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Live Reviews

Punktfest 06 - Kristiansand, Norway - Day Three, August 26, 2006

By Published: August 28, 2006
Bernhard Gunter

That fact is not lost on Bernhard Gunter. The earlier part of his career was focused on composition in the realms of Morton Feldman, Luigi Nono and Iannis Xenakis. But he's been focusing more on improvisation recently, and his performance in the main theater bore the sonic trademarks of some of his earlier works, but with a completely spontaneous aura.

Bernhard Gunter Seated on a cushion on the floor of the stage facing his rack of gear, Gunter made it clear that, like Phonophani, his intention was not to be a visual focus. With long silences sometimes separating a series of ticking pulses and subtle white noise, there was virtually no reference to melody in his meditative, almost spiritual music. Dark and deep tones sometimes emerged as his single improvised piece evolved, and one segment sounded like an altered acoustic guitar sample, but Gunter's music cannot and should not be over-analyzed. It demands, instead, to simply be experienced without necessarily searching for reference points—in other words, felt rather than heard. It's clear that this approach to sound and space resonates deeply with Gunter—and based on the action at the CD kiosk in the foyer after the show, his audience as well. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...

Nils Petter Molvaer & Helge Sten

The next main theater show was an intriguing double bill with totally unpredictable end results. Trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer teamed up with Helge Sten, one quarter of the free jazz/electronica/noise band Supersilent. But Sten—also known as Deathprod on his own projects—played guitar, rather than adopting his usual role as sonic manipulator/producer. As a result, this was a surprisingly lyrical set—albeit one that leaned toward melancholy and, perhaps, a certain desolation at times.

Listeners who know Molvaer for his more groove-laden solo efforts, like last year's er (Sula, 2005), also know that beneath the danceable rhythms he can be a richly thematic player. Here, with Sten creating a blend of textural soundscapes and some strong melodies of his own, Molvaer has never sounded more exposed or vulnerable. Beginning on his own, Molvaer breathed air into his horn, adding the occasional percussive punctuation—a motif he would return to numerous times during the first part of the performance. With the addition of Sten's atmospherics, the collective sound evoked images of open spaces in the wilderness where there is tranquility, but also the potential for unexpected turbulence.

Nils Petter Molvaer / Helge Sten

What was most surprising about their set was just how gentle Sten could be. Whether creating a low drone, over which he layered a spare melody by bowing his guitar, or building gentle chord changes, Sten proved himself even broader than those familiar with Supersilent might expect. Equally surprising was how, while Sten and Molvaer built a considerable number of ideas together, they would sometimes alternate solo voices. Molvaer would play a brief passage alone and then stop, then Sten picked up where the idea left off, developing it and passing it back again.

Space and attention to the decay of every note are things with which Molvaer's fans are familiar. Still, this seemingly unlikely teaming was ultimately a great success: Sten's gentility and Molvaer's unadulterated tone combined to create an improvisation that was revealing about both artists. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...

Sidsel Endresen & Jan Bang

When singer Sidsel Endresen performed a brief solo set on Punktfest's first evening, her atypical creation of sounds no voice was meant to make signaled a new development, allowing her to fit in with the experimental leanings of many of the festival's other artists. Her use of the voice as a true instrument has always been a given, but she's taking it to a new level.

In her improvised set with Jan Bang on day three, her odd percussive articulations and seemingly reverse-sounding utterances comprised the perfect source material for Bang to sample and manipulate. One of the defining characteristics of almost every artist at Punktfest has been a willingness to go beyond commonly held expectations of how instruments should sound, and over the years Endresen has evolved into a singer like no other.

Sidsel Endresen Remarkably, the set shifted from more outré passages—where Bang took samples of Endresen and created rhythmic patterns, over which he layered his own soundscapes and other rhythmically staggered samples of Endresen—to darkly lyrical ones. Bang's ability to walk into any musical situation cold and adapt his own increasingly personal approach to technology continues to show how samplers have evolved into legitimate musical instruments. And, as always, his complete commitment elevates every context in which he places himself.

The four-part set alternated between Endresen's unconventional vocal approach and more melodic passages featuring her equally uncommon poetry. The duo finished, as her set did on the first night, with a song from Undertow (Jazzland, 2001). There have been many fine singers at Punktfest, but Endresen really stands alone in her intrepid desire to constantly reinvent herself—still remaining inexorably linked to her past work. class="f-right s-img"> Return to Index...

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