Elektra Festival: Raster-Noton Showcase Usine C, Montreal QC May 10

It’s not too often anymore that Montreal is privileged with cutting-edge showcases by some of the globe’s most renowned electronic minimalists, but in the past 12 months the Raster-Noton family, headed by Carsten Nicolai, Franck Bretschneider and Olaf Bender, has played Montreal twice. Their last excursion through town had the Berlin sine-wave experimenters playing an under-attended showcase at the cavernous SAT on a hot, late summer night. This time round, the ninth annual Elektra Festival made for a much better fit for the kind of audio-visual assault these guys mount. Five performances of 30 to 40 minutes each were lined up. Olaf Bender got things underway promptly with the industrial-inflected manipulations of his Byetone moniker. Frank Bretchsneider followed suit with a dark and pummelling surgical bass composition culled from his latest album, Rhythm. Then Nicolai’s Alva Noto appeared with a similar heavy bpm exercise, which is surprising given that few of his recordings have never pointed to an interest in Meat Beat Manifesto-style rhythmic structures. Though visually impressive, the three sets in quick succession did little to differentiate these very talented producers from one another. Frank Pommasl came fourth with a dubby, murky set that appeared to be confused by technical difficulties. But all doubts were cast aside for the final performance of the night when Signal (comprised of Nicolai, Bretchsneider and Bender) took the stage and offered a convincing argument for why these guys have maintained the international stature they’ve claimed for so long. This outing was a major improvement on the preceding year’s showcase, demonstrating the emphasis the crew places on working through new material in the live setting. Their compositions for this night were essentially later drafts of the work they introduced last year, and it was intriguing to see them build these aural structures in this fashion.