[Mutek 2003] :  ; Resolution, Resonance & Caveat Emptor: MINDFUCKING
notes gathered: 7:12am Monday, June 2; 3:48am Wednesday, June 4, 2003
"The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.... This is the artist's way of scribbling 'Kilroy was here' on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass."
– William Faulkner, Interview with Paris Review, 1956.
The final report, cobbled together from everything scratched on paper, backs of business cards, a still-damp notepad ... and it seems, through two different general wills: those who dig into the significance, beyond journalism, of considering the cultural exchange of Mutek, and those who wished they lived in a vacuum, their actions invisible to history.
Being a writer – not a journalist, or perhaps I should say, a journalist in the way they meant journalism in the '50s, "New Journalism," perhaps, and not today – is a risky proposition: for often it means writing one's friends, acquaintances, enemies, hell, the human flesh and all its vicissitudes into the narrative. And some of us don't like it: to the point where even an attempt at a joking apology for doing so is taken as a further threat. Now I cannot even, at this point, outline what the hell I am talking about. But it makes me realise a few things, namely as to how a writer must simply plow on, despite the various pressures applied by external forces to write this-or-that, to avoid saying certain things, to basically maintain a public/private distinction that never existed in the first place. I could restate what I am saying like this: I fucking hated the bullshit, behind-the-back shit which took place in highschool... You know, where you said you liked someone then told your friends what a shitty moron they were. It populates the over-the-drinks conversations at Mutek... I just won't do that – which makes the honest writer, even the gonzo writer, somewhat of a risky position, even an untenable one.
Writing a no-holds-barred diary-critique has some history. Perhaps one of the most famous would be the chronicles of Samuel Johnson, the British writer and dictionary compiler, written by the infamous Boswell [see newark.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Johnson/]. Today, I guess, we have the population of mindnumbing Bloggers. But even now writing about the Real poses some danger – it is only today, some 80 years later, that we are finally getting the real story between Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, for example. Of course everyone knew they were lovers, but the Estate of the two wouldn't release their letters until all remaining parties had passed on. True, this all changed somewhat with the Beats. Actually, it could be noted that it has always been a thread in poetic discourse – note the secret gems hidden in most Romantic poetry, hinting at the threesomes between Shelley, Mary Shelley and Byron at their cottage in Switzerland... and of course they wrote of their experiences, long swims out to the sea, delving into opium; but with the Beats, it was rough and dirty, and perhaps it was the journalists who came out of that era, took the Beats one step farther, or even preceeded it – notably Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, H.L Mencken and Norman Mailer; I might also mention Lenny Bruce and Allen Ginsberg, hell, Carl Berstein & Bob Woodward.
But hold on – you say, hold on: this is Mutek, not worldwide politics. Indeed it is. But today politics is a façade, and the real moments exist in those cracks where we all attempt to ill-define and carve out some sense of freedom through the splinter organisation of our desires, desires that are perhaps more serious in their energy than we often realise. Late on Monday morning, as Richie and Ricardo traded wax at the afterparty, I explained the concept of the Temporary Autonomous Zone to [name removed by legal counsel] who had never heard of it before.. "This IS one," I said; "It's free, it has its own economy, it operates at a level perpendicular to the law – illegal in all respects, geared toward nothing but pleasure, a focal point of desire, with its own codas that are, nonetheless, always changing .. it's temporary .. and it's us." Well, maybe not quite so eloquently – later he patted me on the back and said "Goodbye, tobias," as I think he thought I was a little too rambled... perhaps I am, perhaps not; regardless, what it comes down to – when the interdictions drop on speaking on, about and of others – is losing the ability to speak of oneself. And this is in fact what current law seems to uphold. A recent US court case barred Tucker Max from speaking of his former girlfriend, Katy Johnson.. both have websites; the irony is that Ms. Johnson is former Miss Vermont 1999, and founder of wonderfully puritan organisations such as the Sobriety Society.. Max Taylor's diary of their relationship "put to question" the sobriety claims of the ex-beauty queen [to say the least: think sex & drinking..]; but now he's not even allowed to talk about it. In other words, he can't even talk about a part of his own life. Check it in the NYT:
Meaning that.. yeah, here we are: writing not for the now, but for the sake of what we can only see as a future – for the future itself. Back to Mutek.
SUNDAY AFTERNOON MINDFUCK
The simplest way to begin understanding the two-days that began on Sunday is simply by saying: MINDFUCK. "Back in the mid-'90s," a cabal of us almost threw a party with this title; we thought it a little too obvious. But there is nothing subtle about Mego...
The afternoon began, first of all, with an exhausted audience, wandering in from the street, many already stoned or still drunk, meandering about ashen-faced; the Mutek volunteers looked like they hadn't slept in days... immediately half of us took to the cement floor, laying down in the muck to absorb the coming sounds.. and seep forth they did, at first in waves and drones and eventually with jagged knives: first with Cal Crawford, who transmitted the point across as to what we should be doing – listening – with a blast of an airhorn that signalled the start of his fascinating collection of vertical soundscapes... A weird thing happened, in fact, that I could not tell if it was planned or not; after his blast, someone slowly whistled from the balcony ... Crawford, stone-faced, responded with another airhorn blast.. someone on the floor yelled "a duo!"... Yes, things were getting to some level indeed ... Crawford – from Montréal – did some mean things in his set, engaging in exposed soundscapes that sucked us deep, deep into his mind, only to raise the volume and the intensity, in a manner not unlike Francisco Lopez, only to cut it right at the moment of release – [silence] – & ending his set with another somewhat unexpected airhorn blast. Truthfully, it was a well-suited contextual introduction to what was to follow, which was, in fact, Pita from Mego. Pita lulled us; into drones, deep, effervescent walls-of-noise, not so loud as to destroy us, always on the verge, but receding before the points of pain... then, not Hecker as the program stated, but Kevin Drumm:
..enter the dragon, so to speak, with both his trademark strobe slowly illuminating the brain patterns, subjecting us all to hallucinogenic light networks behind closed eyelids and a stuttered, stop-motion reality with our beacons open... faster and faster went the strobe, and Drumm's soaring, delicate, and beautiful noisefuck destroyed us, on the floor, humming, humming along our spines – hands down an incredible set, the step onwards and out from Pita.. and into: surrealist, cut-up Japanese pop; something few of us, without spoilers, could have guessed. For next was Tujiko Noriko, also on Mego, but nothing like her cohorts. While the same dissonance could be heard in her cut-and-paste beatscapes, reminiscent of AGF, Noriko crossed herself somewhere between Björk's weirder moments and a resurrected, Hentai version of André Breton... Let me tell you what she looks like: white and black striped dress, cute Japanese girl, make-up, all done up, very gentle, small, slight, "petite;" again .. Hentai fantasy-material ... she came up and said hello in Japanese, a bit of English and French; and began to work with childlike soundscapes, field recordings, and then, her own live vocals, sung over herself, sampling herself, singing to others absent from the stage, about love, about life, and, in what resonated with me for the rest of the festival, if not still echoing – "I cannot make music," sweetly sung, innocently, but with eyes that betrayed her fuck-over of all pop's ignorant facades; "We cannot make music...", she concluded with, less an admission of failure than a plea to understand that we no longer know what music is, where it was, what it ever has been ;
If there's anyone to take Björk's shoes – develop her one step further, remix in the best of AGF – it's Tujiko Noriko. And were we not all passed out on the floor, she would have received a standing ovation... in lieu, she received a barrage of cheering that eclipsed all the shows at Studio up to that point, and only surpassed by the response to Narod Niki; we were all, it seemed, in love with what cannot be touched and yet touched us deeply. A couple front centre stage-right started making out... & in between her songs, she spoke to us in Japanese – it didn't matter that we didn't understand; for the language was almost, somehow, speaking of her touch and not of subjects, objects, and things.
Like in any good Japanese porn imbued with a perverse violence that is quite possibly second-to-none on this planet, next came the hentai monster – Florian Hecker.
As David Turgeon noted – and I guess I can quote him, as he wrote this to microsound.org – his performance was largely "inexplicable."
Violent? Aggressive? A laboratory of spiked sounds that scythed at volumes so precisely deafening that, at points, he looked a little, and suddenly, worried?
Sickening .. ? Many of us couldn't take it; I felt physically ill. It wasn't the volume, or the noise – this was something other than noise. This was fuckery with frequencies that were *destroying* any sense of what or who I was, sitting here in the afternoon in a darkened comedy club that had been turned into a chamber of aural horrors... All orifices opened by surgical incisions of spiked soundwaves. What can I say:
Not much, it seems. If he plays near you, go ..well, "experience" him/it/them, all the schizo things in there that I will only gesture at.. what it made me think and how it made me feel .. bad flashbacks that felt oh, so, so good. Like watching Bob Flanagan. Yes, Trace Reddell – and I guess I can say this to as he posted it to microsound.org – this time the mirror was *not* all reassembled, it was destroyed, smashed, and infinitely splayed into so many fragments that following the progression of this sonic dispersion, at its limit, would result in the most dangerous and obsessive madnesses.
I think Florian Hecker might actually be mad.
Well, after Hecker, we were all a little dazed, tongues lolling in mouths, ears, brains dripping out onto shoulders, floors, hips.. whatever. And from this muck, Gentle Bakemono – yes, another moniker for the neverending Montréaler known as David Kristian – had the task of reassembling sanity, at least into enough of a whole to undergo the basic processes of eating, shitting, and fucking.
It was good. Kristian is all about the analogue, and all about producing and travelling through every single genre of electronic music; his latest works have been for the Wikkid drum 'n' bass label. Guiding us through downtempo ambient was thus an easy task... while the analogue grounded the unwinding journey, digital detritus splayed its particles across the tar... I feel like just repeating – "good," but not mindblowing; Kristian risks, somewhat, being left behind in the wake of the computer revolution – he's taking steps to acquaint himself, but I think he has a bit more to go in this respect. In the meantime, we were all party to a gentle bakemono experience, and I am the happier – and saner – for it.
SUNDAY NIGHT: FUCKERY PART TWO
Where do we begin.. with the massive lineup waiting to get in? The anticipation of viewing the set-up of 8 beat geniuses getting ready to improvise a cacaphony of dance-meltdowns? How about with Robin Judge and Monolake [Robert Henke] ...
Toronto's Judge played first – I say "Toronto's" in a manner only barely, as she and her rather infamous minimalist muffin Tomas Jirku recently lapped the country to live in my ex-hometown, Vancouver. Too bad they didn't get there a year ago – alas. In any case, Judge, who has only been investigating the electronic music game for about two years, showcased a glitched-out and, if I can use these adjectives again, delicately beautiful set of washes and atmospheres over the 4/4. This was all new material, and I think it pinpoints a few directions as to where her sound could develop; as it stands, it doesn't hold the polished poise as her track, for example, on the Traum compilation [I haven't heard her LP with Jirku on Onitor]. Like Edmonton's Clinker, she's come far into the game for someone only making music for about two years; the sort of thing that can make us 10 year + technoheads a little bitter. But put aside the bitterness: the beats are coming along, and if the quality is there, spin tha' wax...
Next was Robert Henke as Monolake, who proceeded to deconstruct, via Ableton Live – his own designed software – a few of his hallmark & patterned echo-scapes into the stratospheres of techno-dub. A few moments of hilarity from the truly genial Henke – he had to ask for a mouse halfway through as his "trackpad was going crazy" – in a wonderful German accent, may I add – and he took the time to thank everyone, noting this was the last night of Mutek. Sometimes you just need a 6-foot plus, bald, tall and smiling German guy to remind you to have fun. And for many of us, this was the chance to see a Monolake we had hunted out, record by record, since 1995. Eight years ago... And Henke did not disappoint, rocking the casa far, far hard, far, far gone, and as the drinks were washing down numerous pills in the audience, the soundsystem – administered by Julien Roy – was put to its furtherst limits of volume... time to prepare for what was to come: "Narod Niki."
According to the Mutek booklet, Narod Niki was a group of "students and professors who travelled Russia teaching the peasants to read and to understand the basis of the revolution" (45). Now, I don't know if this is meant to be revolutionary – all those loops in revolution – or ironic [ultimately, Russian socialism failed...]. Whatever: Narod Niki was, from left-to-right: Richie Hawtin, Akufen, Ricardo Villalobos, [master mixer controller & conductor: either Julien Roy or Robert Henke], Pier Bucci, Dandy Jack, Luciano, Cabanne and Dan Bell. For those noting, Richie Hawtin + Dan Bell = Cybersonik.
[Name removed by legal counsel] told me how they synced it all together. Basically, it would have been completely un-synced [beatmatching Ableton Live] were it not for the fact that Akufen was using a PC laptop, and the rest were on Mac. The PC laptop has a slight delay from the Macs... thus they created three groups, each which was running an internal MIDI clock. These three groups, as far as I could tell, were: Richie + Akufen; Ricardo, Pier, Dandy Jack, + Luciano; Dan Bell + Cabanne. *I think*. I'm just not sure, however; needless to say, the groups beatmatched each other, and the master mixer moved from group to group in the mix.
In any case.. the result was speaker meltdown. Someone I met was a little disappointed, saying that although the grouping was legendary, the results were anything but. I think I have to disagree. I remember at the first Mutek I was disappointed by the live sets; after hearing the speed at which a talented techno-turntablist can rock records in and out, hearing producers play their own tracks was admittedly boring. Tracks need to be mixed, and Mutek is still trying to admit the role of the DJ, the turntablist of beats and not just phonographic experimentalism. To a degree, I've come to expect an element of long-track-dancing at Mutek, and accept the changing parameters of playing from gear, laptops, and so on, as part of the paradigm shift we are undergoing. But since 2001 the technology has also improved to the point where the producers have begun mixing their own tracks, especially vis-à-vis programs like Ableton Live. And the producers themselves, those who are not DJs, have started utlising DJ techniques. Which is not to say that all producers are good DJs, or for that matter, know how to really *play* their own work – for often it takes a third party to *interpret* someone's work... But each up there as part of Narod Niki had such an idea of how to mix – although the stand-outs were by far the most talented turntablists: Richie Hawtin, who stripped everything down, sound-sculpting the mix, and Dan Bell, who jumped into the repetitious loops of mindfuck-vocals that made him famous ["I'm losing control...I'm losing control..."]. Each had their own unique quality – Luciano led into two much-needed, epic [but not cheesy] breakdowns; Dandy Jack dropped the 4-on-the-floor into what [name removed by legal counsel] called mid-90s West Coast organic breaks; dancing away like mad, his energy infected the crowd and drove us into orgies of movement... Cabanne worked with Bell on the tight beats, while Ricardo would open the whole mix into surreal basslines and vocoder sing-songs .. [only bad part of the night was when they let a nice lady onto the mic who really, really couldn't sing] ... Akufen's sliced-and-diced sampledelia would cut through Hawtin's minimalist sound-sculptures, and everytime his trademark beat-dicing could be heard, another surge erupted from the crowd .. Richie would look up, smiling and laughing at Dan – who remained stonefaced the entire time, dead serious – as Bell pushed the bangin' minimalism; Ricardo would gesture over, pointing out who had come into the mix.. it was like a big jazz jam, trading off beats, winding through various moments, gesturing, conducting, a digital clone of a Sun Ra jam, & at the helm was either Julien Roy or Robert Henke, manning the master mixer and pushing it as loud as it would fucking go, thudding the bass – that warm, hard bass, so loud that those in front of the speakers had both hands over their ears... bleeding loud. It was a little too bad that Richie's involvement was halved by what seemed to be bad patch-cables.. he was seen checking his mixer and trying to get it working for what was a good hour .. needless to say, when the three hour jam ended at 4am, the crowd cheering with the lights on, it seemed like we were only just getting started... indelible memoirs...
Which we were: for then came the afterparty. Richie and Ricardo spinning, dropping deep acidic techno and Latin minimal house jams... solid thumping.. all chilling, barely awake, more substances consumed, famous journalists passed out in awkward positions on couches, wild dancing from gum-chewing label-owners, all that shit I just cannot talk about, Alain Mongeau actually smiling and looking relaxed, and finally, after days of cloud & cold, the sun rising over the echoing streets of Montréal ... enough time out of joint to see a strange post-hippie bike down the street in the oddest of wheeled caravans ...
Mutek 2003 had ended .
By tobias c. van Veen