Punkt 07 - Kristiansand, Norway - Day One, August 29, 2007
Returning to the town of Kristiansand, Norway is more like a homecoming than a holiday (or work). That's because, unlike so many other festivals, Punkt is as much about community and relationship as it is music. It's hard to imagine a festival like Punkt taking place anywhere other than Kristiansand, situated at the southernmost tip of the country, and a strikingly beautiful place under any circumstances. Still, with the reputation of Punkt increasing every year, it is also becoming a brand of sorts, and will take place in London, England in 2008.
The coastline of Kristiansand is stunning, with modernistic homes and apartment buildings sharing space with sculptures, restaurants, shops and docks. There's a rich sense of culture, and a feeling of openness that's in direct contrast to most towns of a similar size in North America. Which makes it the ideal place for Punkt, now in its third yearthe brainchild of Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, two producer/sample/remix artists who are well-known for groundbreaking work in sonic landscaping with artists ranging from trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær to David Sylvian.
Punkt's fundamental premise is "live remix." Punkt's audience alternates between live performances in the 500-seat theatre at the town's Agder Theatre, and the 250-seat Alpha Room, where music just heard has been recorded and is presented as a remix immediately afterwards, with other musicians interacting with those remixes in real time. Technology is a key component of Punkt, but what makes it most remarkable whether it's a first encounter between Bang and British pianist Joanna MacGregor, a collaboration with the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra, trumpeter Arve Henriksen and Bang, or a performance by classical soprano group Trio Mediaevalis how organic, how integrated it all is. For anyone who doesn't believe that there's room for samplers, turntables and electronic processing in musicjazz or otherwise one trip to Punkt is all that's necessary to become a true believer.
Is Punkt a jazz festival? Not really, although improvisation and the sound of surprise is fundamental. And there are artists associated with jazz, in the broadest of terms, who perform at the festival. But with classical musicians on the same bill as singers commonly associated with traditional British folk music, the only word that can be used to describe the music heard at this festival is, indeed, Punkt. Punkt, Norwegian for point, is all about breaking down barriers, rather than erecting new ones in an expansive musical continuum that stands in defiance of simplistic categorization.
As outstanding as Punkt 06 was, Punkt 07's line-up is even more diverse, more adventurous. Many of last year's main stage performers and Norwegian stalwarts are strictly involved in Alpha Room remixes this yearMolvær, guitarist Eivind Aarset, singer Sidsel Endresen, keyboardist/producer Bugge Wesseltoft and, of course, Bang and Honoré. There's a larger contingent of non-Norwegians involved with Punkt this year, including the German Kammerflimmer Kollektief, British guitarist/soundscapist Robin Guthrie, British singer June Tabor and American trumpeter/soundscapist Jon Hassellan artist who, in many ways, set the stage for Molvær and Henriksen's experiments in expanding the sonic potential of their instruments.
Punkt is also about growth and expansion into new areas of artistic expression. Punkt Kunst is a unique and innovative collaboration with the town's Sørlandet Art Museum. Thirteen international artists all known to Punkt audiencesplus one winner of a web-based remix contesthave been commissioned to create sound sculptures inspired and in direct collaboration with a series of visual works at the museum.
Punkt Kunst opened the evening of August 29, 2007, one day prior to the main festival, which runs August 30 through September 1, providing a brief peak/listen to some of the works, which will be on display at Sørlandet throughout the festival run. With only an hour to look around prior to Jon Hassell's pre-festival performance of his experimental piece "Solid State," it became abundantly clear that much more time will be required to absorb Punkt Kunst.
Still, from a room where a collection of dolls are heard in chaotic conversation with each other to more soothing ambient landscapes, even a short look at the exhibition demonstrates, once again, how Punkt continues to reinvent what music is and can be, and how it's possible to integrate music naturally with other art forms to create something fresh and unprecedented.
While he is perhaps better-known for his reinvention of the aural possibilities of the trumpet, and for groundbreaking recordings including Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics (EG, 1979), Fourth World Vol. 2: Dream Theory in Malaya (EG, 1980) and City: Works of Fiction (Opal, 1990), Jon Hassell actually began his musical career in the company of minimalist composers like La Monte Young and Terry Riley. One of his earliest compositions, "Solid State," has been performed less than a dozen times since its inception in 1969, and with Hassell, in collaboration with Jan Bang, Punkt audiences were privileged to experience the piece.
And an experience it was. Starting abruptly with a loud, dense drone of clustered notes originally created with Moog oscillators that, while consonant, possessed nothing in the way of melody or immediately inherent rhythm or change, Hassell and Bang each used voltage-controlled filters to continually work with the sound, creating interlacing pulses, shifts in sonics around the room and harmonic variations. Programmed filtering was also taking place, so as the sound moved around them and the audience, Bang and Hassell interacted with the program and with each other. Improvisation not in the conventional sense but improvisation nonetheless, and an experience that, while too invasive to be considered ambient, was hypnotic in its own way.
The 45-minute piece was accompanied by very gradual shifts in the lighting of the room, which was largely filled with black light. The audience sat in the center of the room on the floor (with pillows provided by Punkt that featured artistic designs from the festival), with speakers in each of the hall's four corners. Bang and Hassell worked almost invisibly underneath an odd sculpture of neon tubing, the only real sign of activity being Bang's characteristic physical movement to the rhythmic pulses that emerged through the manipulation of the filters.
Ending nearly as abruptly as it began, with an almost silent coda recorded in Hassell's back yard in 1979 and the black light replaced by a soft white, Hassell then addressed the audience, providing considerable illumination about "Solid State." He described the music in visual terms, as a black page where form is created by subtracting from the full spectrum. The initial sonic blast was, in fact, a series of tones tuned in perfect fifths, so that no matter what was omitted, the resulting sound was always consonant. And as different pulses emerged, interacting with other pulses and then dissolving, the piece took on a greater arc that, while not something one might listen to outside the context of a performance like this, was ultimately involving and captivating.
With the dense layer of tones, Hassell quoted La Monte Young by describing the experience as "vertical listening" and "listening in the present tense," when there's nothing to anticipate, nor is there anything in the way of melody to move the piece along in a horizontal fashion. But by moving around the room or even moving one's head, it's possible to alter what one hearschoosing, in effect, what to hear. He also defined minimalism as one or more parameters that change while one or more others stay the same. It was a succinct but effective way to describe the works of artists including Riley, Young, Philip Glass and Steve Reich.
However, Hassell went on to explain how this kind of music is paradoxical for him, its cerebral qualities in contrast with the shape his career has taken since. The push and pull of north and south, head and heart (and body) are all factors that have driven his work, especially in his subsequent exploration of visceral rhythms with futuristic textures. While nothing like his Fourth World series, "Solid State" is, in fact, not completely out of context, despite its verging on a kind of intellectual conceit that Hassell has since rejected in pursuit of greater color and forward motion. For Punkt audiences, it was a rare opportunity to experience minimalism as it was often heard in New York City lofts in the late 1960s and early 1970s.