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Thursday, April 15,2010

Electronic Mayhem: Communikey offers interactive electronic music experience

By P.J. Nutting


Grown organically from a decade of electronic music, this week’s Communikey Festival of Electronic Arts will build cultural bridges between audiences, performers and continents with more ambition than ever before.


Electronic music is inseparable from technology, and therefore it is constantly pushed to the cutting edge. Communikey’s [CMKY] third installment will aim to reveal that ever-changing boundary by weaving diverse artists together from around the world. It is community nurturing, after all, that helps new musical movements ascend from the chatroom and enter the real world.

“Right now, scenes are developed in bedrooms through the Internet, but they can be fleeting,” says Mexican DJ and festival opener Ejival. “I see more strength in community-based initiatives like the one coming from Communikey, especially with the eco-mindset that powers it, which is something unheard of in the rest of the world.”

“This is not 2-D,” says Creative Director Kate Lesta. “This is experiential. We’re much more interested in presenting work that’s pushing our buttons and putting artists in situations that are challenging for them. That way, we can all grow together.”

Lesta is indebted to the international scene that convinced her and the CMKY team that a festival in Boulder was even possible. “[Montreal electronic music festival] MUTEK was kind of a beacon for us,” Lesta says. “When we first started, there wasn’t a lot of this happening in the region. We went to MUTEK after we had Communikey started, and it was like a light to us. We thought, ‘This could happen in North America. It’s really possible.’ They’ve been great mentors.”

“We’re fairly focused on having a continental presence,” Lesta says. “There’s such innovation and such forward-thinking movements here, but the links to the rest of the world are hard to find in this city.”

The festival also traded notes with its sister festival Dis-Patch, out of Belgrade, Serbia. CMKY will provide a launching point for Dis-Patch’s ViceVerse North American tour, and in return will adopt its innovative kids program. Developed in Belgrade in 2008 and currently spreading through Europe and the U.S., kids ages 5 to 12 can participate in Kids-Patch and experiment with visual art, animation and music tools. The program is 100 percent participatory and will culminate in a concert during the April 18 park party at Civic Plaza.

But many events are not for the little ones. Kicked off at Bombay Bistro on April 14, the festival peaks on April 17 with a New York-style rave in Denver. The brainchild of Brooklyn DJ Bryan Kasenic (aka Spinoza), The Bunker is a monthly, raw, techno dance party, and Spinoza will get a chance to show Colorado how they do it on the East Coast until the sun comes up. Transportation to Denver is provided by The Basics Fund, a safe and biofueled alternative to designated driving.

For the scientifically curious, Artificiel (Alexandre Burton and Julien Roy of Montreal) will display their newest creation — a two-foottall copper tesla coil that has been converted into an acoustic musical instrument. Their “POWEr” performance will synthesize small lightning bolts that create sound without the need for amplification; Burton and Roy are able to adjust the frequency and density of each bolt to create distinct pitches and volumes through a controller unit they created for the project. The coil is paired with a camera that will capture each bolt and visually associate it with its sound on a projector screen.

“My personal view is that it’s important to understand the instruments you’re using beyond the external interface,” Burton says. “If you’re using already-made devices, you can miss an opportunity to exploit those devices.”

Other events require audience participation. On Thursday, Lucky Dragons will show off a homemade system that alters sound through the skin contact of multiple people. By using conductive fabric sensors, they will pick up carrier signals from the circle of interlocked participants and create biofeedback that changes as participants interact and experience audio and visual representations of themselves.

On Friday, Peter Kirn of createdigitalmusic.com will host a workshop on the basics of using code to think about structure and pattern, assigning sonic and visual elements together. D Numbers will also host a free-for-all jam session, where no instrument, voice, mixing board or piece of hardware will be turned away, and participants can get hands-on experience with live signal processing. And the popular Ableton workshop is expected to be a hit once again.

“There’s such a demand for it,” Lesta says. “We did our first Ableton workshop last year, and so many people participated in it we had to close enrollment.”

For a more relaxed approach to doit-yourself audio capture, the Listen:

Head Room event will combine the field recordings of festival-goers into a reflective soundscape of the past week’s events. For the reminiscing type, it is a perfect chance to recollect the sounds and experiences of the festival.

The Future Folk concert at the Fox Theatre presents the point where tradition and innovation intersect. Ready to show that electronic music is no one’s enemy, The Books and AU will perform with help from Laura Goldhamer and Denver instrumental collective The Long Spoon. And if you can’t make it to the nightlife events, check out the daytime concert at Civic Plaza near the Dushanbe Teahouse, which is free and open to all ages.

The Communikey sustainability team has worked to set up zero-waste programs at all the venues, arrange biofueled buses and outdoor events with CU Biodiesel and The Basics Fund, secure the festival’s first free bike rental program, and collaborate with the Colorado Carbon Fund and the GreenPass programs to help offset the festival’s carbon footprint, as well as provide transportation.

It is all part of an effort to raise awareness about the electricity that makes electronic music possible.

“We’d really like to bridge the gap between art, ecology and technology,” Sustainability Director Laura Higgins says of her team. “It’s our feeling that having the fest doesn’t give us the right to waste resources. It makes perfect sense, but you might also be surprised at how many people haven’t considered that simple fact.

“How are you going to plug in? In a world where energy is as unstable as it is, if we’re facing peak oil or energy instability as a nation or a hemisphere in general, how will this subculture continue if you can’t plug in?” Higgins says.

“I’m a violinist, so I can play all night in the dark, but if they can’t turn on their computer, they just can’t play. It sparked an amazing discussion that really called me to do the work I’ve been doing for the past three years, and my team all feels very rewarded by that.”

“The ‘know-how’ generated at Communikey is what sets it apart from the rest of electronic music festivals around the world,” Ejival says. “Communikey is creating a paradigm in how electronic music festivals should be from now on.”

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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