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“test pattern” by Ryoji Ikeda

“test pattern” is an ongoing audiovisual project by Ryoji Ikeda that features an intense cascade of black-and-white bar-codes synchronized to electronic music. To be precise, “test pattern” is a system that converts all kinds of data into a visual pattern. This pattern predominantly consists of black and white bars representing the binary of digital information. The stream of data is processed and displayed at breakneck speed in order to “examine the relationship between the critical points of device performance and the threshold of human perception, pushing both to their absolute limit” [1].

(FRAC Franche- Comté, Besançon, FR, 2013)

Beginning as CD record in 2008, “test pattern” installations have been maturing in size and scope, going from utilizing a series of LCD displays to a panel of high-performance projectors spanning incredible dimensions. Various installations of this series have been commissioned and displayed in galleries around the world, including: La Casa Encedida in Madrid, Spain; Théâtre de Gennevilliers in France; Carriageworks in Sydney, Australia; etc.


(Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media, JP, 2008)


(Théâtre de Gennevilliers, FR, 2010)


(Carriageworks, Sydney, AU, 2013)


(Ruhrtriennale, Kraftzentrale, Duisburg, DE, 2013)

Ryoji Ikeda is a Japanese electronic composer and visual artist who currently lives and works in Paris. Ikeda’s performances or installations consistently features the use of sound and visuals with mathematical precision [2]. An example of his other work that uses visual components to display digital information is “datamatics”, and “datamatics [ver 2.0]” (written about on AEM-OC here). Additionally, he also collaborated with an artist collective known as Dumb Type, and as a duo named “cyclo.” with German sound artist Carsten Nicolai. His work as part of this duo consists of two CDs of electronically synthesized sounds provides an interesting comparison with the work featured here (as will be discussed later).

In “test pattern”, Ikeda places emphasis on the deluge of information that exists in the space that we occupy. It is evident that Ikeda is taking the logical next step in electronic media’s trend where “the conventional aesthetic privileging of precious objects has been increasingly supplanted by a more ephemeral aesthetics of information” [3]. The physical space of the installation is simply overwhelmed by the fleeting, but virtually infinite, amount of information that flutters by hundreds of frames per second. The sheer amount of output all but guarantees that the author simply cannot master or direct the projection, and must be completely reliant on the performance of an assembly of electronic apparatus, without which this project would not have been possible.

An interesting aspect of “test pattern” is elucidated further through comparison with Ikeda’s work as “cyclo.”. Essentially, the CDs that this duo published are sound tracks that were composed not with respect to the aural experience, but with respect to the geometric representations on an oscilloscope. As a result of this, the composition will sound rather harsh in order to create pleasing graphical forms. In the artists’ words, there are two ways one might enjoy such a work:

“On the first level, you can purely enjoy the sonic content and its translation into images…On the second level, you can try to read the content of the images, and you can try to understand their correlation to the left and right audio channels, the frequencies and the amplitude. Therefore, the visual image is not only a graphical representation, but delivers you information about the sound data“ [4].

On a basic level, both “test pattern” and “cyclo.” make use of the computer’s “…ability to map one media into another using appropriate software—images into sound, sound into images, quantitative data into a 3D shape or sound, etc” [5]. And according to Manovich, the ability of computers, or electronics, to do so has facilitated their development from “remediation machine” into “Universal Media Machine”, a change from simulator of existing media to manipulator and inventor of new types of media [5].

It is evident that both of the works here look at information in a different form than its usual category. “cyclo.” transmutes sound into mathematical forms in the image of geometrical figures. “test pattern” translates multimedia into visual elements. In doing so, the processed form takes higher precedence than the original form of the information, the presentation of which is prone to cause confusion for the viewer. Given the similarity between the two works, one might say that his work as “cyclo.” have shaped Ikeda’s artistic sensibility and how he envisioned “test pattern”.

The similarity also highlights the difference between the works. “cyclo.” is a highly controlled synthesis of electronic sound, while “test pattern” emphasizes the chaos that pushes at the limit of human perception. The visual output of the latter showcases the virtually limitless amount of information, which may be regarded as potential awareness that exists in the gap between the world of human perception and machine working. And when one gazes at the edge, it is just an empty darkness.


[1] ryoji ikeda | test pattern
[2] ryoji ikeda | biography
[3] Edward  A. Shanken, Art and Electronic Media, Page 24.
[4] Ashley Young, Catherine Hedberg. An Interview with cyclo. (Ryoji Ikeda and Carsten Nicolai). INSIDE/OUT. MoMA. 2013.
[5] Lev Manovich. “Simulation is the central notion of the Dynabook”. Software Takes Command. Bloomsbury Academic. 2013. Pages 64-91.