Day 3: Poutine

The first feature of Day 3 of MUTEK was meeting my man Rhythmicon, in town from Victoria, for poutine.  Important things.

From there, we were just too late to see Richie Hawtin’s talk and in time to get some wisdom on Albeton’s PUSH hardware.  Without nerding very deeply out about the gear, let’s just say that it looks more than nice.

We were, however, in time to catch Robert Henke‘s talk.  Henke, in addition to being Monolake and doing things with lasers, was one of the founders of Ableton – to say he Knows Things is more than a bit of an understatement.

My favorite things from his talk were the idea of limitations informing creativity, of the difficult part of limitations being where the focus ends up, and of finding your own language, regardless of media.  In terms of techno, the idea of techno as a forward motion caused by technology was a fantastic phrasing, as well as the realization that technology moves very, very slowly – a humbling thing from someone who’s software has shaped how most people in techno make music.

(There are rumours that Henke’s talk and Hawtin’s talk will be online at some point, either care of Ableton or Mutek.  Keep an eye out.)

Phew.  On to the music.   Start with Le Fruit Vert, a three-piece playing spacey, vox-heavy ambient on keys, a modular, and a healthy does of the mystic.

Then move on to Holly Herndon, who wins the best communication with audience method by having her visuals guy type things into TextEdit.  That pair also wins the best quote of the day prize for “shout out to the white dude wearing the glasses”, covering both said visuals guy and MUTEK as a whole.

But the music. You’ve all heard Chorus.  So in addition to the vocals over sideways beats thing, Herdon also does excellent acid house, occasionally drops into legshaking sub-bass transitions, runs contact mics across her laptop to sample the sound of the fan and chassis vibrating, and drops instrumental sections that sound like columns of pure steel being dropped on the earth from outer space.  Back this with more visuals by Akihiko Taniguchi, and you have a showstealing performance.

Next:  Rashad Becker, who has forgottten more about mastering and sound than most people will ever know.  He also had no laptop or visuals, and has access to one or more giant techno insects inside his gear.  Becker got deep, then got deeper, and then got deeper again.  The set closed in more of an asteroids-slowly-colliding-in-outer-space vibe – if you think my prose is purple here, I’d point you to some of Becker’s music, and tell me I am wrong.

Finally:  Ben Frost and AURORA.  Frost came with two drummers on this one, playing a mix of acoustic and digital drums, with Frost on at least a synth and a guitar.  Hilariously, the show started with a chorus of ‘shhhh’-ing.  This became even funnier when they got loud, and boy did they ever get loud.  Huge drums, blazing guitar distortion, gigantic synths*, and so on.  They suffered a little from the post-rock problem of every new element wanting to be the loudest thing, in each song, but the entire show was a pretty good example of a band putting a room full of people on their backs, and launching them comprehensively into outer space.

(More trance synths!  In this case, hidden behind walls of distortion, but still trance synths.)

And let’s close with another bit of spectacle:  Richie Hawtin playing at Metropolis, complete with a mind-boggingly large circular LED screen behind him and a pretty cheesy confetti drop during his final track.  Hawtin is basically the Leonard Berstein of techno at the moment…but in addition to being a bit of a ham, he, like Bernstein, is very, very good at what he does.  After three days of most experimental jams, it was a pleasure to get on the dancefloor.

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