Montreal - Luke Peril has come here for the music. The 20-something musician is getting ready to perform at Placard, a festival within a festival at Mutek, Montreal's international festival of experimental electronic sounds.
"I have a few loops made in advance," says Peril. "And I'm just gonna play a few effects on the spot, and equalization. Anything more and it gets a bit heady."
Fans of electronic music, from the rave and house to the more progressive scenes, normally experience it in blasts and throbs from deafening speakers. At Placard, however, while everyone is listening, the outsider doesn't hear a sound.
The Montreal concert takes place inside a cavernous building where an audience of about two dozen sprawl on gym mats, plugged into clunky black headphones wired up to central hubs. Spotlights cast a dim blue glow over the scene, creating an underwater ambience.
At the front of this crowd, a couple of musicians fiddle with laptops and mixers. They're also wearing headphones. All you can hear is the creak of mats and the occasional snore. That is, until you slip on headphones yourself.
Eric Minkkinen, an American who has lived in France most of his life, founded the headphone music festival nine years ago out of his apartment. He's skittish, with a nervous smile and the barest hint of a moustache that makes him appear sketchier than he actually is.
"It's always been such a precise kind of congregation," says Minkkinen. "You're not attending a concert any more, you're congregating at a concert. You're so involved in the music, and sharing this with other people."
What's being shared is entirely up to the performers. During my first session, I get immersed in an ambient soundscape filled with tones, drones and static. My breathing slows down, matching the rise and fall of the noise.
The electroacoustic scene is normally too progressive for my taste, but this has a heaviness that sinks through my head that's somehow both relaxing and unsettling at the same time.
In Montreal, Placard takes place in the SAT ( Société des Arts Technologiques) , a venue just south of one of St. Catherine's seedier strips, although theoretically it could be anywhere. As Minkkinen explains, Placard is more than just a festival; it's actually a floating democratic concept that moves from city to city as people agree to host it.
The hosts decide how many artists will play at their session, who to invite and how long they'll play for. This year Placard will roam for five months, going from Montreal to Paris, Nice and Basel (and back to Montreal August 12), but theoretically it could show up anywhere that someone decides to put one up.
Not only can it be anywhere, but a major component of the festival is that you can hear it anywhere, too, through live streaming on the Net. Potential headphone listeners just have to log into the main site (www.leplacard.org) to hear the same live sound experiments as those on the mats.
A few years ago in Berlin they tried using wireless headphones, but abandoned the idea after too many listeners left with the phones still on. But the wires play more than just a practical role in the running of Placard.
"You're kind of poetically hooked up in a net," says Minkkinen, "or all tied up, and after a couple of hours the headphones are all tangled up together."
In between sessions, I get talking to David McCallum, an editor at Musicworks, a Canadian journal of experimental sounds. He's got his own theories about Placard's origins.
"I see it as a product of having to listen to music in apartments in dense urban areas where you can't have loud music," says McCallum, "But I also think it makes sense in terms of personalizing music listening, in terms of iPods and all that. Because listening to headphones is a much different experience, a much more internal experience, but also because headphones are really so isolating. So it's interesting to take something that is so isolating and make it a communal event."
It is strange to share a crystal-clear sound while lying around with complete strangers - it's like some form of group telepathy. Watching from the sidelines, I'm caught off guard when the slumbering crowd erupts into applause all at the same time.
"Intimacy for me is the question," says Minkkinen. "It's the point between the musician and the audience. Then you can talk about the performance. You're listening to everyone who is playing around you. And either you like the intimacy you're having with it or you don't. And if you don't like it, you can just take the headphones off and go. And that's the essential point."
If you want to hear for yourself or even host your own Placard, the 2006 festival runs online until October 21.