The mutek festival is organized into four layers of events:
DIGI_SECTION, panels and workshops in the morning and early afternoon;
EXPERIENCE, studio performances by artists in the early evening (17-19h);
A\Visions concert performances by audio and video artists, usually of the more noisy, ambient and abstract sort—coming very close to “academic” electroaccoustic genres (20h-23h); and
NOCTURNE club performances, almost exclusively in the form of live P.A., by the sorts of artists one is more likely to find at clubs and “Techno” events.
I had just finished attending the events connected to this first layer (
DIGI_SECTION), and I was tired, had a ton of notes to summarize and turn into blog material, and my computer’s battery was again nearly dead. So I decided to skip the
EXPERIENCE event that afternoon and go back to the hotel. Besides, the events later tonight promised some partying, and I wasn’t going to do that with a backpack full of stuff and a laptop.
I spent some time writing notes, backing up my data on my new, super-hot 1-TeraByte external hard drive (a WD MyBook, which is a stupid name, but it’s totally awesome), and taking a brief nap. Once I was in somewhat better condition—and after grabbing yet more poutine at La Belle Province—I headed off to the concert event that evening (
A\Visions), which was dubbed “Cinematic Spirits.” As you might expect, the entire concert involved combinations of audio and video performances (sometimes by the same person, but usually by a duo of artists).
The first act (link to mutek profile) was a duo of Nokami (a.k.a. Eric Filion) and Sans Soleil (a.k.a. Michael Trommer), both Canadian artists. The work they presented was called Semiosis, which sort of produced an involuntary groan in me, as I feel like collage-based “media art” that riffs on notions from the field of semiotics is so played out these days. Nonetheless, despite the “Look! Layers and layers of visual and audio elements represent the endless chain of signification!” the sound and video were quite nice in their own rights. The video was mostly in black-and-white, making use of multiple layers of images that shifted and rotated at varying speeds and angles. There was also heavy use of “morphing” software, with x-rays of bones morphing into each other or photos of (what appeared to be) Cambodian prisoners blurring into each other. The music reflected this, using what sounded like lots of gradual layering to create slow-moving masses of textured sound.
The next act (mutek profile), Freida Abtan (from Canada as well), presented a solo video called The Hands of the Dancer. This was probably my favourite performance of the evening, although I had to slip on ear plugs halfway through it. The video was in very lush, over-saturated colour, showing dancers whose movement is represented by a series of frames blurred into each other. As the piece progresses, the video focuses more and more on the sinuous hand and arm movements of a female dancer (often duplicated across the screen into a crowd). At this point, a lot of the blurring turns into distortions of the sort that turn the screen into a shimmering oil slick. The audio part of the performance took a different tack on “shimmering,” focusing on a mixture of layered voices in miasmic clouds and metallic scrapings and other “glitchy” sounds. Although a bit abrasive at times, the overall performance was really lovely (click on the mutek profile above to hear an excerpt from the piece).
The performance of the third act, Németh & Hess, from Austria / USA, bored me to tears. The piece, entitled simply FILM, involved everything but: one performer was on an acoustic drum kit, while the other performer was on a table covered with sound-synthesis gear (notably, what looked like some analogue devices). The piece took the form of a series of episodes, each one 5-10 minutes long, where the person working the electronic stuff would generate a set of sounds, upon which the percussionist would elaborate. I found the whole piece far too slow-moving—and I’m a fan of minimalism, so I have a high tolerance for these sorts of things. The artists spent too much time dwelling on each sound-idea that they introduced, and they didn’t develop these ideas in a way that went anywhere. It felt like a series of near-random gestures.
The final performance (mutek profile) of the event was by Rechenzentrum, from Germany, who presented a piece called Silence. The piece started as the sort of “gentle” layering of atmospheric sounds found in the first piece of the evening, but by 10 minutes into the piece, things began to pick up. This duo was probably the only act to use loops of beats as part of their performance, which created a dynamic contrast with their more atmospheric sections. The video for their performance remained mostly in black and white (with one substantial exception), starting with shifting images of forests, which quickly became more abstract. As with the other artists mentioned here, you can go to their profile on mutek to hear some samples of what they do.
Although I refrained from taking pictures (so many people were using flash during the first act, the management actually made an announcement about it before the next one), I did manage to take a bit of stealthy video of Rechenzentrum’s act, which captures some of their visuals as well as audio. You have to imagine a very resonant bass in the place of the weak thumping captured by the camera.
As the concert let out, I ran into a handful of people from the Chicago scene, which was a pleasant surprise. I had only known of about 2 or 3 people who were going to be here this weekend, and already I was seeing more and more of my Chicago crew in Montréal. I wandered over to Métropolis, thinking that tonight’s club event would be in the same place as all the other ones, but it was in fact at the SAT tonight; in other words, I nearly wandered into some corporate dinner at Métropolis before I took a closer look at my ticket. Thankfully, both locations are within one block of each other.
23h00-23h50: artificiel.process ("Martin.Tétrault")
This opening act had just started when I arrived to the venue. As far as I could tell, the act consisted of one guy (Martin Tétrault, I believe) using and abusing playback devices while another guy (of the art collective, artificiel) recorded both audio and video of the acts and turned them into a sort of A/V collage. Tétrault had this awesome mutant phonograph with 4 tonearms (i.e., 4 needles) and a series of materials (plywood, felt, rough metals) cut into the shape of LPs. He would run the tonearms over these surfaces, often scratching the “records” and even bashing the tonearms onto the surfaces or into each other.
The resulting sounds were mostly noisy and percussive, so the collage that resulted tended toward the stuttering, chaotic “breakcore” genre. Rhythmic gestures would emerge in fits and starts, but they would never really coalesce into metric patterns.
Overall, I liked the concept of the performance a lot, and the quality and texture of the sounds were intriguing at first, but it stopped being interesting about 5 minutes later, as the entire theme of the performance seemed to be “Hey look at this thing I’m doing here! Isn’t it wild?”
23h50-0h50: Christian Vogel
There was definitely a sort of arc to the evening, beginning with more experimental (read: undanceable) music and migrating toward a more dancefloor-friendly sound. Christian Vogel’s set was definitely somewhere in the middle; he used (relatively) conventional sound synthesis and sampling (via laptop) to create a sound texture that first sounded a lot like what I had heard earlier in the “A\Visions” concert, but then transitioned to a looping, metric organization more similar to dance music. The tempo remained at a somewhat awkward pace for dancing, and his use of bass percussion tended to be more of a bass rumble then a well-articulated pattern that would give a dancer something to work with. Overall, the set was good (see video below), although I wasn’t really inspired to do anything more than drink beer and stand there. Having said that, I got the impression that the point wasn’t necessarily to encourage anybody to dance.
Instead, what I mostly ended up doing was wandering around the place with a beer in my hand, admiring the lovely exposed-wall warehouse feel of the place and running into yet more Chicago people.
Alas, my camera ran out of batteries halfway through the Vogel set, which is really tragic, because Sleeparchive’s set was really great. It started off in a atmospheric / beatless sound-world similar to Vogel and Rechenzentrum, but after about 20 minutes it shifted suddenly into rather bass-heavy minimal techno. Although there were occasional moments of breaks (i.e., asymmetrical bass kick patterns), he mostly cleaved to a 4x4 pattern and really got the crowd moving.
By the end of the evening, as they killed the sound and turned up the lights, some of the Chicago crew were still looking to party (Serena? I’m looking at you), but I was dead tired from getting up early that morning. I wandered back home through the “colourful” stretch of Ste.-Cathrine and back to my wonderfully ghetto hotel.