Video from Ryoji Ikeda.
In 2012, Ryoji Ikeda created Superposition, which aims to understand a new type of information through art. Specifically this work explores quantum mechanics and the reality of nature at an atomic scale. Inspired by the mathematical notions of quantum mechanics, Ikeda uses performers, sound design, light, imagery, synchronized video screens, real-time content feeds, digital sound sculptures and symmetry to bring his ideas to life in Superposition.
This 65-minute long piece was performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The stage was set up between bracketing columns of speakers. Through the columns you could find 10 small digital screens across the bottom lip of the stage. Then there were 10 medium sized digital screens across the middle of the stage, in front of the table where the two performers sat. Finally, behind the table was a floor-to-ceiling screen across the back of stage.
Before Superposition, Ikeda had never used performers in his work. Therefore, it was a surprise to his followers and it was very well received. In this piece, Ikeda created the concept, direction and music, but also collaborated with Stephane Garine and Amélie Grould to be his performers. As performers they acted as operators, conductors, observers, and examiners. These two performers sat at opposite ends of a long table on stage in front of two large screens during the performance. They exhibited the restrictions and uses of data processing as a way of showing nature and quantum mechanics. Each performer would tap out a script almost in unison, but not quite. The script they tapped out makes sounds like Morse code.
One of the statements they tapped out read “Logic is not a body of doctrine but a mirror image of the world” (Ratcliff, Ben (Oct 19, 2014) Putting Cold Data in the Service of Language and Music).
Additionally, the performers typed calculations of old IBM key-punch cards using a crossword puzzle style graph and rolled marbles to see if the computer could capture their positions. This acted as a way of mimicking nature and the mathematics behind quantum mechanics.
The sound design in this work is very exciting and immersive. It does a good job of carrying the audience through the performance and visual aspects of the work by syncing unique sounds to movements. Specifically, this piece begins with the performers typing. Meanwhile the large screens show letters appearing as they type with tapping and code like sounds filling the theater at each new letter. As the piece builds, the sounds become more intense and engross the audience further. By the ends of the piece, the audience is completely thrown out of their comfort zone and into a new realm with sharp lines, crisp sounds, and bold colors.
“The sound and visuals, for the most part, were representations of digital data: sine waves, visualizations of code in black and white, or sometimes primary colors. It was high-contrast, high-resolution, pointedly loud or carefully soft, rhythmic, with intermittent puffs of white noise. If you weren’t inclined to it, you might have thought it antiseptic, nearly inhuman” (Ratcliff, Ben (Oct 19, 2014) Putting Cold Data in the Service of Language and Music).
Further, all the components on the stage related back to Ikeda’s overall ideas about quantum mechanics, atomic scales, nature, and created a state of superposition through sound, visuals, physical aspects, and randomness.
Louise Gray explains the work as “…a sound and music event that is simultaneously extraordinarily, mesmerically beautiful and also so radically disorientating that afterwards you feel as if the world has tilted to one side” (Gray, Louise (Mar 28, 2013) Ryoji Ikeda: Superposition Barbican Theatre).
Overall, Superposition is a unique piece of performance sonic art that explores the relationship between science and art.
“’Superposition,’ if I understood it right, is about the tension between what can be graphed, plotted and perfectly represented, and what can’t. He’s interested in cold data — “superposition” is a concept from quantum mechanics — but more interested in how we can use it as a language, how we can make it talk or sing. He’s a kind of translator, converting principles into words, numbers into code, code into sound and image” (Ratcliff, Ben (Oct 19, 2014) Putting Cold Data in the Service of Language and Music). http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/20/arts/music/ryoji-ikedas-superposition-at-the-metropolitan-museum-of-art.html?_r=0
This work is deeply involved with the idea of where uncertainty and probability coexist, true and false, and 0 and 1. 0 or 1 are used in the language of classical information as BIT or binary digits. They are the most fundamental sources of information and are the basic foundation for judgment and logical thinking. However, when 0 and 1 are superposed at the same time, this becomes a new language entirely: QUBIT or quantum binary digits. QUBIT is the newest way scientists are looking at nature at a sub-atomic scale. Nonetheless, this is still beyond human comprehension and we cannot yet understand all the truths behind nature. The main differences between BIT and QUBIT are that BIT is digital and discrete, whereas QUBIT is analog and continuous. We can see the influences of QUBIT in Superposition because Ikeda uses elements that are symmetrical, corresponding, and parallel through this work. He aims to discover and share this new kind of information we are starting to understand in science, through art.
In 2008, Ikeda created an audiovisual installation that used patterns as a sequence of tests for machines and humans. Test Pattern, used visual elements and generated sound forms in real-time from them. The piece was comprised of 8 computer monitors and 16 loudspeakers aligned on the floor in a dark space. Later, this work was shown in Times Square, New York City. Like Superposition, this piece uses light, sound design, and visuals to immerse its audience. Additionally, both works look at science in the form of art. This work is a study of barcodes and how they work, while Superposition is a study of quantum mechanics.
FOREST, by Janet Cardiff is a sound installation piece, like Superposition. The audience sits down on wooden stumps in the clearing of a forest to relax and enjoy the sounds. This work was done in collaboration with Burnes Miller. Together, they created a unique audio composition that is emitted from thirty speakers in the forest. The audio actually mimics the sounds one might hear in a forest. This is an interesting comparison to Superposition because FOREST directly looks at the sounds of nature by having the installation in nature. On the other hand, Superposition seeks to understand how nature works by look at it from a scientific and digital side.