Monolake MUTEK, Montreal QC, August 20

Monolake MUTEK, Montreal QC, August 20
Photo: Vivien Gaumand
Staged in a posh custom-built pyramid, Berliner Robert Henke's Monolake opened MUTEK's 20th anniversary with the kind of ambitious multisensory experience most large festivals could only dream of.
Walking into the structure's darkened interior from the city's still daylit Old Port for the first of the night's two performances was immediately disorienting, a haze of fog barely illuminated by a bar in each corner, fellow audience members just shadows of themselves while a faint drone cycled ambiently in the background.
Joined by an assistant, Henke eventually took his position behind a console of electronics somewhere on the dance floor's periphery, and stirred the drone to an electric purr while sending beams of light searching across the pyramid. Then they disappeared while a square of lights scanned the shrinking perimeter of the pyramid in an ascending motion before it was just stars, the shape of the structure all but erased.
In more booming percussive moments, clouds of light strobed around like storm clouds, some audience members laying on their backs to watch it all roll in. Eventually, a series of light tubes descended from the ceiling like a chandelier, and visuals continued to progress with impressive hypnotism, code and light dancing everywhere around you to Monolake's serene atmospheric pulse.
Playing with perception to inspiring effect, it was an impressive feat that consumed your attention and rewarded your curiosity, and as the fest's opening performance, it helped satisfy and reinforce the kinds of expectations you heap on a festival celebrating its 20th anniversary, but the whole spectacle felt planted more in the visual experience, walls as ceiling, the light show happening above weighing the audience to the floor like so much gravity while attempting to send them to the stars.