Open your mind, and prepare to expect a lot more than bright lights and thumping beats… Visuals that are integral parts of the musical narrative, playful mixing and matching of the digital, analog, words, movement, lights, sounds, performances in which audio tracks are deconstructed, ripped into pieces only to be played with and reconstructed live, and where every object that makes a sound is a potential instrument…

Embracing technology for artistic production has changed the cultural scene in ways that cannot be digitally represented. Artistic expression comes in many forms, and the technology-dependent creation process has also given rise to its opposite – the human element that feeds on the magic of the synergy, leading to elusive, ephemeral, fleeting moments that make up a unique, fiercely human experience. Bound by time and space, and impossible to duplicate, replicate, copy, upload, download or stream…

MUTEK, a non-profit organization originated in Montreal, Canada 14 years ago, is a silent, modest hero for the constantly evolving, developing and discovering arts and artists. Increasingly integrating more art forms, and more parts of the world, it provides a prestigious platform for pioneers in digital and artistic creativity.

Barcelona is hosting the fifth MUTEK [ES] festival, from 5-8 March, 2014, with an eclectic line-up of international and local artists that represent a wide spectrum of digital arts, and all together spell out the soon-to-be-present future of the arts and the artists.

The artists, as diverse as they are in every sense, do have a core value in common: their focus an authentic, boundary-pushing live performances. [Even the non-human festival participant, music production software Ableton Live is famous for its live performance capabilities.]

MUTEK festival’s programming has always had a very strong mandate in presenting live performance, be it related to sound, music or audiovisual performance,” says Alberto Nerone, the director of MUTEK [ES], and adds: “It is interesting for this edition that one of the most recognized artists on the bill is actually a classical pianist, Nils Frahm, who opens wider discussion on the use of technology with classical instruments, connecting people from different backgrounds and musical scenes.”

Nils Frahm, whose improvisational style specifically aims to generate raw emotion and unique experiences, joins a group of internationally renowned artists such as Andy Stott, Laurel Halo, Deadbeat, Kode9, Scratcha DVA, Marcel Dettmann, along with Barcelona’s very own Wooky, whose recent-release Montjuïc is already considered a world-class IDM album, as well as Nev.era, beGun, Microfeel, Shelby Grey, and local club residents DJ Fra, Gus & Omar Leon.

As the wild success of MUTEK_IMG that recently debuted in Montreal has further proven, audiovisual shows or other interactive performances do not necessarily need to have a musical backbone to attract and hold attention, impress or mesmerize the participants.

1024 Architecture, a French collective, combines elements from theater, lighting, visuals, sound, architecture, high and low tech for their expressionist show Crise with a concept rooted in today’s sociopolitical landscape.

Spanish artist _blank´s self-proclaimed obsession with the sound-image relationship culminates in a live performance that involves listening to images and watching sounds. Her multilayered exercise based on straightforward conversion from one format to another, the experience of watching exactly what you are hearing and vice versa is the purest form of (digital) synesthesia. Despite the automatic audio generation process, “I wouldn’t say that there’s no artistic manipulation at all,” says _blank, “because there’s always a manipulation, or some conscious decisions.”

_blank’s work, with its curious background story that is essential to understanding the artwork, emphasizes another feature of the events: the artist-participant interaction. Nerone refers to this interaction as an “essential factor in the festival experience,” and encourages audience participation in daily dialogues with the artists and the professionals, saying: “The interaction is an important process for both sides, as artists are many times positively influenced by the dialogue generated with their audiences.” 

MUTEK boasts an ever-expanding international network, and Barcelona can be the poster child for an optimistic view of the future. Despite the crisis that has crippled the cultural sector, Barcelona has been on a rising trend in its reputation as a hub for innovative, alternative art, reinforced by the recurrent success of not only big, well-known festivals like Primavera Sound and Sónar, but also more specialized, innovative events such as the MIRA Festival, MUTEK [ES], even leading to the emergence of brand new electronic, avant-garde events such as the Lapsus Festival.

“Barcelona is one of Europe´s capitals in avant-garde art with youth from all over the world living in the city,” says Nerone; “the digital arts scene is very fertile and there are many associations and centers pushing the limits in technological innovation;” thus crediting two essential resources of non-material wealth that time and again have prevailed over any and every circumstantial hardship: cultural heritage and human capital. And if there is one advantage to involuntary unemployment, it is the opportunity it affords to focus on non-lucrative, creative, artistic pursuits. It would, then, be fair to conclude that the city has stumbled upon a magic formula to convert a dire shortage in financial resources into an abundance of cultural wealth…