Festivals, Montreal, QC, Mutek

Montreal: Mutek 03 – Nocturne 03 + Fab Gadgets

Joseph Sannicandro / June 6, 2011

A/Visions 3 – FAB GADGETS @ Society for Arts and Technology | 8pm

Photography: Bachar Bachara

The third and final evening of A/Visions programming took place not in the Salle Pierre-Mercure (my newfound favorite hall in Montreal) as had the prior two, but at the newly reopened  Society for Arts and Technology, which has also been serving as ground zero for the festival.  The SAT was a more appropriate venue for the event as it turns out, as this final installment leaned more heavily on conceptual projects and multimedia arts as opposed to huge physical sound and visual projections.

New York-based sound artist Tristan Perich creates music inspired by the aesthetics of math and physics, and yes, it’s just about as approachable as its inspirations. Perich used his Mutek appearance to present a live rendition of his “1-bit Symphony,” which as advertised makes use of 1-bit electronics.  Minimalism isn’t the word; how much can you do with 1-bit sound?  More than you’d think, actually.  Wonderful concept, though obviously not to everyone’s taste. The British duo Sculpture awed viewers with their unique home-made zoetropic vinyl discs that simultaneously create bizarre visual and aural loops.

The local collective Women With Kitchen Appliances (WWKA) are just as advertised. Their theatricality only added to the experience of the sound, and provided one of the more thought-provoking and novel experiences of the festival, as we rethink performance, listening, roles, and the instruments of the everyday.  This video below beautifully sums up their aesthetic.


Nocturne 3 – PARALLEL SPACES @
Métropolis | 11pm

 

Though DEEPCHORD presents ECHOSPACE was one of the sets I most hotly anticipated, they played up the 4/4 dance aspects more than I had hoped. This is fitting for a party environment and a venue of the type, but I was disappointed that we didn’t get the chance to witness a set with more subtlety and designed for closer listening. Their set began with a huge bass sound and an unstoppable four-on-the-floor beat that barely altered throughout the set. Steve Hitchell (Intrusion) was clearly grooving and constantly moving, manning the effects and mixing while Rob Modell (DeepChord) was cooly situated behind the laptop. Unlike many other artists who shared the stage with visual artists, Echospace was just the two producers doing their thing, a refreshing change and an excuse to dance and focus on the music without any meaning of the set being lost.

Both producers have made a name for themselves and helped Detroit stay relevant during the last two decades. As their set chugged along, eventually varying up the beat a bit and adding some snare, it occurred to me that both Detroit and Chicago, important centers from which American techno and house music originated, are also both industrial cities. Can the monotonous beats be an aestheticization of the rhythms of automated labor? For an audience accustomed to the drudgery of factory work, does the temporal distortion of repetition speak more to them?

The set did get the crowd pumped and in that capacity they were a great opener for Richie Hawtin’s Plastikman.  It should be said, however, that the crowd was my least favorite crowd of the entire festival. Apparently the more straightforward techno brings out a less sophisticated set. I couldn’t help but wonder if this sort of audience is what drives some producers away from dance music and into more contemplative music designed for close listening. In any case, some nights you need to hit the dance floor and be overwhelmed by the spectacle, and Hawtin delivered.

 

Hawtin is world-famous as a DJ, and his Plastikman production persona doesn’t get aired very often in a live setting. This Plastikman Live was first conceived of for his 2004 Mutek performance, however Hawtin and his crew were unsatisfied with the show, only intended for performance on that one occasion. They’ve since designed this new show, which is currently touring and made their Canadian debut at this year’s Mutek. Because it’s a touring show, the kinks have been worked out, and the relationship between the music and visuals is fine tuned. Plastikman makes prominent use of synth lines, deep bass, and ever-present claps.  After the synth entered, the pixelated light screen flashed red, then white, before exploding all out in time with the crescendo of the bombastic music. The entire performance was very stylized, and everything about it seemed intended to resonate with the same aesthetic force. Flashing strobes and clapping hands, and Hawtin’s silhoutte occasionally visible behind the curtain of pixels. One shouldn’t be surprised that  he cited Nine Inch Nails‘ live show as an inspiration.

Though not as innovative as Amon Tobin‘s incredible ISAM Live, Plastikman Live is successful in its pitch-perfect marriage between music and spectacle. More than ever, perhaps, people need distractions from the negative news that seems to be everywhere. I’m not an advocate of escapism, but Nocturne 03 made an appropriate party yin to the more experimental Fab Gadget’s yang.

Check out the gallery for a small taste of Plastikman Live. And don’t forget to wave your camera phones in the air!

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