Montreal: Mutek 1- Nocturne 1 – MACHINIMATIONS

Joseph Sannicandro / June 2, 2011

Nocturne 1 – MACHINIMATIONS @  Métropolis | Weds. 1 June | 1opm
Photography: Bachar Bachara

Amon Tobin, Golda Panda, and Badawi

Ninja Tune‘s Amon Tobin didn’t disappoint last night, and neither did his ambitious, innovative set design/live visual show. It’s easy to expect such much-hyped visual components to fall short, especially when terms like “beyond 3D” and “otherworldly experience” are thrown around freely. Yet the set defied expectations and was even more engrossing than the hype could express.

At its core, ISAM Live is just a visually neat concept, a visual exploration based on his latest album, ISAM.  White cubes are stacked to create a 3-dimensional plane against which animations and more conventional lights are projected. The imagery makes use of a lot of classic digital abstractions, the kind that now seem cliche due to their use in screensavers, but in a way that takes advantage of the medium and reminds us why they were cool in the first place. ISAM Live is legit. The visual elements convey an abstract narrative, giving a sense of drama and theatricality to the set. Opening with light patterns and heavy bass, Amon Tobin is nowhere to be seen, minimizing the human role in all of this, which also clears a space for a cinematic quality. Tobin’s image gradually appears, as we become made aware that he is perched inside a large cube, just off center. At some points, his image even appears in the animation–it seems often in the tracks with recognizable vocal samples–again shifting the relationship between the experience and the artist.  The construction of the blocks gives the animations a sense of territoriality that a flat screen lacks, and when the animations shift to less abstract images, there motion actually does go “beyond 3D” compared to the garbage Hollywood is putting out under the banner of 3D. It’s also worth noting how clear the air in the venue appears, as there were no smoke machines or smokers in order to preserve the clarity of the projections.

I’ve seen other light shows that really demonstrate the possibility of the medium, and they tend to work best in big rooms in which the audience’s interaction with the artist is limited. Radiohead’s collaboration with UAE, Merce Cunningham’s dance company’s amazing sets and visuals, and more recently Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s projections all use different processes to create an interesting experience for the audience. ISAM Live is easily an equal achievement, and you’ll be kicking yourself if you pass up a chance to catch it. The use of 3-dimensional sets and complex projection has me really looking forward to Nico Muhly’s opera–no, not Two Boys, the one debuting in London and New York this fall, but the other one debuting in Philly this fall, Dark Sisters. 59productions will be doing amazing things with set design and projection, as you can see here. Not only for the music, but these visuals have me excited about the visual possibilities in modern set design mixed with projection. As movie studios force 3D down our throats as the next big thing they can price gouge us on while serving us an inferior product (as Roger Ebert cogently argues here), the real artists are innovating sets like this.

It may sound as if the visuals overshadowed the live set, but Tobin of course held it down, proving why he’s one of the biggest names of the last two decades.  After seemingly completing the narrative of the set, he returned after a brief pause for a 30-minute or so encore, shifting the style for a  funkier coda with more dub influence. Oh, and the image of a giant ball of fire. Yeah, Mutek is off to a great start.

This video breaks down the creation of ISAM Live.


Gold Panda‘s set was high energy and very well received by the crowd, who’d been warmed up by the more complex beats and bass heavy music of the more than capable Badawi. Coming right from London’s underground, Gold Panda’s defiance of genre has as much to do with energy and style as it does his seamless integration of production processes. His techniques help synthesize something really fresh and dynamic. The Israeli/NY bass producer Badawi calmly got the crowd rocking. All the performers were unafraid to push the low end of Métropolis’ soundsystem, which was built to handle seriously loud music. Even the floors reverberate, as they’re raised to allow for maximum impact. This is music that holds up for headphone listening,  but when it comes down to it, really is made for the crowd. And nothing makes the most out of the live experience like DEEP bass.

With the three acts hailing from Brazil, Israel, and London, the shifts in region are most notably felt in the shifts in rhythm and subtleties. All benefit from a great loud sound system with deep bass and subs. Their irregular beats add to narrative power and take them a step above less adventurous, more straight-forward 4/4-on-the-floor acts.

Gold Panda




A special light design projection created by Baillat Cardell & Fils, based on their MUTEK 2011 design.

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