Montreal, the beginning of May, a dark performance space illuminated by an otherworldly glow; this combination of factors could only mean one thing – Elektra! The 14th edition of the venerable Canadian digital arts festival was thematically organized around the idea of ‘anti/matter’ and – as would be expected – immateriality and ephemerality were pressing topics within the two dozen or so performances and installations comprising the programming. CAN was on hand to soak up the proceedings earlier this month and we’ve prepared the following overview of some of the (well, our) highlights.
As is generally the case, audiovisual performance was the engine that propelled Elektra along, and this year served up a number of great moments. Uwe Schmidt (aka Atom™) was in top form in jamming out an extended megamix of his new album HD. Accompanied by larger than life, simple synchronized visuals, the set was a fairly perfect alignment of chic electropop and his, er, trademarked sound design, which – curiously enough – was probably the most accessible material showcased within the festival. Audio artist Jesse Osborne-Lanthier and Sabrina Ratté presented Deliquescent, a crisp collaboration that saw the latter as the analog video processing ‘respondent’ to a suite of varied, highly-textured sonic experiments – the performance was both compelling and nuanced [see a recent interview at The Creators Project where the duo discuss Deliquescent in detail].
Other performances of note: Mondkopf & Trafik’s dense, orchestral ambient set and stark eclipse-inspired graphics were mesmerizing, Keiichiro Shibuya & Takashi Ikegami’s heavy wall of noise machinations were perfectly paired with cellular automata animations, and, Nohista & Tasman Richardson’s CRT-television and Atari-console powered audiovisual synthesizer Hydra was rich, authentic and technically impressive.
Nicholas Bernier deserves special mention for his idiosyncratic frequencies (a) sound performance, which – incidentally – was awarded the Golden Nica for Digital Musics and Sound Art category of the Prix Ars Electronica yesterday. Hunched over a stroboscopic bottom lit table containing a series of mechanically triggered tuning forks, Bernier madly paced up and down up and his array of devices and made frantic acupuncture-like adjustments on the devices. It is rare that a live performance can be both precise and so gloriously messy – it is little surprise that this work has received such a significant nod, as every little detail of it feels authored.
For those not feeling bombastic concert-like performances there were a number of more contemplative installations at Elektra. Highlights included: Darsha Hewitt’s Electrocstatic Bell Choir [which we learned about at Elektra last year] which transformed the Centre des arts actuels Skol into a dreamy, tingling serenade-space, Helix, composer Jean Piché’s torqued foray into projection mapping, and, a delightful body of electronics-based projects by Sofian Audry and Samuel St-Aubin.
There is life beyond dynamic combinations of sound and image, apparently. As was the case last year, CAN made a point of taking in the International Marketplace for the Digital Arts (IMDA) event hosted by Elektra as an opportunity for networking and knowledge sharing by representatives from various international festivals, arts venues and artists. We were honoured to have been invited to present CAN and HOLO alongside key figures from within transmediale, ZKM, and a host of other great organizations. We’ll be featuring some of the practices and venues we discovered at the IMDA on CAN this summer, so stay tuned.
All in all, Elektra 2013 provided much in the way of multi-sensory nourishment. The anti/matter theme nicely threaded the programming streams together yielding many moments of genuine immersion – and that is as much as anyone can ask for when under the spell of a festival for several days. Here’s looking forward to the 15th anniversary-edition and the International Digital Arts Biennial (BIAN) next spring.