MUTEK: 20 YEARS OF DIGITAL CREATIVITY
August 19, 2019
Main text of post
In its first two decades, MUTEK grew to become one of the world’s premier electronic music and digital art festivals. From mind-bending electronic music to spectacular audio-visual performances, computer-assisted creation will take many different forms in the Quartier des Spectacles from August 20 to 25.
Get ready for free late-afternoon performances every day on the Place des Arts Esplanade, as well as electro-digital explorations and music-filled evenings at a variety of venues, including MTelus, the Society for Arts and Technology (SAT), and Théâtre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts.
We spoke with the festival’s executive and artistic director, Alain Mongeau, and its head of strategic development, Katharina Meissner.
WHAT WERE THE FESTIVAL’S WATERSHED MOMENTS OVER THE LAST 20 YEARS?
Katharina Meissner (KM) : When the festival started in the early 2000s, its ambition was to showcase new artistic practices – digital art and electronic music – that were still largely unknown to the public. One of the major changes in MUTEK’s trajectory came with the addition of free public performances, about 10 years ago – that’s when we branched out from dark theatres and nighttime-only activities. We were the first to do texture mapping on Montreal buildings, for example. After a first memorable show in Place des Festivals in 2010 with the Señor Coconut concert, the outdoor stage for our Expérience series, presented for free in the heart of the Quartier des Spectacles, gradually gained more prominence in our programming. All of this helped us break out of our niche audience of enthusiasts and bring the artists’ work to more people.
WHERE DOES THE MONTREAL FESTIVAL STAND RELATIVE TO ITS GLOBAL PEERS IN ELECTRONIC MUSIC AND DIGITAL ART?
Alain Mongeau (AM) : In the beginning, there were only a handful of festivals like ours in the world, for example in Barcelona and Detroit. Now, there must be ten every weekend! Our strong suit and distinguishing feature is the quality of our artists and the work we put into promoting them, while helping local and international artists connect with each other. We’ve developed a unique signature, making MUTEK a global standard bearer. And nearly half of our audience members are foreign visitors.
It’s similar in other places, with MUTEK’s international editions. MUTEK has events in six other cities: Mexico City, Barcelona, Tokyo, Dubai, Buenos Aires and San Francisco. To take the example of Mexico City, the festival has been there for 15 years now. It is perfectly integrated with the local scene and serves as a catalyst. MUTEK builds bridges between Montreal and these other cities, so our international network benefits our local artists, companies and organizers.
WHY WAS IT IMPORTANT TO INCLUDE THE FESTIVAL’S PROFESSIONAL SECTION, FORUM IMG, THIS YEAR?
AM : We’ve always had daytime activities and talks during the festival, but they were often focused on things related to the artists performing at night. Around five years ago, we started developing a three-day event in the springtime, MUTEK_IMG, where we could get into broader, less structured explorations of digital art. This year we decided to rename and shift Forum IMG to coincide with MUTEK, and amplify the festival. The professional section involves a great deal research and content-structure work, with nearly 100 participants invited. It adds a more discursive, more forward-looking dimension, often related to ethics and criticism, for example. There’s also a networking element, with massive numbers of meetings between local and international artists and professionals.
WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT THE FESTIVAL’S 20TH ANNIVERSARY PROGRAM?
AM : For me, the strong association of the festival with different venues in the Quartier des Spectacles is special for MUTEK every year, and that goes for this year as well. The festival’s headquarters are in the new 7 Doigts de la main building on Saint-Laurent Blvd. We have four spectacular nights at Place des Arts for the A/Visions section, as well as the 5 nights of our free outdoor section, Expérience. We’re also returning to the Musée d'art contemporain (MAC). This year’s program and organization have all sorts of nods to the past, telling the story of the first 20 years and setting the scene for the next 20.
KM : This year, with the integration of Forum IMG with the festival, we’ll also hold our first-ever exhibition of interactive installations the SAT and in the Espace culturel Georges-Émile Lapalme in Place des Arts. And we’ll be back at the MAC, as Alain mentioned, with one of the biggest installation projects in the festival’s history, The Hexadome, an array of 6 screens and 52 loudspeakers for which 10 immersive works have been custom-made.
AM : We’ll also be venturing into the PY1 Pyramid in the Old Port for our opening night, with an immersive audio experience by Berlin-based artist Monolake. This reflects MUTEK’s continued interest in working with new partners, and that’s also why we’re happy to be in the 7 doigts studio. Last but not least, we have plenty of all-new content – out of 90 performances, at least half are premieres, whether world, North American or Canadian.
August 20 to 25, 2019