Philippe Couture - August 14, 2019

In orbit — Alain Mongeau of the MUTEK Festival: artistic risk taker

Appreciated in Québec and the rest of the world, particularly due to its offshoots in Mexico City, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Dubai, San Francisco and Tokyo, the festival directed by Alain Mongeau is a space for taking risks, where new digital aesthetics and simulating techno artistic innovations are discovered every year.


Long before “digital” became a contagious buzzword, the MUTEK Festival introduced Montrealers to the best artists in digital art and electronic sound experimentation. Its founding Director measures the progress and boosts our excitement in anticipation of the events presented at Place des Arts this year.


After 20 years of electronic music and digital art programs, how is MUTEK positioned in the current Montréal artistic landscape?


I often refer to MUTEK as the first festival entirely dedicated to digital creation in Montréal and completely formed and shaped by the mutations of this artistic universe. It still occupies this trailblazing space and plays a leading role, even though it is no longer all alone on its turf. When it was born in the 90s, it had been conceived in response to an ebullient period in sound art and digital creation, sometimes still in its fledgling stage. We had to take a phenomenon that was still only a spark and make it catch fire. The Festival has remained close to this essence, but it has also succeeded in giving these artists legitimacy. Of course, digital art is taken seriously due to the technological fervour of our time. But in the Montréal context, MUTEK still plays a leading role in proving the credibility of these artists who were marginalized or misunderstood not so long ago.


What role does such a festival play when everyone is crazy about digital and trying to appropriate its practices?


Before, we had a teaching relationship with our audience: we always had to explain how the beast was fed. Today, because digital is part of everyday life, people know the basics. This works to our advantage. But we must continue to transmit knowledge, because artists are making their art forms evolve rapidly and, in this context, MUTEK will never stop playing the role of a learned teacher who popularizes and synthesizes. My concern is to offer the public a kind of synthesis of digital creation and emerging electronic music, as if to say “look at the progress we’ve achieved”.


For example, do you consider that Evening A/Visions 3, which features the Italian collective fuse*, among others, will be a good opportunity to see different digital practices condensed into the same show?


This will be the most sophisticated and spectacular performance presented at the festival this year. Fuse* offers a combination of different types of knowhow and a cross-fertilization of several disciplines, including dance, mapping, motion capture and real-time image generation in reaction to this motion capture. All these practices are common, but this is the first time I have seen them so well integrated into such a total show.


Place des Arts is hosting two other shows labelled A/Visions. What do they have in common?


The artists brought together in this series have an appetite for the spectacular and work the relationship between sound and image, crossing these two media to invent a new language. These two evenings depend, in particular, on large screen projections and sound immersions. For example, the duo interests me due to their use of computer equipment that is truly all new, leading them into unexplored territories. The very same evening, Ryoichi Kurokawa’s performance is based on images filmed by a volume rendering camera. This is new technology still little used by artists. The next day, there will also be a performance by Loscil, a Canadian musician from Vancouver who creates ambient music combined with immersive visuals.


We will also have the pleasure of encountering Tim Hecker again, an artist the Festival has supported since the beginning of his career. What is he preparing?


An evening beyond categorization, based on an experience that is more audio than visual. Tim Hecker works with an ensemble of traditional Japanese musicians. He cross-fertilizes the ancient and the contemporary in a vibrant alchemy of sound and is able to create an almost religious listening ambience. If you will permit me to digress, I would say that this show also delights me because it expresses MUTEK’s strong friendship with Japan, where a local edition of our festival has developed in the past four years.


The 20th edition of the MUTEK Festival will be held from August 20 to 25, 2019. 

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