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by Dominique Moulon [ July 2011 ]
The last edition of Elektra was mainly focused on the visualisation of sound through performances given in Usine C. A few partner exhibition spaces, like the Darling Foundry, are associated with this Montreal event. Alain Thibault, the festival's artistic director, is also the initiator of the International Market for Digital Arts that makes it possible to discover the potential of the research laboratories grouped by Hexagram in particular.

spacerWithout any nostalgia whatsoever

Firing Squad

Tasman Richardson,
"Firing Squad", 2011.
spacer"What you see is what you hear", says Tasman Richardson when he comments on his latest performance entitled "Firing Squad". He is too young to feel any nostalgia for cathode ray tubes that surreptitiously disappeared from our daily lives. And yet it is this disappearance that is in question throughout the performance being given at Usine C. The Canadian artist has previously filmed tube television sets at the moment of being turned off. It should be recalled that electron canons when turned off, produce unique audiovisual imprints. In the image composed by the artist, there are hundreds, even thousands of screens that we hear shutting down. Tasman Richardson thus plays the percussionist with this sound and image material. Even though it is extremely composed, controlled right down to the last image, this performance seems to be entirely instinctive. The almost white noise of the tubes, which totally shut down, follow on from one to the other to the rhythm of electronic music of which they are but miniscule components. Yes, we do see what we hear disappearing.

spacerParticles that command respect


Frank Bretschneider,
"EXP", 2009,
Source Camil Scorteanu.
spacerThere are a lot of people in the big theatre, yet silence is practically instantaneous when Franck Bretschneider comes on stage. The German artist, cofounder of the label Raster Noton, is very concentrated, even though he has already played this performance entitled "EXP" around the world. If there is such a thing as minimalist electronic music, this is it. The glitch, the electronic accident that haunts audiovisual technicians, is magnified here by the image as much as it is by the volume. The incessant flow of particles is an integral part of the sounds that follow one upon the other just as frenetically. When the music stops, it is the silence we observe, via the geometric organisation of white dots. The performance begins again when the artist's entire body accompanies the surgical gesture that initiates what follows. It is futile to attempt to recognise one abstract shape before another replaces it, their representations succeeding one after the other only addressing our unconscious. The performance ends as "abruptly" as it began. The quality of the short silence that follows speaks volumes about the appreciation of an audience that has been entirely captivated.

spacerSewing Machines

Sewing Machine Orchestra

Martin Messier,
"Sewing Machine Orchestra", 2010.
spacerStill at Usine C. in the great hall and on the stage, there are eight sewing machines from the 1930's patiently awaiting their conductor. He is called Martin Messier and has enhanced them with a few electronic components. During the performance entitled "Sewing Machine Orchestra", the eight instrumentalists of the Singer brand are digitally controlled. But they also allow the Quebecois artist to play with the musical application he has conceived for this purpose. Because it is indeed music we're talking about. Repetitive, intoxicating music. The machines are systematically stopped before running off at full speed, he restrains them more than he controls them. The music of their amplified and recorded sounds, which are barely modified, is comparable to a language. It could be Morse code. The play of light follows the rhythm of the sounds. When the artist is lit up, his shadow looms large at the back of the stage and we can better appreciate his extremely precise gestures.

spacerDocilely unverifiable

The Tiller Girls

Louis-Philippe Demers, Armin Purkrabek
& Phillip Schulze,
"The Tiller Girls", 2009.
spacerThe "Tiller Girls" give a show every night. At the beginning of each of his shows, the artist / choreographer Louis-Philippe Demers warns us: the little robots conceived by the Artificial Intelligence Group of the University of Zurich that he is going to attempt to control are not badly behaved. We can gently push them away with our feet if they assail us. These "dancers" as he calls them, in reference to those John Tiller directed at the beginning of the last century, have only two articulations corresponding to hips and shoulders. But these two rotation axes are all the robots need to evoke all kinds of human or animal walks. Their movements make them wriggle, wander, stumble and get up again. The "dancers", seem very autonomous to us even though they form a group. There is something living about these metal and plastic assemblages in movement. Every once and awhile one of them dozes off and the artist has to reactivate the machine. When the spectacle ends, he counts them and seems satisfied when they're all accounted for.

spacerCollective Hysteria

Hysterical  Machines

Bill Vorn,
spacerThe International Market of Digital Arts (IMDA) is one of the essential components of the Elektra Festival. In particular, it allows producers, curators and critics from around the world to discover the research laboratories of the Universities of Concordia and UQAM. It is at Concordia that Bill Vorn keeps his "Hysterical Machines". They have eight members and like spiders are even suspended from the ceiling by threads. Equipped with sensors, they react to the presence of intruders by activating their articulated legs with the help of hydraulic jacks. The sound of the jacks associated with the metallic clicking, the lights hitting them along with those they emit, contribute to the establishment of a science fiction universe where suspense is more and more menacing. Not really autonomous and even less alive, they are nevertheless the first victims of a context that compels us to perceive them as menacing. Even the title of this installation encourages us to be wary because hysteria also frightens us, especially when it is collective, more so among humans than among the machines that we still control.

spacerProvoking Accidents

By Means of a Sigh

Jean Dubois
& Chloé Lefebvre,
"By Means of a Sigh",
spacerIt was at the UQAM within the research and creation group in media art, Interstices, that Jean Dubois and Chloé Lefebvre did the necessary tests to get the right chewing gum composition - 80% Trident + 20% Houba Bouba – adapted to the creation of bubbles. They then filmed themselves, face to face, each blowing their own bubble to the point that they join and merge so that they share the same breath. Passersby can also participate in the experience when this video is placed in an urban space. By using their cell phones, they can access the work "By Means of a Sigh". Some blow up violently, others more slowly. The third sigh, which is that of the spectator, can interrupt the exchange of the artists' shared air because holding one's breath in the microphone of a cell phone connected to the work provokes a predictable accident: the explosion of the bubble. "Call (03) 9001 5941", says the work installed in Melbourne, while ever more invasive advertisements order us to "Call Now"!

spacerChain Reactions

216 prepared dc-motors  / filler wire 1.0mm"

spacerThe Darling Foundry, a partner of the Elektra Festival, is this year presenting the sound sculpture "Cycloïd-E " of the Cod.Act duo formed by Michel and André Décosterd. The articulated arm turning horizontally around its base is impressive in its power and delicacy. It is made of metal and the circle it traces invites us to keep back because the work, with each of its rotations, defends its territory. The first tubular segment receives positive or negative impulses that the four other tubes echo like pendulums. Each segment of this instrument triggers or controls sounds that are unique to it. A music that is unpredictable even for the artists who have only edited the series of orders transmitted to the machine, is born of the exchanges of energy between the tubes of this kinetic sculpture. It seems that the robotic arm is more intelligent than autonomous when it comes close to where we are and slows. Is it looking for an entity, for someone? It then starts up again without us knowing what shape it will take or what music it will produce.

spacerFrom one festival to another


spacerAlain Thibault, the artistic director of the Elektra Festival and initiator of the IMDA encounters, is a composer of electronic music within the PurForm duo he founded with the visual artist Yan Breuleux. Soon after the end of Elektra, they gave a performance called "W_Box" in the Montreal festival, Mutek. This audiovisual creation, which exists also as an installation, appears in the form of three screens. The space of the work, whose white evokes the most extreme emptiness, is occupied by dots, lines and surfaces where everything seems to us to be in perpetual mutation, on the edge of fusion. The meshes liquefy and then evanesce. The code, or language that is at the origin of everything that we see or hear, seems entirely unstable. But there is a circular and constant force that animates this universe in full metamorphosis. Nothing escapes it, neither visual shapes nor sound objects that we strain to disassociate from one another. There is no doubt that there is a privileged place for the spectator in the centre of the work in installation, so that it can be finally complete and finished.

Written for "Digitalarti Mag" and translated by Geoffrey Finch.