Wednesday, May 13, 2015

MUTEK revisited (VI)

The next edition of MUTEK begins in two weeks in Montreal.  It turns out I will be in Toronto and gave some thought to getting on the train and catching two or three days of the festival.  I have no doubt it'll be an excellent festival as always but there's nothing I'm really dying to see this year.  Maybe next year.  I'm still kicking myself for missing the 2009 festival, which was pretty much my dream lineup (along with 2003) and might never be duplicated.

However, we can still celebrate past editions of the festival by revisiting more classic live performances from past years.  This is the sixth in a series of posts that began six years ago.   These recordings resurfaced recently and once again, I haven't heard either of them since the original performances in 2010 and 2003. 

10.  The Caretaker (A/Visions 2, 2010)

You can listen to the set here.  My original comments (and a photo) are posted here.  At the time I wrote "The Caretaker presented a slide show of his drink and debauchery exploits in Berlin while drinking a bottle of whiskey and doing very little else."

That comment comes off as dismissive and cynical, but that's just due to the format of the review for that year (which was a photo essay more than an in depth review).  In truth, it was one of the more unique performances I've seen to this day.  There was nothing "live" about it, because Kirby literally did nothing except prance around the stage with a bottle of whiskey while the video played on the screen behind him.  Considered as a piece of performance art coupled with a screening of a short film with the director in attendance, it was indelibly etched into my memory.  The experience of immersing myself in the world of the Caretaker continued well into the next year, as "An Empty Bliss Beyond This World" was one of my favourite albums of 2011.   

Obviously the audio recording can't capture the full experience of seeing this in a theatre against a backdrop of a perpetually hungover Berlin while the artist himself stalks the stage looking every bit the casualty victim of the scenes depicted on the big screen.  But the recording on its own is still incredibly powerful.  It builds you up by violently shaking you to attention at its noisy start, and throws you to the floor in a depressive funk in its solemn middle portion.  The noise returns at the end and a distorted voice warbles through "The Way We Were" and what has been learned from all this?  Drinking is bad for you?  Not really, because the piece never shows any regrets.  Live in the moment?  Not exactly, because who can find even a speck of glamour in any of this?  This music is as confounding as the day I first heard it. 

11.  Narod Niki (Finale, 2003)

The legendary final performance of the best MUTEK I ever attended.  A forty five minute excerpt of their set can be heard here, and was linked via MUTEK's website.  After years of circulation as a bootleg (audio for the entire festival was available for streaming over the internet that year), they claimed it is the first ever "official" release of the recording.  The full set lasted over two hours, and can be heard here.

At the time I was awed by the star power on stage and by the sheer amount of gear they'd dragged up there.  I was also exhausted by watching nearly forty three hours of live music over five days and nights.  The description I gave remains accurate though: "From the names involved, I'm sure you can guess what it sounds like. If you've never heard of any of these guys, I can't imagine that you'd have read this far. Otherwise, you'll be able to imagine what each guy is likely to equally contribute to a group effort such as this."

Narod Niki performed together only a handful of times.  They deserve their reputation for one simple reason -- it was the best collection of techno performers ever gathered together on one stage.  But at the same time, any fan of the artists involved didn't really have to be there to imagine what they were like.  If you know their music, you know what this was like, especially if I tell you that Villalobos looked to be the conductor of the orchestra.  The two hour performance is what you need to hear, because you need to hear the intro, appreciate the buildup, and imagine the anticipation as they filed on stage.  Once they were all out there, the drama was essentially over, the purpose of the performance completely fulfilled.   The music continued until the lights were turned on and the authorities finally shooed all artists and fans out of the building.  The recording will make for some pleasant background music at your local bar for twentysomething singles, or for your next get together with friends who like to groove.  It offers few hints about the singular collection of talent that was involved in creating it.

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