TO:60 – Ryoji Ikeda “op.”

CD – 10 tracks – 51:04

op.1 was originally commissioned by “experience de vol #3”. One notable aspect fans of his previous work will highlight upon, is his declaration that “no electronic sounds have been used on this recording”. This is not to say that Ikeda has in any way renounced the world of electronic music that he has done so much to shape over the past seven years. op. 1 is a brave and deliberate step that also lends a new dimension to his previous output, with the acoustic space created by his string arrangements being subject to the same forensic attention to detail as before.

Track list:

op. 1 [for 9 strings] (2000-01)
01. I
02. II
03. III
04. IV

05. op. 2 [for string quartet] (2001-02)
06. op. 3 [for string quartet] (2002)

op. 1 [prototype] (2000-01)
07. I
08. II
09. III
10. IV


The Guardian (UK):

Ryoji Ikeda’s Op. (Touch) is another current album with a hint of Bryars. The composer is best known as a hip and fearsomely reductionist electronic sound-maker/producer, with albums such as +/- and Matrix to his credit, and a compilation album dedicated to John Cage. For his tour “performance” in 2000, the stage was empty while a DAT played at the mixing desk. Yet for Op. (short for opus) the small print read: “No electronic sounds used.” There are two string quartets, Op. 2 and Op. 3, plus two versions of Op. 1 (for nine strings): a performance by Musiques Nouvelles Ensemble and a multitracked “prototype version”.

At first this sounds truly minimal: slow-moving layers of overlapping sound with hardly any pulse. It harks back to experimental pioneers such as Morton Feldman; it has the austerity of an electronic piece made from tone generators. Yet musicians, however closely they follow the score, don’t behave quite like tone generators. Within the ultra-restrained ensemble playing, you can hear vestiges of personality, of performance and expression, and you experience Ikeda’s music entering a new dimension. [John L. Walters]

Stylus (USA):

Ryoji Ikeda is a well-known figure in the world of experimental music. His 2000 release on the Touch label, Matrix, garnered near universal critical acclaim, due largely to the work’s amazing ability to harness the sound installation experience (the experience of listening to a work of art in a controlled environment) onto a CD that can be played anywhere. The first disk of Matrix consisted of ten five-minute long tones, each one slightly different from the next. What made the work interesting was the changes in sound effected by the listener’s proximity to the sound source. Slight movements in relation to the speakers subtly transformed the sounds that you heard. It’s a high concept idea that usually works only within the confines of an art gallery, where all the speakers can be set up correctly and the listener’s movements can be controlled.With op., Ikeda does something entirely unexpected: he ditches the electronic instruments in favor of violins, violas, cellos, and a double bass. Working with musicians in Belgium and Japan, Ikeda constructs four distinct works for classical instruments. However, this is not classical music by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, this work is as electronic in feel as Matrix. The aesthetic constants between the two works are time and tone. The ten tracks on Matrix’s first disk each consisted of a single, five-minute long tone; on op., though the pieces vary in length, they are made up primarily of extended tones. Granted, each tone changes in pitch and occasionally overlaps another tone. But there is little in the way of development, harmony, or any of the other things we normally associate with traditional or classical musical structure.So it sounds boring, right? At first listen, it does. It sounds like a bunch of piercing, overworked, monotonous string wails that go on and on. But this is one of those works that needs to be listened to a second, third, or fourth time before it can be fully appreciated. Yes, there’s a lot of uniformity here. However, uniformity is the point. This work follows in the footsteps of works by John Cage, Morton Feldman, and others, artists who sought to redefine the notion of music and musical composition. A single note, if played by different people at different times in different places, must sound different each time, even if those differences are so minor that only repeated listenings will reveal them. Cage, Feldman, and others wanted to encourage audiences to pay attention to those small differences, so they created musical works that included silence and repetition, for these things force listeners to forget about traditional musical concepts like harmony and structure and focus instead on the miniscule variations in a given piece. This is what Ikeda has done here: created a work that places the emphasis on a careful examination of the infinite differences between tones. This is, as I said earlier, basically the same thing Ikeda’s Matrix accomplished, only here Ikeda extends this idea beyond the realm of electronic sounds into more traditional avenues of musical expression. To listen to this album is, at the very least, to forever redefine your idea of string quartets.Besides, if you listen to every track here (though there are only four pieces, the work is split into ten different tracks, just like Matrix), you’ll realize that there’s a lot more going on than mere repetition. The last five tracks, in particular, are loaded with unusual variations on the major theme. There’s a plucked bass that underlines some rather high-piercing string sounds on track nine, and the beginning of track six gives us a few, brief moments of violin sounds that actually sound like traditional violin sounds (you know, with varying pitches and stuff like that). These moments are fleeting, but they are special and, in their own way, very beautiful. There is, in short, a lot to hear here, if you’re willing to open yourself up to the experience that Ikeda offers. [Michael Heumann]

Dusted (USA):

Ryoji UnpluggedLike Ryoji Ikeda’s previous albums for Touch, the empty white space and subtle geometric pattern on the cover suggest precisely conceived electronic music – cleanly cut-up and perfectly pitched. On +/- and O°C, his pure sine-wave tones, sliced samples, and electronic pops mix with amplifier hums, pulsing bass, and even a human heartbeat to create gorgeous mixtures of cool and warm, digital and analog. Ikeda whittles each of these sources down and then lets the disparate elements run together, creating rhythms that resemble the operating room more than the dance floor.

Op., however, is similar in cover design alone. The inside sleeve reads, “No electronic sounds used.” Op. features four compositions for four groupings: nine strings, two quartets, and a trio – no sampling, clipping, or shaping allowed. In “Op.1”, Ikeda combines elongated dissonant notes that never resolve into comfortable harmony. Sometimes these groupings build a note at a time and then dissipate, other times the players begin at the same time and fall off individually. Frequently each combination is surrounded by silence, disconnected from the rest of the composition. The third part of “Op.1” (tracks three and nine) adds a rhythmic cello pluck that brings structure to the pitches that otherwise follow no specific speed.

“Op.1” offers dissonance at its most austere. “Op.2” and “Op.3” include parts that assume a more lyrical role than the opener. Instead of strictly playing the note combinations and then pausing, the strings play longer lines that underscore the resulting discord, even adding small doses of cello vibrato in “Op.3”. These pieces move more fluidly with fewer outright silences between note groupings.

These compositions recall Morton Feldman’s pieces in the 1950s, when he sought to detach sounds from rote pitch relationships that had existed for generations of classical composition. He and his New York contemporaries wanted to release notes from “meaning” and make each sound have its own weight. Toward this end, Feldman used graphical notation that simply prescribed pitch as High, Middle, and Low, and players decided where these ranges lay and what notes to choose. He also used silence to surround his notes so they existed unimpeded by one another.

Ikeda’s compositions have a similar effect. The note groupings range from extreme dissonance to the occasional combination that deceivingly resembles a conventional chord. Because these notes “don’t go together,” their combination calls attention to each note individually. They aren’t part of a whole in the conventional sense of a harmony, so they stick out even though played simultaneously. These sorts of spacious productions arise in the idiosyncratic rhythms and pure tones of Ikeda’s electronic records. His elements don’t surrender to the greater whole; they simply coexist. In this sense, while Ryoji’s unplugging produces a different collection of sounds, the detail and precision of his sonic world continues in these tensely elegant compositions.
[Jeff Seelbach]

Aquarius (USA):

We’re used to hearing clinical clicks from Japanese electronic composer Ryoji Ikeda — so what’s this then? 21st century classical, all acoustic stringed instruments, no electronics at all?? Yes, and it’s great. With help from Belgian chamber-prog group Art Zoyd, Ikeda has crafted a gorgeous soundtrack-like suite of droning string bliss, that’s far from the chopped-up aesthetic of his earlier use of orchestral elements in the electronic realm. Two years ago, Ikeda released “Matrix” — an amazing double cd split between pure sinewave aggrevation on one disc and smooth, post-techno click ‘n’ grooves on the other. While that album was the conclusion of a trilogy of electronic works that also included “0 Degrees Celsius” and “+/-,” it remains unclear if the arrival of “op.” also marks a disavowal of electronics altogether (as good as this is, we hope not). While the German avant-garde ensemble Zeitkratzer have done very well for themselves in translating electronoise works by John Duncan and Merzbow into atonal orchestrations for classical instruments, Ikeda’s “classical” debut bares little resemblance to anything he’s done in the past. No cyclical pulses. No clinical precision. No irritants to speak of. Instead, Ikeda’s compositions for strings (one piece for 9 strings and the rest for quartet) gracefully glide in and out of complex timbres, with plenty of breathing room in between all of the harmonic tones. Indeed, the closest resemblance to Ikeda’s past work is how initial attack of bows on strings can sound uncannily like the electronically-generated tones on the sinewave half of “Matrix”… Soon they reveal themselves for the acoustic orchestra instruments they are, Ikeda apparently using them to tap into the emotions of sadness and majesty, which rock musicians also have appropriated from romantic composers. Yet, with its stoic simplicity and stately pacing, “op.” also mirrors the fascination that fellow minimalist Bernhard Gunter holds for Morton Feldman and Luigi Nono, although Gunter’s approach has remained within the scope of sampling and hasn’t yet arrived at full blown orchestrations. As beautiful and compelling as Ikeda’s “op.” is, Ikeda has to ask himself how he can build a language that not only reflects back upon successes of his previous electronic works but also understand the peculiarities intrinsic to this form of composition. He’s already issued vague statements about his electronic works building “invisible patterns filling the listening space.” Is this a strong enough bridge between Ikeda’s electronic masterpieces and the possible future for other classical compositions? Only time will tell…

VITAL (Netherlands):

With the release of ‘Matrix’, the work of Ryoji Ikeda reached a culmination point, the best refinement of his previous works, spread over two discs of sound. One with his rhythmical material and one with sound fields. As the conclusion of ‘+-‘ and ‘0 Degrees’ a logical point, but also one that asked the question: what’s next for Ikeda? To come up with another disc of his sinewave material, seemed just not right. Two years after ‘Matrix’ he comes back with ‘Op’. You could easily think that ‘Op’ is short for ‘Optical’ or maybe has a relation with ‘Op Art’ (in reference to his previous cover art), but op is short for ‘opus’ latin word for ‘work’. Serious composers (mainly nineteenth century) used to make their own catalogue, giving each new work a new opus number. Big jolly fun for musical historians, because composers left out works that felt were not good enough or youth works. The four works on this CD are all works for strings. ‘No electronic sounds used’ the cover says. It has ‘op 1’, ‘op 2’ and ‘op 3’ and a prototype of ‘op 1’. Does this mean that Ikeda now is a serious composer and that his previous works are youth works to be forgotten? We don’t know. The music on this CD is a distinct break from his past electronic music. That was cold and chilly, highly rhythmical and in its frequency use quite extreme. The three pieces for strings on this CD are romantic, stretched, slightly atonal and are to be found in the tradition of Feldman and Scelsi. Ever since I got this CD a week, I played it nearly every day, and every time I hear it, I find it more and more difficult to say anything about it. There is a place in my heart for this kind of music, certainly when it comes from someone for whom I have much respect, but it seems so hard to think that this is the same Ikeda as the one that did ‘+-‘ or ‘Time & Space’. It’s so radically different that it’s scary, maybe schizophrenic. Every time I play this, I start to like it more and more and the less I understand about it. Plus it raises so many more questions, like what’s next? Will the format of string quartets be renewed, just like Ikeda renewed electronic music, or will there more compositions like this, but then for different instruments – or maybe a symphony? Time will tell of course, but for now this has to be cherished. [FdW]

Ananana (Portugal):

Depois de uma carreira discreta localizada na sua terra natal, Ryoji Ikeda espantou o mundo que o quis ouvir com um testemunho que dificilmente evitará o esquecimento: «Plus/Minus», ou simplesmente «+/-», reabriu-nos a mente para os conceitos supremos do minimalismo enquanto declaração estética; abriu-nos a electrónica experimental novamente ao rítmo e, simultaneamente, aos extremos. Paradoxalmente, no pico de industrialização da música de computador Ikeda torna a electrónica limpa, elegante, sinousa, plena de contrastes, relembrando os ínfimos detalhes dos zeros e dos uns e de toda a carga simbólica do digital. Estávamos em 1996, e de repente vislumbrámos hipnotizados os tijolos ordenados da música electrónica. Alguns álbuns depois, em 2002, Ikeda surpreende-nos um vez mais com um disco em que nenhum som electrónico foi utlizado na sua concepção. «Op.» é um arriscado e porventura o mais terminal processo criativo da carreira do músico japonês: a sua música é elevada a um outro patamar finalizador, erguendo-se por entre arranjos de cordas (para trio, quarteto e noneto clássico) que mimetizam o seu mundo como se um tradutor perfeito existisse. Os arranjos determinam a solelitude de «Op.», revestindo o que antes foi o cirúrgico e matemático som das frequências pelo doce e percutido som das cordas. Depois de sete anos de marcada importância conceptual e prática, eis de novo o pequeno japonês a subir mais alto que todos.

Translated by Heitor Alvelos:

Following a discreet career in his native land, Ryoji Ikeda amazed the world that wanted to hear him with a testimony that will hardly avoid oblivion [sic in portuguese]: “Plus/Minus”, or simply “+/-“, re-opened our mind to the supreme concepts of minimalism as aesthetic statement; for us, it opened experimental electronica to rhythm and to the extremes. Paradoxically, at the peak of industrialisation of computer music, Ikeda turns electronics clean, elegant, sinuous, full of contrasts, remembering the tiny details of zeros and ones and of the whole symbolic weight of the digital. We were in 1996, and suddenly, hypnotised, we envisioned the ordered bricks of electronic music. A few releases later, in 2002, Ikeda surprises us once more with a cd containing no electronic sounds. “Op.” is a risky, and probably the most extreme, creative process of the Japanese musician’s career: his music is elevated to a further, final stage, rising amongst string arrangements (for trio, quartet and classical nonet) which mimic his world as if a perfect translator ever existed. The arragmenets define “Op.”‘s uniqueness, dressing the prior surgical and mathematical sound of frequencies with the sweet, percussive sound of strings. After seven years of evident practical and conceptual importance, here he is again, rising above all others.

Blitz (Portugal):

Ryoji Ikeda’s musical paths have always subscribed to a digital orthodoxy. This is why one of the effects this latest CD of his might produce is one of surprise. “Op.” is made up of four pieces for string instruments, with no electronic intervention added whatsoever. The composition work for this CD was begun in 2000, the pieces themselves were recorded throughout the last few years. But if, one on hand, “Op.” is indeed totally acoustic, it is also true that the approach here is similar to some areas of electronic music. There are ends that stand above the means: it won’t be the use of real isntruments that will betray Ikeda’s sound coherence. This will be, in theory, a logical sequence of his aural path. In “Op.”, the progression is produced in minimalistic circles of sensitive filtering. The instruments return to their tactile and aural essence, they are performed in an oblivion of the invention of melody. Each sound is sustained on the eve of its materialisation, it feeds on itself in autistic trajectories. There is the occasional dramatic intervention, as a gesture of captivation – a sentimental trap palpably recognisable. This is, above all, a rational gesture, a stoic act of ‘baring-it-all’. It remains to be seen whether “Op.” holds up to the classical universe it is trying to belong to. Simplicity may hide poverty, minimalism may hide faults, the change of register may reveal itself as pure pretention. Yet, academic issues aside, it should be said that “Op.” is an object of absolutely captivating inspiration. (8/10) [Sergio Gomes da Costa – Translated by Heitor Alvelos]

Immanence (UK):

After winning the Golden Nica award for Digital Music for his 2001 Matrix album, one had to wonder where was left to go for Ryoji Ikeda. His patented clinical assemblage of clicks, cuts, glitches and plunderphonics reached its zenith on that album, taking experimentalism and electronics to a whole new level. It came, then, with a mixture of sense and surprise to find that the liner notes to Op., his sixth solo album, come with the caveat, “No electronic sounds used.” Instead, we find on Op. a collection of three suites for strings composed by Ikeda.

The opening note of “Op. 1 [for 9 strings]” would almost make you think you had put on the wrong CD, as it more resembles amplifier feedback than traditional violin timbres, but such is the manifesto for these pieces: to push the boundaries of acoustic instruments and subvert them to realm of electronics. It is not a new concept, having been employed by John Cale and his Dream Syndicate back in the 1960s. However, what separates Ikeda’s work from these previous acoustic dronings is, somewhat paradoxically, the technology. Modern recording and production equipment has allowed him to capture the very heart of each sound and subtly tweak it with his usual pinpoint precision.

The pieces on offer here stay fairly rigidly within the realm of neo-classical drones; swelling and subsiding with differing combinations of timbres and harmonics, with the occasional injection of some rhythm from the robotic plucking of a double bass, specifically on the third movement of “Op. 1 [for 9 strings]”. They are never the liveliest of compositions; the piercing violins and sonorous cellos creating agitated moods of either melancholy or trepidation – a far cry from Ikeda’s previous manic and cheeky digital contortions.

There is, however, a notable change on the last four tracks, which comprise the prototype version of “Op. 1”. This time using only three strings, Ikeda conducts them towards uplifting, major-chord drones, with almost tiny hints of melody creeping in at times. In a way, this is both the best and worst piece of the album, as it is pleasing and quite soothing to listen to, yet represents a move toward the traditional on Ikeda’s part. This makes sense, as it is an embryonic work and shows signs of the direction he was to take on the final version of the piece; but also since, as an artist, he should have an understanding of the conventions he is breaking – a Zen-like ethos that lends a ritualistic element to the whole piece.

Op. is a strange work – it both breaks boundaries and builds them up again. Ikeda’s defiling of the classical method is as daring a move as any glitch or click of his previous work, but the resort to acoustic instruments somehow detracts from the importance of albums like Matrix or 0°C, stressing an inferiority of digital sound. Nevertheless, it stands as a remarkable monument to Ikeda’s abilities and maturation as an artist, as well as offering a highly unique and often disquieting listening experience. [Gavin Lees]

Flux (UK):

The master of sine tone composition surprises with a gorgeous suite of sweet shimmering string compositions, proving he can breathe freely beyond technology whilst never abandoning his love of the minimal. There are two compositions, one for nine strings and the second for four, miniatures of Morton Feldman’s long-drawn-out stases. [Graeme Rowland]

Other Music (USA):

On his fifth full-length release, Ryoji Ikeda forgoes electronic music altogether, instead creating an album of spectral compositions for strings. While Ikeda’s signature experiments with standing waves and stereo field disturbance are largely absent, his concerns with psychoacoustic space remain. This time, however, Ikeda uses sweeping violin glissandi, instead of sinewaves, to pierce the listener’s ear. The distiction between where notes begin and end is largely indescernable on “op.” Just as Japanese calligraphers approach the brushstroke as breathing onto paper, Ikeda “breathes” his sounds into being. This results in a distinctly more “organic” feeling than his earlier works, which have been described as forensic and clinical. For many listeners, Ikeda’s tonal clouds will recall the works of Xenakis, Ligeti, Part and especially Morton Feldman. Ikeda is not alone, as contemporaries Bernhard Gunter, Richard Chartier, and Steve Roden have all acknowledged their dept to Feldman’s crepuscular landscapes. On “op.,” however, the discrete arrangements of harmonics and subtle pulses are more of a reference than a direct homage. Ikeda layers and subtracts these elements to create a highly pensive atmosphere where dissonance is never resolved; it is only pulled back to reveal further dissonance. The results leave the listener with a feeling of suspense and suspension, evoking the experience of flying in an airplane, landing through heavy fog, and slowly seeing a landscape revealed. [DHi]

allmusic guide (USA):

Ryoji Ikeda deserved a prize for “surprise album of the year” in 2002. Asa follow-up to the lavishly conceived sound art set Matrix, he released Op. – as in opus. At the very bottom of the inner sleeve of the digipack is printed in tiny characters this shocking sentence: “No electronic sounds used.” This album contains three acoustic works for string ensembles (quartets and nonet). The project started with a commission for “Expériences de Vol #3,” part of a series of workshops organized by Art Zoyd and Musiques Nouvelles. Op. 1 (completed in 2001), scored for nine string players (members of the Musiques Nouvelles ensemble), is the resultof this experiment. Ikeda uses long and quiet chords, very delicate and chiselled like his most minimal electronic compositions. The effect is of violins being dragged by the waves on the shore, something very similar to some of Tibor Szemzo’s works (particularly The Other Shore). This piece, here presented in four separate movements, had been released on the Sub Rosa triple set Expériences de Vol only two or three months before. Op. 2 and Op. 3 were recorded by a Japanese string quartet in May 2002. The second piece follows the footsteps of the first one, but the third gets more luxurious, even expressionist, which makes it loose some of its appeal – it evokes more conservative contemporary music. The disc is rounded up with a prototype version of Op. 1 recorded with three members of Musiques Nouvelles. Ikeda’s compositions offer little new – other composers have visited these pastures before (Morton Feldman to name but one), but they open up his personal universe. [François Couture]

Brainwashed [USA]:

Whether or not Ryoji Ikeda has an academic degree in classical composition is irrelevant, the man has proven that he has an ear for sound and how to develop it nicely, using the sources he has to their fullest. This, to me, is quite the opposite of an irritating trend of modern experimental academia in the sense that numerous composers and musicians will insist that their authority be respected with a large amount of literature to digest before the first notes are even heard. (Just think of all the people commissioned to record bridges only to filter the sounds through whatever effects units they own.) Even with this album, which is a grand departure from Ikeda’s style, the packaging remains simple with only enough text necessary. In the past, Ikeda’s music has been composed entirely of wave tones, clicks, and other sounds that simply do not occur in nature. This time, however, there are absolutely no electronic sounds used. “Op. 1” is the first part, and is composed for 9 strings in four movements. The piece isn’t entirely unlike his electronic music, introduced with a piercing pitch, but this time it’s provided by a solo violin high on the fingerboard. The individual note is played and another follows, the cycle becomes rhytmically repeated while the notes change, accompanied by another violin in abrasive minor intervals. Soon, the violins are joined with the lower tones of viola, cello and the drone of a double bass. Also, in a similar way to his electronic recordings, the distinguishing endpoints of various movements are practically inaudible, only observable by watching the CD player click through index points. “Op. 2,” and “Op. 3” follow, each reduced to only a string quartet. The rhtyhm from “Op. 1” is left behind but the tone exploitation remains. Once again, on “Op. 2,” never at one point do individual players move from note to note without pausing. This time, however, the different instruments play at staggered times, like watching raindrops fall to the ground in slow motion, one by one. “Op. 3” is probably the most developed piece, despite it being about half the length of the others. Here, each instrument takes turns making their attempts at simple and short, four-note melodic phrases. High-pitched piercing drones are reintroduced which contrast nicely to low melodic phrases played by the cello. The disc ends with a prototype of “Op. 1,” played only by a three-piece of violin, viola and cello. The piercing notes and rhythmic synergy is remeniscent of the more fully figured version first appearing on the disc and the composition is almost entirely identical, but this time I sense a bit of post-production here with only small hints of effects added on afterwards. While this one is noted as the prototype, it seems more emotional, more disturbing and unsettling yet more connected. Perhaps it’s Ikeda’s smug way of proving that while he can do it with a bigger ensemble, he’s still quite capable of getting more out of less. [Jon Whitney]

Pitchfork (US)]:

Rating: 7.4
Recently, the mouse problem at my apartment has gotten out of control. They run up the walls and crawl into my bird’s cage to eat seeds, nibble through unopened loaves of Orowheat, and most heinous of all, they ate out the crotch of my roommate’s old panties. Forgoing all the glue traps and classic spring-loaded devices, we opted instead for ultrasonic devices to drive out the rodents, and as you shuffle into the kitchen now for that late-night nibbling, you can hear its subsonic pulsing through your head: deet-deet-deet-deet.

So when the newest Ryoji Ikeda CD came in the mail, I figured it’d free one more room of the house from these pests, as his past oeuvre laid similar sonic matrices throughout the acoustic spaces of the room, sometimes clearing it, other times hypnotizing it. +/- was an instant classic of edge-of-perception phenomena, frequencies being felt more than heard as their components vacillated in and out of the range of the human ear, destabilizing the crystals within and altering their audible nature as the listener’s position changed in relation to the stereo. Matrix was scalpel-sharp sine waves and similarly minded clinical clicks on two separate CDs. But hopes for hole-free laundry sunk considerably when I read the fine print of this release, which states: “No electronic sounds used.” I could imagine the mizzle of little teeth through the walls as the CD started to spin, and although the opening seconds could fool you, this is not only a completely live instrumental affair, but it’s all composed for strings, executed by the Musiques Nouvelles Ensemble, as well as a Japanese string quartet at the New National Theatre in Tokyo.

“Op.1”, segmented into four movements, is scored for nonet, although its austerity would never reveal so many players without the acknowledgements. Strings resound in single file, before being bowed into different laminal contexts with a sympathetic relation to the other entities. Ikeda’s compositional attention is as an alembic, distilling all players into the true physical sound of their rosined bows on the strings, and the auras emitted from each string– the attack, sustain, and decay works individually and then in combination. The first two movements are stunning, as the violins, violas, and cellos swell with a deliberate asceticism, making achingly slow passes over their strings, as disembodied as headlights in the absolute darkness of highway night driving, glowing singularly yet creating a chain of luminous entities in ensemble. This is not unlike the Doppler effect of +/-, whose observed nature was dependent on subjective factors such as speaker setup or whether the disc was heard on headphones and at what volume. That phenomenon is relegated to the music itself now, not in how it transmits to the listener’s ear. By the third movement, the violins and violas are passing like ships in the night, the double bass thudding against their hulls as if to mark their dimensional presence. The spatial destabilization is similar to the late works of Morton Feldman, not in terms of scale or chromatic problem solving, but in its subtle outlining of the void in which it all hovers, like Sonar describing that which encases it. Isolated, each instrument is made to resonate or fluctuate much like an electronic tone in the studio, and it’s in merger that the actual physical nature of the sound becomes more readily apparent.

What serves as the greatest hurdle of Op. is a problem many contemporary composers (especially those using technology) face when working with more classical instruments that carry hundreds of years worth of historical weight within their sounds: How do you recontextualize these instruments to where they express something in a new manner? Or in Ikeda’s case, where his previous electronic compositions drew so much attention to sound’s physical occupation of the air and how it reacts to the placement of the ear, what is he going to express, emotionally, melodically, or structurally, with these scored string ensembles, be they quartets or trios? With the arrival and passing of two versions of “Op.2”, apparently not too much, I’m afraid, aside from how interesting these instruments sound as they slide past each other over time.

Sections of Op. remain fascinating, distilled into a new acoustic context that still reveals the audio essence Ikeda has made his own over ten years, but it remains on the surface of the sounds only, not to what resonates and connects it all underneath. One could also marvel just at how the bow moves on, say, Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites or even Xenakis’ scores for the Arditti Quartet, but there’s also an essence beyond mere physicality. As I begin to discern the high squeal of bus brakes outside or the incessant pulsations of the electric pest repellent already plugged in as they fuse with and then secede from Ikeda’s latest compositions, I keep thinking that by refusing his electronic past for this compositional project, he might have missed the pointillism. [Andy Beta]

Junkmedia (USA):

Those familiar with the past work of Ryoji Ikeda, producer of clinical, ultra-minimal electronics, will find Op. both unexpected and familiar. His delicate, near super-audible textures are familiar, but the exclusive use of string instruments is not. In the past, composers such as Stockhausen and Boulez have oscillated between or combined strings and electronics, but for a non-academic electronic producer to move into conventional composition is a new development. Op. bears out similarities to French “spectral music” and the wider field of 20th century composition. This is not to say that appreciation of this work is dependent on knowledge of these fields, but the historical parallels do add a valuable dimension. The strongest moments here are the most recessed and intangible, the weakest the most literal and conventional. This split is between passages of fairly conventional string instrumentation that sometimes appears too literal for Ikeda and more spectral passages that sound almost electronic. In these sections Ikeda’s mastery of near silence shines, and pure, sculpted tones glisten coldly like a thin layer of digital ice forming on the music. Op. produces tone pictures suggestive of sharp horizons on intensely cold, cloudless winter days. The prevalent mood is mournful, its beauty bleak rather than seductive. It is surprising how European and conventional Op. can sound. Set next to the most drawn out, near silent passages, the pizzicato strings seem too clumsy and literal. Ikeda only partially succeeds in transcending the stylistic limitations of the string quartet in the way that, for instance, the Balanescu Quartet have done, even if Ikeda’s ambitions are greater. It will be interesting to see whether electronic or classical audiences respond better to this material; for comparison’s sake it would be instructive to see a previously conventional composer produce a totally electronic work. Op. succeeds both as a traditional modernist work for strings and as something more formally experimental. Yet, whilst it feels unified, it suggests an uneasy compromise between the lure of conventional instrumental expression and Ikeda’s proven skills at sonic reductionism. He could go much further by doing much less with, or more to, his new sound palette. [Alexei Monroe]

%Array (UK):

It will be no surprise to those familiar with Ikeda’s sound work to hear that his new release begins on a long suspended high frequency note, but it will be immediately apparent that instead of this being another fine collection of (what I jokingly term) the ‘spatia-minima hearing test-tronics’ that he is well known for, this appears to be a very promising next stage of works involving acoustic instruments exploring similar territory. Most who are familiar with Ikeda’s previous work will find this new release of compositions for string trio and quartet to be a seemingly logical continuation of the sonic territory he has acutely explored before with electronics. One difference some may find between the electronic works and the string pieces is that they might evoke more emotion in some listeners, whereas the electronic works stimulated only the intellect. Nevertheless, some will still find ‘op.’ to be austere, cold, and only slightly warmer than the electronic works, due in part by the string instrumentation. This release presents 3 opuses – hence the title – and one ‘prototype’ version of the first work entitled ‘op. 1 for Strings’. All in all, I personally find that these lovely, elegiac and thought-provoking works accomplish what many a classically trained modern composer has not been able or inclined to do: sustain and shift long meditative/contemplative passages throughout the entire duration of their compositions without feeling the common and somewhat academic need to display disruptive outbursts of atonal tempi spasms. Perhaps this is due, in part, to Ikeda not being a classically trained virtuoso musician or composer? Perhaps classical music, as a genre, will experience regeneration in a new generation of untrained composers who aren’t so steeped and entrenched in academic tradition? Ikeda’s works give me some hope, at least. [DL]

ProSieben (Germany):

“No electronic sounds used on these recordings” ist wohl die wichtigste Feststellung, die man zum neuen Album von Ryoji Ikeda machen muss. Ryoji Ikeda, der mit Alben wie “Matrix” und “+/-” die moderne Elektronik entscheidend bereicherte, versucht sich nun erfolgreich auf neuem Terrain. Aufgenommen wurde “Op.” In Belgien und Japan. Ikeda realisiert sein neoklassisch anmutendes Opus 1 bis Opus 3 mit ausgesuchten Musikern aus dem Art-Zoyd-Umfeld, mit dem “Musiques Nouvelles Ensemble”, sowie einem klassischen Streichertrio aus dem “New National Theatre” in Tokio. Ikedas bisherige Werke lesen sich wie ein Panorama der Möglichkeiten der neuen Musik: er lieferte Compilationbeiträge zu “Clicks & Cuts”, der genrebereitenden Compilationserie von Mille Plateaux, er komponierte Musik zur Ausstellung des japanischen Stararchitekten Toyo Ito, er gewann die “Golden Nica” bei der Ars Electronica in der Kategorie “Digitale Musik”, er lieferte Soundinstallationen für die Sonic Boom”, der Londoner Ausstellung von David Toop, er absolvierte diverse Auftritte im Centre Pompidou, er nahm unter dem Projektnamen “Cyclo” mit Carsten Nicolai für dessen Label Raster auf und generierte unter anderem das Sound Design für das Museum Ludwig in Aachen. Wie schon in vorangegangen Werken spielt Ikeda virtuos mit den Begriffen “Zeit” und “Raum” und nutzt eine Tonalität, die subtil die Wahrnehmung des Hörers verschiebt. Nicht umsonst ist der Untertitel der “Matrix”-Installationen – “for acoustic dislocation”, ein Programm zur Aufhebung einer linearen Sinneserfahrung dieser Komponenten. Auch wenn “Op.” Sehr minimalistisch arrangiert ist, so ist in den Kompositionen doch die starke Präsenz eines der außergewöhnlichsten Musiker der Gegenwart voll spürbar.

Tijd Cultuur (Belgium):

In de tweede helft van de jaren negentig bracht Ryoji Ikeda bij Touch een trilogie essentiële releases uit +/- (1996), 0°C (1998) en Matri(2000) die een intelligente brug tussen techno en elektronische sinustonen sloegen. De hyperminimalistische stijl van de Japanner was ronduit uniek: met staccatobleeps als van morseapparatuur, forse zoembeats en enkele luchtledige tonen creëerde hij een spannend, futuristisch geluid dat meanderde tussen aftastend swingen en glaciale meesterlijkheid. Ikeda leverde eigenlijk tientallen werkstukken in die lijn. Zo componeerde hij voor het danscollectief Dumb Type (Tokio), bouwde hij installaties rond zijn geluid en bracht hij een haast onoverzichtelijke stroom (andere dan hierboven opgesomde) releases in zijn typerende stijl uit. Na vijf jaar liep de Japanner dus in cirkels: zijn muzikale luciditeit was een uitgemolken procédé geworden. Daarom meldde hij in 2000, met de release van het krachtige Matrix, een pauze te lassen in zijnelektronisch gestoelde output. Een alternatief vond hij in gecomponeerde, akoestische strijkermuziek die hij met het Belgische Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles uitwerkte. Op. laat een compleet andere Ikeda horen. Wat een moedige ommezwaai heet, levert een bijzonder mager resultaat op: Ikeda?s composities zijn oersaai en kitscherig. Zo bestaat de frasering uit een handvol repetitieve bewegingen waar in overlappende akkoorden afwisselend resonantie en dissonantie ontstaat. Die aanpak geeft Op. iets van een thrillersoundtrack zonder suspens, verrassingen of gruwel. Ruim een uur boeit de nieuwe, maniëristische Ikeda dus niet, nergens valt een spat van leven, gedrevenheid, humor of spanning te bespeuren die zijn eerdere werken zo kenmerkten. Op.laat enkel een opgeblazen gevoel van leegte na. In feite groeide het album uit Experiences de Vol, een tijdelijke samenwerking tussen Ryoji Ikeda en Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles onder leiding van Art Zoyd. Onder die noemer bood het gezelschap doorheen de jaren in hun thuisstudio te Maubeuge dertien internationale componisten/ muzikanten een tijdelijke residentie aan om samen nieuw werk te brouwen. Extracten van de gedeelde sessies met ondermeer Kasper T. Toeplitz, Gérard Hourbette, Fausto Romitelli, Atau Tanaka, Jean-Christophe Feldhandler, Jean-Luc Fafchamps, David Shea en Gualtiero Dazzi staan verzameld op de driedubbele cd Experiences de vol. De gasten stoelen allen op academisch onderlegde achtergronden ? van akoestisch over harmonisch tot elektronisch en elektro-akoestisch ? en blijven allen trouw aan gecomponeerde muziek. Formeel tekenen zich wel grote verschillen tussen de werken af. Zo voedt Sollima zich aan 18de eeuwse volksmuziek die hij in Casanova met rammelende drumritmes confronteert, terwijl David Shea met zijn werk tegelijkertijd naar de filmmuziek van Bernard Hermann en naar het recentere werk van Philip Sheppard en The Smith Quartet knipoogt. Jean-Christophe Feldhandler schreef het indrukwekkende Elargissement de Ciel voor ondermeer cello, midi en sampler en vertrekt daarbij vanuit een harmonische cyclus van vier akkoorden die krols uitmonden in een kortstondige noisegolf. De verschillende achtergronden en uitgangspunten van de componisten maken van het lijvige Experiences de vol een erg gevarieerde bundeling. Jammer genoeg staat die variatie hier ook voor hoogtes en laagtes: niet altijd overtuigen de bijdrages, zoals in het geval Ryoji Ikeda bijvoorbeeld. [Ive Stevenheydens]

Spex (Germany):

»No electronic sounds used«. Ryoji Ikeda, einer der Wegbereiter der digitalen Klangästhetik auf ganz neuen Wegen: »op.« zelebriert nicht die von Ikeda miterfundene »Glitch«-Kultur des absichtsvollen Fehlermachens, aber auch nicht die schweren elektronischen Drones seiner letzten Veröffentlichungen. Stattdessen ein durchkomponiertes Stück in klassischer Form, akustische Einspielung eines Streichquartetts in vier Sätzen. Eine komplette Abkehr von den bisherigen Arbeiten Ikedas ist »op.« jedoch nicht. Einflüsse besonders der amerikanischen Musikavantgarde der 60er Jahre waren in allen Werken Ikedas spürbar. Doch während sich Ikedas elektronische Arbeiten auf die gerade im Bereich der avancierten Elektronik wieder sehr aktuellen und beliebten Pole Minimalismus und Drone (von La Monte Young, Terry Riley bis Tony Conrad) bezogen, verweisen die akustischen Klangbilder in »op.« auf andere Vorbilder aus der Neuen Musik der selben Zeit. Vorbilder, die heute esoterischer und weniger einfach in das aktuelle Musikgeschehen adaptierbar erscheinen: Einerseits Morton Feldman, George Crumb oder Alvin Lucier. Komponisten, die an der Auflösung konventioneller musikalischer Strukturen gearbeitet haben ? aber nicht im Sinne einer Auflösung hin zur einer überkomplexen seriellen oder atonalen Musik, sondern hin zu einer tendenziell leisen, feinen Musik der mikroskopischen tonalen Verschiebungen. Andererseits lassen manche Passagen auf »op.« an das »Adagio for Strings« des eher konservativen Neo-Romantikers Samuel Barber denken. Doch die stumpfe Aufzählung hochkultureller Referenzen wird dieser Musik in keinster Weise gerecht. »op.« ist eben auch ohne angelernten (Musik-)Theorieüberbau verständlich und auf die konventionellste vorstellbare Art und Weise »schöne« Musik. Gleichzeitig aber auch eine Musik, die mit den Möglichkeiten ihrer eigenen Abwesenheit spielt, für die Stille das zentrale Konstruktionsprinzip darstellt. Das Schweigen der Klänge, der Geräusche, ist der Anziehungspunkt, in den diese Musik konvergiert. Eine im allerpositivsten Sinn »schwache« Musik, die unabhängig von der Lautstärke, in der sie gehört wird, dazu tendiert, schon hinter den leisesten Umweltgeräuschen zu verschwinden. Selbst das Knarzen eines Stuhls oder das Rappeln eines Kühlschranks sind stärkere Signale, die Ikedas Musik zum verstummen bringen können. Es ist eine Musik, die das Schweigen umkreist und dennoch unendlich viel kommuniziert – und damit sehr nahe an die besondere Art von Schönheit herankommt, die von Annette Peacock auf so wunderbare Weise formuliert wurde: »Ich bin auf der Suche nach dem Raum, der zwischen zwei Atemzügen entsteht, der Stille vor dem ersten Kuss zweier Liebender. Die wichtigsten Ereignisse im Leben eines Menschen werden von Stille eingerahmt.

Intro (Germany):

“No electronic sounds used on these recordings”, heißt es dagegen auf Ryoji Ikedas neuester CD, was verwundern mag, denn Ikeda ist eigentlich ähnlich wie Vainio für eine Musik zwischen Minimal-Elektronik und Klangkunst – durchaus im Museums-Kontext – bekannt. “Op” dagegen bietet reine Ensemble-Musik, zum Teil von einem klassischen Streichtrio eingespielt, zum Teil von Musikern der belgischen Prog-Band Art Zoyd. Der außergewöhnliche Analog-Ausflug des Labels wird auch optisch hervorgehoben: Das schlichte, ganz und gar in Weiß gehaltene Cover spielt nicht mehr mit visuellen Assoziationen, vielleicht, um anzudeuten, dass bei “Op” nicht strukturelle Abfolgen im Mittelpunkt stehen, sondern geradezu das Gefühl von Statik erzeugt wird. Die hauchdünnen Streichertöne scheinen regelrecht, permanent dünn ziselierend, in der Luft zu stehen. Auch hier entsteht der Eindruck von Präsenz und Trance bei größtmöglicher Zurückhaltung. Als Vorbild ist sehr schnell Morton Feldman ausgemacht, der leiseste und langsamste unter den Komponisten des vorigen Jahrhunderts, einer, der Rockmusik als “faschistisch” bezeichnet hatte, weil sie sich nicht von Rhythmus und Lautstärke lösen könne. Und doch besaß auch Feldmans Musik etwas, wonach die Rockmusik stets suchte: psychedelische Wirkung. Nun kann man Ikeda allerdings nicht vorwerfen, er habe die soundorientierte neue Musik einfach nur adaptiert, denn im Gegensatz zu Feldman arbeitet “Op” fast ausschließlich mit der Abfolge von anschwellenden Klangflächen, die es schwer machen, eine Kompositionsabfolge erkennen zu lassen. Auch hier sorgt Strenge für den gegenteiligen Effekt, nämlich für Beruhigung.