locate the other less restrained elements into a more logical musical framework – something that though incredibly well-executed, might perturb lovers of Ikeda’s more abstract installation work. Recorded and composed over a period spanning some thirty-three years, the album exists as a fragmentary melting pot of the various sonic approaches and interests Ikeda has explored throughout his career. Though the breakneck glitches, granular noise, and speaker-trashing bass of his prior work all make an appearance, Ultratronics soon reveals itself to be a different beast entirely.

Both less glacial and less chaotic than expected, the album surprises not for its often challenging rhythmic potential, but for its adherence to well-known tropes. Tracks like ‘Ultratronics 07’ offer a wonderfully aggressive take on industrial music, replete with an almost nostalgic glow – if someone told me this was a new Justin Broderick side project I could easily be convinced. And whilst the intense abstraction of his installation work is still present, the inclusion of more straightforward, rather sensible beat-driven pieces is either a surprising left turn or a bit of a disappointment.

Despite courting unexpected normalcy, this is nonetheless a superbly produced artefact. The album’s industrial edges are as in-your-face as the genre demands, and its abstract sonifications as challenging as ever. Whats more, moving between these two forms of intensity is a deeply rewarding experience – one moment the listener is being pummelled by distorted, bit-crushed beats, and the next their perseverance is being tested by several minutes of fluctuating, ear-piercing drones operating at the sort of frequencies that drive dogs wild.

Not for the faint of heart, Ultratronics is a fascinating overview of Ikeda’s practice, an album that manages to do a huge amount with a very sparse toolkit. I suspect some may question the potentially incongruous moods that battle within, but Ikeda successfully ties two decades of ideas together through the prism of his singular, and unrelenting compositional approach.