Punkt 07 - Kristiansand, Norway - Day Three, August 31, 2007
Since emerging with the remarkable debut, Words of the Angel (ECM, 2001), the Norwegian Trio Mediæval has carved a unique path through classical vocal repertoire, first with early music and then more contemporary fare on Soir, dit-elle (ECM, 2004), where the three sopranos tackled music by composers including Gavin Bryars, Ivan Moody and Andrew Smith. Stella Maris (ECM, 2005) was a mixed program for the trio of Anna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Torunn Østrem Ossum.
For the trio's Punkt debut, it previewed some of the music from its forthcoming album, Folk Songs (ECM, 2007), which focuses on Norwegian folk material. But while it's a new musical direction for the trio, the near-telepathic connection between the three singers remains definitive and is reflective of a personal style that's independent of the century or country from which the music comes.
Hearing Friman, Fuglseth and Ossum on record is stunning; watching them live reveals just how deep the connection between them is. Not only do they manage to cue each other with the subtlest of visuals; they have the uncanny ability to pass a melody between themselves, like a tag team, with whoever is passing the melody shifting to an accompaniment role so seamlessly that, unless you're watching, you might miss it entirely.
l:r: Linn Andrea Fuglseth, Torunn Østrem Ossum, Anna Maria Friman
That's not to say each singer doesn't have a distinctive voice, which became evidentnot only on the occasions where one vocalist took a clear leadbut in the way they were mixed, positioning them in the soundscape so that it was possible to synchronize the voices with their physical positions on stage. When Trio Mediæval sings together, the sound is so unified that they can speak with a single voice while, at the same time, often creating a sound that implies more than a trio. Every voice is so pure, so clear and unaffected, that it's no wonder they've become critically acclaimed and well-received by audiences around the world. Overnight successes are rare in the classical world, but if there's an exception, it's Trio Mediæval, and rightly so.
The performance was advertised as having special guests, but it wasn't until halfway through the set that Jan Bang came onstagehis table of electronic gear draped in white cloth and, when bathed in the black light that shone on it, in soft contrast to the trio's position out front. The more musical situations in which Bang is heard, the clearer it becomes just how big his ears are. Far from treating every situation the same way, Bang's sampling of the trio demonstrated just how sensitive he is to every context. His live sampling was more subtle, although he did, at points, loop the trio to create an even richer complexion. Low drones and faint pulses were beautifully integrated, making even the most electronic of sounds feel organic and connected to the trio.
The trio's second guest was trumpeter Arve Henriksen, whose own falsetto voice was, remarkably, in the same range as the trio's. But before he sang in the trio's finale, his shakuhachi-like trumpet added yet another texture, further expanding the horizons for the trio. That this trioconsidered by many to be entrenched in the classical arenais capable of adapting to sounds and technology far removed from that sphere is a testament to its flexibility, and a clear indicator that its already broad repertoire is but a hint of things to come.
The dissolution of musical barriers may be de rigueur for Punkt, but the incredible beauty of Trio Mediæval's performance and its defiance of easy pigeonholing will no doubt make it a highlight of the 2007 festival.
With the latitude allowed by Punkt's live remix concept, there's always the risk of tarnishing the source material by overworking it. For the live remix of Trio Mediæval's show, Punkt co-founder Erik Honoré took its flawless performance as a foundation, alongside an Alfred Schnittke requiem and subtle but effective sound samples, to build a musical landscape for Kristiansand author Nils Chr. Moe-Repstad's poetry reading. The subject matter was decidedly dark, referencing World War II atrocities, and placed Trio Mediæval's purity in seemingly conceptual contrast with the bleakness of Moe-Reptad's spoken words. Yet, when everything came together, it all made surprising sense.
l:r: Nils Chr. Moe-Repstad / Erik Honoré
The sparseness of Honoré's soundscape, and the way in which he buried Trio Mediæval amongst the other sound sources, felt somehow of a kind with Gavin Byrars' The Sinking of the Titanic (Point, 1995). But Moe-Reptad's deliverysometimes the barest of whispers, other times considerably more forceful took the remix to a different space where the same line, delivered with different emphasis, took on altered significance.
The remix was another example of Punkt's determination to see various forms of artistic expressionmusic, verse, visual and moreintegrated in new and innovative ways.