Ethnic Diversity in Sites of Cultural Activity

Ryo Ikeshiro, Bath Spa University

Stand in front of the webcam to be racially profiled by the computer! Are you more likely to be waving a flag at the Last Night of the Proms or to the unofficial ISIS anthem, or is the gay anthem Go West more your soundtrack?

Ethnic Diversity in Sites of Cultural Activity poses the question of whether computers can be racist by highlighting the potential for discrimination of face recognition technology. The work locates faces, detects skin colour and alters the sound and image produced depending on the ethnic diversity of the visitors to the exhibition. Different music is selected depending on where the work is exhibited. The project has been presented in the UK, Austria, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Korea and Japan.

Through a crude racial profiling of visitors, it draws attention to an increasingly common technology which is an example of how a seemingly neutral entity such as a computer can reinforce existing power structures. The context of a playful interactive installation is also a reflection of how we rarely focus on the ways in which software functions, instead becoming preoccupied with the interface; most software are prepackaged “black boxes” inaccessible due to their proprietary and closed nature. In addition, it is not completely infallible as with most software and it may be possible to trick the algorithm e.g. by visitors covering parts of their face, using make-up or changing lighting conditions which they are encouraged to do.


Ryo Ikeshiro is an artist, musician and researcher working with audio and time-based media to explore possibilities of thinking through sound. He is interested in the artistic potential of computation and code as well as their cultural and political dimension i.e. both the aesthetic possibilities brought about by the technology and its wider context. Techniques of sonification – the communication of information and data in non-speech audio – are harnessed in an artistic context, with algorithms and processes presented as sound to investigate computational creativity and the relationship between the audio and the visual. In addition, the manifestation through sound and technology of issues of identity and Otherness is explored. Comparable processes to sonification are also used, such as ideophones in East Asian languages – words which evoke silent phenomena through sound. Ryo’s output includes installations and live performances in a variety of formats including immersive environments using multi-channel projections and audio, 360-video and Ambisonics (spatial audio), field recordings, interactive works, Teletext art and generative works. Recent themes explored include echolocation, computer vision, artificial intelligence, algorithmic bias, sonic branding, urban regeneration, singing voice synthesis, 3D-printing and engraving, mental health, noise, emergence and non-standard synthesis. Ryo has presented his works internationally in a wide range of contexts including exhibitions, festivals, concerts and screenings as well as academic conferences. He was part of the Asia Culture Center’s inaugural exhibition in Gwangju, South Korea, and his TeleText art pages have been broadcast on German, Austrian and Swiss national TV. He is a contributor to Sound Art: Sound as a medium of art, a forthcoming publication from ZKM Karlsruhe and he is featured in the Electronic Music volume of the Cambridge Introductions to Music series. He has a PhD from Goldsmiths, University of London. The topic explored was real-time data sonification and visualisation – or live “audiovisualisation” – of emergent generative systems within the framework of audiovisual and computational art. He also works as a lecturer.