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[Mutek 2003] : [1] : The Rollercoaster Breaches the Drop

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Dusted's tobias c. van Veen brings us part one of his journal from this year's Mutek festival, held in Montréal.

[Mutek 2003] : [1] : The Rollercoaster Breaches the Drop

3:12pm; Thursday, May 29, 2003

.. Mutek is massive now; the strain is showing in all aspects, as many a journalist repeats a now bewildered mantra: 'what, I cannot get into the show? .. 'where is my press pass..?' --- all those things that, no doubt & in this tight-knit community, should not be repeated in public circumstances: but fuck all that, I'm here to write, not act as an extended mouthpiece for an organisation that despite its goodwill needs to remember, from time to time, the people who supported it from its inception.

So: Day one, and Mutek shifts from last year's SAT--which is sadly being moved, the old building torn down--to the Juste Pour Rire Studio, a two-level comedy club with indoor balcony. Not exactly the floor-level experience of the SAT with its 360 degree 1 foot stage; the audience-performer dichotomy is unfortunately reinforced, and the only place where Mutek begins to feel itself again is Ex-Centris, albeit an Ex-Centris show with such packed seating--all on the floor, although kudos this time around for the floor mats!--that the space is beginning to show its strain as well. This year is the breaking point--either new venues are found, or simultaneous events will begin to appear on Mutek's roster. The panels this year are vastly improved, if not exhausting, and although a bit hastily organized, have provided valuable information, dialogue and discussion. Attempting to yell at people over beats or drones is never the best way to network or even meet people--I am horrible at it, despicable, even--and the panels provide a chance to actually meet and talk with artists, labels, promoters, and discover people's interests and projects. In fact, I should be at such a panel right now, but forgetting my press pass in the heat of the moment this morning, running out the door at full speed to catch a breakfast appointment on 3.5 hours sleep only to find the Vancouver-Seattle posse still snoring after imbibing far, far too much green, white, and booze, made me pull a reverse tango back to grab the pass and where I decided to begin sketching down a few notes taken while surveying the response to last night's shows ..

So: the big question was: Thomas Köner! But before we arrived at the industrial drone master, the two prior Ex-Centris performances deserve severe mention. Montréal's Christoph Mignon delivered a video-performance piece that displayed an acute sense of detail, attention to concept, and rigorous execution. Three videos side-by-side on the screen displayed, beginning on the left, a man (...can't see his eyes..) holding his mouth open; next over, a man trying to suck through a massive block of ice, held in his hands, with a tomato in the middle; and finally, what appeared to be a bridge at dusk as it slowly moved through sunset to night. Audio was recorded from these actions... the tension, groaning and breathing of the open-mouth; the cold slice-slurping of the ice, the choking; the traffic and far off city-drones... it all was routed via separate amplifier-speakers which were then mic'ed and fed into a central mixing console, electro-acoustic style, where Christoph sat in the middle of the audience. A performance of tension... it ended 45 minutes later, the audio undulating from these live recordings in time with the video, a whole aural field of bodily tensions, of excruciating pain, of endurance, a meditative torture, pushing past the limits of body to sound, yet seeing the process, which finally and only produced audible relief in the audience when the tomato was reached, 45 minutes later, in the middle of the ice... Presumably Christoph, finally closed his mouth, coughing and spluttering from viciously holding his jaw open for so long, his muscles conducting uncontrollable spasms. Three quarters of an hour that was an eternity .. I could only think of the illegal US captives in Guantanamo Bay, held in masks, forced to kneel for hours at a time, alone, and in the dark. The men in the iron masks of "diplomacy"... A painful temporality, and of the immediate body; the audience sighed finally when the tomato was almost choked, bitten, swallowed, regurgitated .. I felt it in my stomach, as it almost heaved .. then the end; an audible applause that was nonetheless muted as the audience recovered from shock. Variations of performance-art-sound, or audio art or sound or conceptual art has never gone over well at Mutek, in fact the very first Mutek performance ever was Alexander St. Onge in 2000; he and Martin Tétreault related to me one night at Casa the audience's boos that resulted from Alexander's body-sound conceptual piece that fine evening .. Three years later, and the audience make-up has also changed somewhat: far less producers sitting and listening to each other, more of a "crowd," but perhaps still the same lukewarm enthusiasm. Last year's response was by far the best, to Stephen Mathieu and Janek Schaefer, for example, while this year reminds me of 2001 .. Half-asleep? Half-baked? Who knows...

In any case, Edmonton's Clinker took over the reins with a delightful drone, hum, tone and loop performance that shook the very foundations of Daniel Langois' multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art & postmodern designed masterpiece film complex, so perfect that during the quiet points we could hear the kitchen staff in the restaurant. I guess after throwing down a billion dollars for the super-chrome-glass rolling-entrance & circular doorway with cog wheels they forgot lead sound insulation. C'est la vie, and don't get me started on doing construction in La Belle Province ... Clinker, however, took it in stride and responded with moments of the purest bliss; I "fell into it," so to speak, losing all thoughts to the hums and strains that retained a classical edge but an avant-garde composition--no glitches, granulation, or high frequency pitch-shifting here--thinking of what it must have been like, when I could think well enough, to have heard La Monte Young "back in the day," i.e. the '60s, massive sine waves enveloping whole rooms of stunned bodies...

And then Thomas Köner and his supposed mentor, an older man known as Asmus Tietchens, perhaps the grand-daddy of german drones who goes back to the '60s, and who played cds while Thomas munched down the laptop. I think it's fair to say that we ALL fell into this one, as the still-life tableaux of Tietchens and Koner manipulated us farther and farther into the dark, post-industrial drones, eventually opening our ears to buried sound streams, repetitions and events that could only be heard after significant immersion, cave-like, a steel-hull, or maybe even the soundtrack to House of Leaves... The end of the performance was, perhaps ironically, one of the superior moments; the volume reduced, the bass rumble dominated the atmosphere, & as it slowly decreased, and then ended, the audience was perfectly quiet and still [a singular cough was heard, but by then it was over]. If only they had done that in the middle! -- the aural attention of the dazing bodies could have been directed to an even deeper aspect of listening. After the frustration of entering the event, and finally finding a seat in front of a speaker, I came out feeling as if I had gone through two hours of meditation, and I smiled, and felt like I was talking softly. This didn't last, as we headed off to the busy confusion and packed sweat of the Studio, but nonetheless the impact was profound, and whether the audience was clapping for Köner and Tietchens or finally grasping and processing the whole night, the response to the performance finale was enthusiastic, finally, finally ...

And then Studio, to Telefon Tel Aviv and their knobby-twisting antics, cut-wrapping drum 'n bass and breakbeats... Pole took the stage and surprised me -- after all the speculation as to his "new direction" -- to hear a progression from his crackles to his abstract broken-dub. Dub has truly entered a new sphere with Pole--including live keyboards, very nice--and when MC Fat Jon (who, I should also mention, as it intrigues me, was one of few black people at Mutek .. I commented on the skin divide last year between Mutek and DEMF, and won't return to it here, except to note it hasn't changed...), anyways, when Fat Jon took the mix, he threw out a few non-rhyming, fast and abstract--if not surreal--verses that, once Betke and Jon get their live timing down, and perhaps, as Ben Nevile and Colin the Mole noted, structure a little more high end tweaking, well, then there will be some serious conflagration between a post-dub minimalism of electronic schemas remixed with a post-jazzy, Tribe (if not Anti-Pop) influenced wordstream .. something to behold: it's coming.

Deadbeat closed, who hands down shook the room with monster bass, throwing down a beautiful and EPIC dub-reggae set that, although it never hit the 4/4 and confused the skinny pale whities as to how to dance to half-time rhythms, scooped the floor into shakedown .. Deadbeat's production, timing, breakdowns, and patterns were among the best I've ever heard in the dub genres; he is approaching a post-Basic Channel-meets-early-Pole-and-recent-Twilight Circus Dub Soundsystem-mix... a warm and delightful space indeed. After hearing Scott Montieth produce since his early demos, I can say that his music has come so far that it is nothing but a pleasure to experience the artistic development of a truly friendly and wonderful .. well, "young man" .. (so many of us are young men, eh?) ..

Which has me thinking: the panels were good this year, well laid out, and recorded--so they should be archived, at which point y'all can critique me on moderating the first one. But the question I have is: where were the women? Although women performers--[sic], aka Jen Morris.. or I should say, performer[]--are billed at Mutek this year, the lack of women, any women at all, on the panels, is disturbing. What needs to be addressed and created more than ever is a panel on gender.. Where was Montréal's studio xx? The work of Anna Friz, perhaps, or others? Hell .. let's bring over Terre Thaemlitz and open all the questions as to gender, but certainly the issue of women cannot be ignored here. Perhaps, on a different note entirely, the same can be said for electro-acoustic music. While the Canadian Music Centre went out of its way to produce free CD compilations for Mutek,the fact that no New Music / Electro-Acoustic representative was asked to the Canada perspectives panel bodes ill for networking and creating a bond between these artistic communities and organisations.

Otherwise, and perhaps not surprisingly, Mutek took the chance to toot its own horn with the panel on international festivals, with long sections devoted to Mutek.cl, the Chilean component. It is true that Alain Mongeau's dedication to creating bidirectional exchanges must be commended; his idea of a network of global festivals, and of making sure that local artists in other locales are given the exposure and the treatment and the artistic exchange given the "big star foreigners" rang true in my (y)ears, as say compared to the international touring of UK prog house DJs or whomever, who simply visit, DJ, collect pay and boot out. If Mutek and other arts organizations are to create long lasting artistic (and which amounts to social) change, then dialogues must be developed, encounters created, contexts appreciated. Basically, we are speaking of a practical implantation of hospitality to the other, and of a micropolitics of sonic context. Pol Taylor, although understandably over-enthusiastic about Mutek.cl as the director of the South American component, made it clear that the festival was not a simple transfer of Mutek Montréal to the south .. it must form a different content, and create a different form altogether, working around the region's weaknesses [distance, size, wealth] and with its strengths [high-tech sector, loose laws, available spaces, artists]. With the affable Taylor in charge, this will hopefully provide a counterpoint for the friction that still surrounds Mutek Montréal, and despite its inclusion this year of electro-acoustic & noise bad-girls (and boys) No Type, Mutek still manages to create a certain aura of exclusivity and elitism that cannot be written off nor ignored: if Alain Mongeau is more than just rhetoric, then this must be dealt with openly and with honesty. I think that, for the most part, we're all still waiting for that move, although I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt and to support the organization for its efforts. Now if only they would get a little more organized ..

Click here for part two of tobias c van Veen's Mutek diary

By tobias c. van Veen

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