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Mutek 2011

Posted on: giugno 27, 2011

Feed: CreativeApplications.Net

Simon Geilfus & Murcof / MUTEK 2011

[AntiVJ’s Simon Geilfus and Murcof at
A/Visions 2 / photo:
basic_sounds]

Having just completed its twelfth run, Montreal’s MUTEK festival continues to cultivate the the substantial niche it has carved out for itself on the global media arts circuit. In addition to a storied history of showcasing emerging and established electronic musicians of all stripes, MUTEK has also acted as an r&d lab for exploring the possibilities of integrated audiovisual performance. In 2005, a programming stream dedicated to presenting bleeding edge collaborations between musicians and visual designers entitled A/Visions was brought into the fold to showcase innovative projects like artificiel’s cubing and Marc Leclair & Gabriel Coutu-Dumont’s 5mm. A/Visions has matured so rapidly that by 2008 this supplementary programming was consistently eclipsing ‘big room’ headliners and—at least as many MUTEK regulars were concerned—functioning as the locus of innovation within the yearly gathering. The 2009 and 2010 AV performance programming upped the ante even more and the expectations for both experimentation and production design were very high going into the this year’s edition of the proceedings. This post presents an overview of and reflection on material featured at A/Visions two weeks ago in Montreal.

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Electroacoustic composer Alain Thibault and visual designer Yan Breuleux have been working together as Purform for almost 15 years. For MUTEK the duo presented White Box, a project dedicated to exploring “new forms of generating A/V compositions in real time.” As evidenced by the teaser video above, the performance leveraged a massive three screen projection surface as a canvas for exploring dense monochromatic meshes and emergent moiré patterns. Characterized by coarse granular synthesis and dynamic, clinical pattern studies, the set was undeniably polished – perhaps pristine to a fault. Compared to the subsequent rumbling bass-scapes of Emptyset and the cataclysmic improvised mayhem that Mika Vainio cooked up in the darkness, White Box offered a glimpse into a stark formalist universe that could only emerge from such a longstanding collaboration.

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Within about 45 seconds of beginning their performance at the SAT the British duo Sculpture had already confirmed their status as the wildcard artists at MUTEK 2011. Sound artist Dan Hayhurst and animator Reuben Sutherland specialize in crafting dense, plunderphonic soundscapes complimented by live video of custom-made zoetropic picture discs. Their performance married reel-to-reel tomfoolery with turntable centric digital video that was projected onto a horseshoe-shaped configuration of screens lining the perimeter of the space. This arrangement was intentionally overwhelming and many audience members were visibly dazed by the combination of Hayhurst scrubbing through his tape loop inventory and Sutherland’s reconfiguration of the wheels of steel as a psychedelic movie machine. The set was a gloriously orchestrated cacophony – media archeology for the MIDI controller set and a refreshing reminder that a virtuosic back-to-basics approach to animation is capable of trumping any graphics library.

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Fernando Corona (aka Murcof) and Simon Geilfus of AntiVJ have been collaborating for approximately two years and the duo presented the fruits of their (iterative) labour at the second A/Visions event. The embed above really does not do this work justice and the creative partnership essentially ‘builds a universe’ around Murcof’s brooding, orchestral LP Cosmos and some more recent material. AntiVJ’s Joanie Lemercier and Nicolas Boritch describe the work as “being rooted in a 2009 residency in Bristol” where the artists had the time to build an “emergent” performance workflow “from the ground up”. Riffing on the geometries and organizational logic of cosmology, biological systems and the scattershot luminosity of a dense weave of light rays, the set was captivating and deservedly received a thunderous response. It should also be noted that AntiVJ developed a thoughtful solution to the perennial “where do we put the performers?” problem by projecting the video on a semi-transparent mesh scrim that hung in front of Corona and Geilfus, downplaying their visual presence and also creating the illusion that the animation is floating in space rather than dancing across a “standard white screen”. One particularly riveting sequence played out as if the audience were drifting through a 3D field of detritus that pulsated in sync with Corona’s drones, the shading of this ‘space junk’ was incredible and justifies comparisons to some of Lebbeus Woods’ wilder moments.

A veteran of the inaugural MUTEK lineup, Seth Horvitz is amongst a handful of artists including Atom Heart and Carsten Nicolai whose experimental practices have remained important references to the evolution of the festival over the last decade. Horvitz recently completed his MFA at Mills College and essentially presented his thesis research Eight Studies for Automatic Piano on intensely programmed scores for the Yamaha DC7 Mark III Disklavier. In perhaps the best moment of theatre of the entire festival, a besuited Horvitz began his performance by strolling across stage to turn on his piano and then disappeared into the shadows, not to be seen again. The work presents kind of a piano endgame that tested the perception of the audience while—given the scope of MUTEK—offering a timely examination of precision and ‘programming’.

An excerpt from the ‘listener’s guide’ (PDF) for the LP release of the project on LINE where Horvitz discusses the notion of hand-made algorithms:

“I have been told that my music is algorithmic, although I don’t really think of it that way. I don’t use any math other than simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I copy something (often a repeating figure), paste it next to itself, and then change it a little. Then I do it again and again, changing it by the same amount each time, and listening all the while. If it doesn’t sound good, I might start over. Or I might copy half of all the copies and put them somewhere else, change that a little, then repeat the process again and again… I avoid using equations, because I never want the music to get too far away from my ear.”

The above video demonstrates how the dense melodies literally wash over the keyboard while the projections offer a rudimentary visualization of the complexity of these pattern studies. Eight Studies for Automatic Piano was a treat to experience live, and there was something quite amazing about watching a precisely calibrated automaton work its magic in a concert hall setting.

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The above smattering of teaser videos clearly doesn’t do A/Visions 2011 justice but these taste tests certainly verify the innovation and diversity of the work programmed this year. For the sake of brevity this review did not touch on Tristan Perich’s surprisingly moving rendition of 1-Bit Symphony, a severe prop-driven performance piece by Women With Kitchen Appliances and an atmospheric meditation on macro photography by Comaduster – these projects are all worth looking into.

Stepping back from A/Visions and considering the larger events at MUTEK, it is clear that the interplay of sound and image is becoming increasingly important to the direction of the festival; this year the spotlight shone on Richie Hawtin’s LED cage (produced by Ali Demirel and the wizards at Derivative) and Amon Tobin showed up for his gig at Metropolis at the helm of a cubist megalith (it was hardly the Mothership, but I suppose it would do in a pinch). I greatly prefer the focus and discipline of the work I’ve described above, but one can’t help but note that audience expectations and visual literacy are evolving rapidly. While my mind is still buzzing from this abundance of stimuli, I’m already starting to catch myself wondering what next year will yield.

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About the Author: Greg J. Smith a Toronto-based designer and researcher with interests in media theory and digital culture. Extending from a background in architecture, his research considers how contemporary information paradigms affect representational and spatial systems. Greg is a designer at Mission Specialist, blogs at Serial Consign and is a managing editor of the digital arts publication Vague Terrain. He currently teaches courses on information visualization, technology and urbanism in the CCIT program (University of Toronto – Mississauga/Sheridan College).

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