Saturday, June 12, 2010

MUTEK 2010, Postscript

-- I saw performances by 51 acts, totaling approx 40-42 hours of music plus another four hours spread over three panels/Q&A sessions, for about 44-46 hours of MUTEK activities. This included possibly the longest day of live music ever in my life (Day Four, fourteen hours from start to finish, about ten of those hours were spent watching live music). That's my best estimate, since I didn't keep track of the clock like I did in 2003, when I saw "just" 42 h 45 m of performances plus panels/discussions. Well, that explains why I was so tired by Day Five. Actually, it wasn't so much that I was tired, I wasn't exactly dead on my feet, but I was far less enthused about spending a fifth straight day going out to the clubs. Then again, I've never been to any sort of conference where I wasn't almost completely burned out by the fifth day.

-- The best five performances of the festival were:
1. Nurse With Wound
2. Shed
3. King Midas Sound
4. Aun
5. Moritz von Oswald Trio

In the second tier I'd put (in no particular order): Minilogue, Henrik Schwarz, Matmos, Nathan Fake, and Theo Parrish.

On paper, the lineup wasn't as strong as it has been in the past, for instance, both Gas and Moderat performed last year and I would have given my front teeth to see either of them, which I wouldn't say about anyone who performed this year. However, the acts I was most anticipating were all fantastic and more than delivered on my expectations (namely, my entire top five minus Aun, who were new to me), and there were no duds, so you can't ask for much more than that.

-- I was trying to tell my story by using the photos to guide the narrative, with the limitation of one photo per act (the exceptions were Senor Coconut and Theo Parrish). I tried to take pictures of everyone, but not every band I saw was pictured in the blog recap. If the pictures weren't good or interesting enough, I didn't include them even if I liked the performance. Although as you might expect, if I was really enjoying the performance then I generally went more out of my way to get quality photos.

-- Most disappointing section: A/Visions 4. Vladislav Delay didn't bring anything new to the table, and although his set was a nice throwback to the Clicks and Cuts era, he was always one of my least favourite Chain Reaction artists. CM von Hausswolff was excellent, Tim Hecker was subpar (this was the fifth or sixth time I've seen him, and this was easily the least enjoyable set out of the bunch), and Ben Frost was good but not as overwhelming as I had hoped. The Hecker/Frost collaboration at the end was great, but far too short. I thought that sound quality was a big issue here. It wasn't nearly loud enough, which was odd considering how much these guys talked up the need to "feel" the sound of their live performances during their Q&A.

-- Best session: Nocturne 5, and I never would have predicted it. Four superlative performances, four completely different styles of music. I was burned out and was expecting to leave a bit early, but I was energized and entranced by nospectacle and Moritz von Oswald Trio, and Brand Brauer Frick provided a further shot of adrenaline. After five days of techno and experimental wibbling, MUTEK needed Theo Parrish. I was seriously burned out, I needed to hear something different, I needed Theo Parrish too, and I had no idea how much until he actually hit the decks. And from the buzz in the room (hardly anybody left before 2:30 AM, on a Sunday night no less), I'm guessing that Montreal needed Theo Parrish too. Out of the four MUTEK's that I attended, this was the best concluding section (although 2003 comes close).

-- The festival was originally conceived in order "to explore the intersection between sound, music and new media". This more academic side of the festival is now almost completely absent. Besides the one workshop that was sponsored by Roland (I didn't go), the whole "sound design" underpinnings, the idea that you could go to MUTEK and talk to people about software design and laptop culture, has virtually disappeared. MUTEK is a big party, you don't have to be "in the know" to enjoy yourself, you don't need to ponder the potential ramifications of Force Inc. opening an office in Montreal. I would suggest that this is the single biggest reason for the festival's rapid growth over the last few years. Picnik Electronic is a symbol of this shift in thinking.

-- A short follow-up to that point: in 2003, nearly all the performances were centred around laptops. Almost every performer in 2010 incorporated a laptop into their setup, but in plenty of cases, the laptop was nowhere near the centre of the spectacle. There were a startling number of "band" acts this year (MvO Trio, Matias Aguayo Band, Nurse With Wound, Marsen Jules, Guillaume Coutu Dumont, Senor Coconut, Brand Brauer Frick) plus other acts that rely on guitars or keyboards or live sampling or some other sort of "physical" type of sound creation (Matmos, Bernier and Messier, [The User], Jon Hopkins, Aun).

-- Another possible follow-up: is it just me, or has the average age of the performers gone way up? This would be due to: a) the scene itself is older, so naturally there are more veterans of the scene, b) laptoppery is more of a young man's game, the increase in the number of "bands" leaves more space for people who would otherwise be alienated from that side of the game.

-- MUTEK's programming schedule is starting to mimic that of the Montreal Jazz Festival, namely, with regard to the number of free live shows. Like the jazzfest, you could have a perfectly good time at the festival without buying a single ticket. The free shows feature mainly Canadian artists, with a few big international names sprinkled in, while the more devoted fans of the music will buy tickets to the clubs to see the bigger, more elaborate shows. Considering the success of the free show headlined by Senor Coconut, I'd expect that they're looking to increase the number of outdoor concerts in future years.

If you include the two Piknics (which are so cheap that they're practically free), then it adds up to nearly thirty hours of free music, with about half of it taking place outdoors.

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