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Mutek: Considerably Human


To clarify:

is not a giant rave. Yes, there is some bad-ass lighting and visuals, and the dude dancing next to me last night made me want some of that, but, really, the festival is a whole bunch of nerds. Granted, these are quite fashionable nerds--save for the white Nikes that are still apparently huge in Europe--but I'm surrounded by people who spend an inordinate amount of time inventing ways to fuck with/give root canals to music because they're either too smart or too insane to do otherwise.

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The

, divided into very carefully curated, thematically/ideologically linked programs, does allow for some less heady bumps later in the weekend--such as Kid Koala and Modeselektor--but Thursday night skewed toward the radical. I missed the evening's first program due to the (normally negligible) language barrier and the resulting extra beers--Montreal, particularly this part, is heavily French--but made it for the 11 p.m. "Nocturne."

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The theme of the program was "modern hypnosis," and whether that was actually reached is debatable.

, making his North American debut and playing a rare live set, appeared to be rebelling against the idea with his "Never Engine" composition. Vogel is old-guard in the world of left-field/minimal techno, getting into production in the early 1990s with ears affixed to the radicalism of

and other compositional rebel warriors, while concurrently spreading his name as a dance-floor DJ.

Onstage, Vogel looked like some kind of mad alchemist, sharp features all the sharper behind a sinister moustache and glowing green computer screen. His set was a knowing tease. The piece was mostly percussion--save for one totally bizarre sample, something funk related, if cold medicine-addled memory serves--and clips of synthesizer, packed and layered tightly together into spaces small enough that it all became nearly drone. But before anything became drone, Vogel would miraculously feed a dance beat into some structural back door I could've never predicted but was never surprised by. This would lead to a bit of dancing before Vogel would turn prick at just the least opportune moment, from a dancer's perspective, and break the track down into drone or ambient--at one point, it sounded like a legit computer crash, but no--leading to more than a few bummed-out looks from the crowd. You had the sense he was getting what he wanted: confusion. But, hell, we can now say we saw Vogel live.

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, who closed the night out, was fine but not all that remarkable aside from bringing the first breakbeat of the night; big, padded thumps that made me think of home. But neither him nor Vogel had much on the evening's first performance,

, a trio of artists from Canada (though only one was visible) who worked with Martin Tentreault in a kind of meta turntablism/musique concrète. One half of the setup is a fairly standard MIDI pad and mixer, which called up rib-vibrating bass drones and, infrequently, a run of thick dance-tempo beats. It gave framework to the other half, Tetreault's handmade "turntables," two rotating spindles implanted in a lime-green platform with a hodgepodge of crude--as in, they look hand-sculpted from clay--styluses with needles that looked to be fashioned out of tiny metal springs (think of the kind you'd find in a click-pen), which put the apparatus somewhere in between what you'd find on your record player at home and a contact microphone.

The idea wasn't hard to discern. From where I was watching, his show was about the physicality of recording playback. Over three very different compositions, ranging in vibe from chilly to playful, he would swap out the platters on the turntables between a crude, stonelike block painted to look like an old-school rubber-covered platter, a tiny loony-sized platter that oddly gave up some of the more coherent noises, a naked spindle, and a record (which was a platter insofar as another record was played on top of it). Using no "records" proper and instead records covered in wallpaper or paint, he'd play off the different textures making interesting drones, hisses, and scrapes. But it became really fun when Tetreault, who I'd guess is about 60, started slamming the styluses down onto the green platform or slapping records together, à la an angry child, or slapping a record against a wagging "needle" hanging haggardly from a stylus like a little iron worm. Meanwhile, all of this is projected behind Artificiel via an automatic video-editing program that, if you were watching it and not them, manipulated the performance into a rather cool and, yes, hypnotic series of letterboxes. If nothing else, I gained a newfound respect for my own set of turntables.

This morning was a worthwhile panel on copyright vs. creativity within the bounds of remixes and sampling. I have a great deal to say about this that doesn't fit so well here, but please check back next week for some thoughts. The panel consisted of Kode 9, dubstepper extraordinaire and owner of the Hyperdub label; Jordan Wynnychuk, developer of ReLab; Larisa Mann, DJ Ripley and professional copyright thinker; and Ken Taylor, managing editor at

(disclosure: I do freelance work for said magazine). I'll leave you with this teaser, a quote from Kode 9 on artists singing with major labels and their resulting rights as an artist: "[You are] less than human. You should no longer have an equal status."

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