Events, Review
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Flashing Forward at ELEKTRA 16

Diamond Version, ELEKTRA16

“Sixteen … years”, chimed a pair of dispassionate voices; in a delicious moment of unintended self-reference, a sample in Diamond Version’s industrial-infused techno track “Live Young” announced the sixteenth anniversary of ELEKTRA festival was at hand. Playing in front of a massive projection that emulated a low-res LED display, the bobbing German duo of Carsten Nicolai and Olaf Bender embodied the chic formalism that the festival has become synonymous with over its decade and a half run. Diamond Version’s set was just one of several standout moments at ELEKTRA 16, which brought together artists from across Quebec and Europe (and as far afield as Japan) to showcase cutting-edge audiovisual performance and installations May 13th to 17th in Montréal—CAN was on hand to have our retinas singed and eardrums buzzed by the ‘POST-AUDIO’-themed programming.

The highlight of this year’s edition was a showcase of projects that harnessed rotation; comprised of Martin Messier’s Projectors, Myriam Bleau’s Soft Revolvers, and Paul Prudence’s Cyclotone II, the bill surveyed a range of dynamic approaches to performance that took full advantage of Usine C’s formidable sound system. Demonstrating his penchant for devising jury-rigged noisemaking systems and exploring their musicality, Messier mic’d up a trio of projectors and then maniacally flicked them on and off to create an arhythmic phase piece. On the more ethereal end of the spectrum, Paul Prudence performed Cyclotone II, in which he orchestrated a real-time assemblage of interpenetrating cylindrical CG volumes that telescoped in and out of one another, opening and closing to a score of gentle calibration.

While both these ‘machine works’ were compelling in their own way, the boldest performance of the night (and perhaps, the festival) was Myriam Bleau’s Soft Revolvers, in which the Montréal-based artist manipulated four plexiglass tops, each outfitted with electronics and synced to distinct audio channels. Borrowing liberally from the gestural language of turntabalism and the sonic palettes of hip hop and techno, Bleau spun her way through a variety of musical scenes to convincingly delineate a dense sonic mash of chopped and screwed beats, and demented vocal samples. Given ELEKTRA 16’s thematic undercurrent was ‘beyond audio’,  the warbling immediacy of Bleau’s fusion of image and sound was not only conceptually on point but a joy to experience.

There must have been something in the air as rotation factored into the operational logic driving another strong performance. In SINN + FORM, Pierce Warnecke accompanied an improvised modular synth performance by Frank Bretschneider by applying coloured overlays to a spinning perforated electro-mechanical assembly. The resulting globular forms and punch card-esque aethetics crudely correlated to Bretschneider’s sonic squiggles and it was a delightfully messy, almost brutalist counterpoint to the rigid geometries on which several other performances hinged. Much more immaculate in its form, Quayola’s Topologies saw gentle deformations rippling across mesh geometries generated from scans of Velazquez and Tiepolo paintings. The fluttering ambient soundscape of Topologies was the polar opposite of Bretschneider’s synthesizer acrobatics and the image generation (analogue vs. digital), aesthetics (rough vs. pristine), and contexts (performance vs. contemplative gallery experience) speak volumes about the range of work encountered at the festival.

ELEKTRA 16 also marked the launch of the International Sound Art Biennale (BIAS) and one of the practices it featured was the French collective The Art of Failure. Resonant Architecture  collected explorations of architectural acoustics conducted between 2006-13 and presented this research as a documentary. Activating ‘unusual buildings’ with infra-bass and then micing materials and assemblies to record the resulting reverberations, the collective then composes sonic portraits of their source structures. Bolstered by the cavernous environs of Concordia University’s Black Box space, the film indeed lived up to its name and delivered. Yes the cinematography was Burtynsky-ish infrastructure and architecture porn, but it was the sound that was immersive, hypnotic, and even mildly nausea-inducing (which is of course the highest compliment one can pay an installation experience, right?).

Beyond the projects and performances discussed thus far, a few other works were notable:

  • Perhaps riffing on the structural symbolism of the Tripods in War of the Worlds, Cod.Act’s Nyloïd  fired up and flailed about in the basement of the MAC in a kinetic sculptural performance. While it was entertaining to watch a demented quasi-creature bash its ‘squawk box’ cranium against the floor, the fact that the sound of the unending head trauma was not cultivated as the source of the piece’s audio felt like a missed opportunity.
  • An extended interrogation of a idiosyncratic Minimoog analogue synthesize, Clinker’s Soundbursting was an amorphous breath of fresh air. Gary James Joyne’s acoustic and visual texture jockeying paired nicely with SINN + FORM, and provided a case study in exploratory live performance (especially when compared to the pair of clunky percussion-driven acts that bookended the bill on the same evening).
  • Maxime Damecour’s encased kinetic installation Temporeal seemed to excite all who saw it. Installed upstairs at Usine C (the live performance venue) the piece presented a wire/mesh form resting on a series of tiny actuators that exhibited sporadic twitchy movements. Accented by tasteful stroboscopic lighting and sound design, the piece was impeccable in both execution and simplicity.
  • We are still kicking ourselves for missing Matthew Biederman and Pierce Warnecke’s ‘performance version’ of PERSPECTION2 which makes use of orthogonal screens and directional speakers to engineer optical (and sonic) illusions—judging by the video excerpts embedded above, seeing a future iteration of this work is essential.

Outside of the considerable visual and sonic simulation ELEKTRA 16 also featured an instalment of its arts networking symposium the International Marketplace for the Digital Arts. Bringing together delegates from France, the Netherlands, Croatia, Russia, China, Mexico, Brazil, USA, and Canada, the summit allowed representatives from various arts organizations and venues to present quick synopses of their activities. Hong Kong’s Microwave festival, Eindhoven’s Baltan Laboratories, Zagreb’s Kontejner, NYC’s Bitforms—it was revelatory to hear how so many diverse organizations were programming around and through the often hazy distinctions between ‘new media’ and contemporary art. Beyond the bevy of orgs, a number of artists presented recent activities—Bill Vorn, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, and Peter Flemming’s talks were particularly engaging. CAN was invited to both cover and participate in the proceedings and we found the symposium and its related whirlwind tour of the Montréal media art gallery and research scene enlightening.

Photos by Gridspace unless otherwise noted; additional photography courtesy of Paul Prudence.