100 cymbals (world premiere, LA Phil commission with generous support from David C. Bohnett)
Until his project music for percussion (2016), Ryoji Ikeda’s work has gazed into the boundless virtual vistas conjured into being by proliferating data-sets, and navigated the infinitesimal crevices of sub-atomic space. His imagination has been fired by scales, large and small, that are simply inaccessible to individual human experience, and his tools have been intangible – bespoke software and state-of-the-art processors. To cast all this aside, and concentrate instead on the intimate, physical, real-time effects of people and air moving in everyday space seems almost a repudiation of everything that has come before.
But, in fact, much of Ikeda’s singular output comes from the impulse not simply to reflect or to articulate the vastnesses of astrophysics or the imperceptibility of quantum theory, but to channel them; to render them, somehow, comprehensible. His datamatics series, for example, finds presentational techniques which can reconcile both the tiny intricacies of digital operations and the dizzying chasms of interstellar distance to our imaginations.
And while his creative solutions always maintain a rigorous fidelity to his source material, they also – more subtly, but just as unswervingly – reveal an appreciation of his audience’s need for narrative, structure and aesthetic reward.
100 cymbals defies expectations in a very different way. Ikeda spurns the chance to fall back on the propulsive certainties of electronic music compositions; instead he conjures up rich harmonic rewards from the simplest of instruments. The performers play 100 cymbals, not striking them conventionally, at least, not at first, but by drawing beaters across the surface, softly coaxing out vibrations as if the cymbals were Tibetan singing bowls. The effect is an oceanic swell of redemptive bass which builds over 25 minutes to a series of perfectly calibrated climaxes. It’s a mesmerizing experience; one that fully justifies Ikeda’s departure from the digital domain, and one that we can only hope might lead to future excursions in the real world.
Adapted from the text written by Chris Sharp (Contemporary Music Programmer at the Barbican, London, UK) for music for percussion (2018). music for percussion (cd+booklet) is published and released by codex | edition (codexedition.com).