Punkt 07 - Kristiansand, Norway - Day Four, September 1, 2007
Despite its relatively small size, Punkt is a festival that always thinks big. The best sound and lighting people in the country are enlistedresulting in always superb sound and set/lighting designs that, rather than being created for the venue and remaining constant, change, often significantly, from performance to performance. Every year there's something new, like the Punkt Magasin, which is more than just a program: it's a large-sized publication that, in addition to outstanding photos from Punkt 06, has articles by and/or about many of the artists performing at the festival. And, of course, there's the multimedia Punkt Kunst, at the Sørlandet Art Museum, as well as a greater number of seminars/lectures on a wealth of topics, ranging from intellectual property to audio/visual readings and the discussion of juxtaposition of disparate styles in performance. All organized and run with incredible efficiency by the festival staff.
Other festivals could do well to learn more about Punkt's purposeful artistic vision and ability to execute it almost flawlessly.
But all good things must come to an end, and the final day of Punkt 07 had more than just a series of fine performances and live remixes: it actually managed to tie its own artistic precedents with current younger artists who have evolved from and expanded upon them.
- Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra/Arve Henriksen/Jan Bang: Crossing Images
- Crossing Images Live Remix: Bugge Wesseltoft/Michiyo Yagi
- David Toop
- Charles/Grydeland/Wallumrød/Zach Live Remix: David Toop/Arve Henriksen/Jan Bang/ Erik Honoré
- Robin Guthrie
- Friedman/ Liebezeit/Chisolm
- Friedman/ Liebezeit/Chisolm Live Remix: Jon Hassell/Eivind Aarset/Jan Bang/Erik Honoré/ Arve Henriksen
- Festival Wrap-Up
One of Punkt 06's most ambitious performances, in terms of scope, was WARP (WAgner Reloaded Project), which brought together a string orchestra, four samplers, a turntablist, guitarist, bassist, drummer and pianist/keyboardist for a forward- thinking look at the epic-scale, "multimedia" music of late nineteenth-century classical composer Richard Wagner. Punkt 07 took the concept a step further with Crossing Images, a composition by new music composer Peter Tornquist that creates an innovative interaction between a chamber symphony orchestra and two improvising musiciansArve Henriksen and Punkt co-founder Jan Bang. Using real quotes from Henriksen's music, Tornquist has created a score that's fluid, in its own way responsive to and interacting with Henriksen's trumpet and Bang's live sampling and electronics.
Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra with Arve Henriksen (far left), Jan Bang (far right)
It was a remarkable performance, during composed structures, very much in the most abstract contemporary classical sphere, cued and were cued by Henriksen and Bang. There were periods when the small orchestra, conducted by Ingar Bergby, stood alone, as there were points at which the orchestra held back and left the stage to Henriksen and Bang, who have worked together for so long now that they communicate at the deepest of levels. Neither Bang nor Henriksen was using notated scores, suggesting the contribution of each to the performance was entirely improvisational, with Henriksen's wealth of textures ranging from his well- known shakuhachi-like tone to a rarer, more recognizable and brassy sound.
While Bang contributed his share of unusual electronic textures, it was his ever-present ability to play his equipment with the same kind of intuitive and symbiotic knowledge that one hears from artists who play more "conventional" instrumentscreating subtle pulses, loops and sonic washes that was yet another demonstration of the ability to integrate music organically with technology, regardless of context.
At times, if listeners closed their eyes, it was impossible to know what was live and what was sampled. At one point Bang sampled the entire orchestra, processed it and fed it back with a rhythmic pulse. Henriksen, playing themes that those familiar with his work would recognize from his recordings for Rune Grammofon, including Chiaroscuro (2004) and Strjon (2007), continues to redefine what is possible with his instrument. Together with the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra, Henriksen and Bang revised the potential for the nexus of detailed form and the greatest of freedom: real- time improvisation where the orchestral music may have been scored but was nevertheless an equal extemporaneous partner, as its movement through the score and pace were spontaneous events consonant with the freedom enjoyed by Henriksen and Bang.
As imaginative as Crossing Images was, Norwegian keyboardist/soundscapist Bugge Wesseltoft and Japanese koto player Michiyo Yagi (who gave an outstanding solo performance on the first day of programming) delivered a live remix that, rather than using the source material in a more literal sense, took it as inspiration for one of the more emotionally intense and cathartic remixes of Punkt 07.
Wesseltoft began on an upright piano, creating spare but angular lines that were quickly taken up by Yagi, on the 21-string koto. While her solo performance was largely informed by tradition, it was in her duet with Wesseltoft that both her and the pianist's remarkable improvisational skills and keen intuition were at their most accomplished, communicative levels. Yagi plucked, strummed, bowed and struck the descendent of the Chinese zither. She used a drumstick both to hit the strings and as a slide that created ascension and descension while she at the same time vigorously strummed the strings.
l:r Michiyo Yagi, Bugge Wesseltoft
As Yagi began to develop strong rhythms, Wesseltoft introduced electronics to the mix, with dense and, at times, disruptive textures. But it was the way that the two synchronously evolved rhythmic patterns and responded to dynamic shifts that made this challenging yet undeniably captivating remix so successful. When Yagi moved to the remarkable bass koto half-way through, it only added to the density of the sometimes near-anarchistic performance, and took the tension to an even greater level. For a first meeting, Wesseltoft and Yagi proved that, with open ears and minds, anything is truly possible in the world of sound.
David Toop, a British artist who is as well-known for his literature as his music, delivered a performance that made clear how any sounds, even those one least expects, can be musical in the proper context. Toop has collaborated with other artists who experiment in the broader possibilities of sound manipulation, including Brian Eno and Bill Laswell. His performance at Punkt was a hypnotic ambient experience that was virtually transcendent in its ability to transport the listener to a slowly but, nevertheless, shifting landscape.
Toop opened the performance on a wooden flute that created an organic context from which his computer- generated sounds could evolve. While there was the occasional pulse, the music was largely static, more about texture and color than melody and rhythm. Still, despite the combination of odd electronic tones, found sounds and ethnic samplesand the use of space as an equal partnerToop created a spare but lengthy arc. It may not have had a strictly defined beginning, middle and end, but with its calm expanse and the lulling images and lighting, it was a different kind of improvisation that made for a relaxed and subdued contrast to the more assertive remix that preceded it.
The collective improvisation by clarinetist Xavier Charles, guitarist Ivar Grydeland, percussionist Ingar Zach and pianist Christian Wallumrød was, for the most part, equally ethereal compared to David Toop's music, but was an all-acoustic affair, nevertheless exploring the greater possibilities of every instrument.
Charles used multiphonics and circular breathing to create, at times, near-infinite patterns and unexpectedly whispery textures. Wallumrød, known to ECM fans for his recordings as a leader including The Zoo Is Far (2007), spent nearly as much time inside the piano as he did on the keyboard creating everything from dense clusters and jagged repetition to more idiosyncratic melodies.
Grydeland, along with Zach a member of Huntsville, who gave a fine performance earlier in the festival, used a prepared guitar with clips on the strings, and also applied an ebow (a device that, essentially, has a tape recorder head that causes the adjacent string to vibrate endlessly) to create a strange almost bell-like sound. On banjo he spent most of the time playing it with a small bow. Curiously, it was Wallumrød, in fact, whose piano preparation at one point sounded more like a banjo than Grydeland's instrument.
Zach used a most unconventional percussion setup, with a huge drum as the foundation, surrounded by various bells and bowls. He explored the deep sound of the large drum in a number of different ways, rubbing the skin, pounding it with his hand and, at one point, vibrating a drumstick that was perpendicular to the drum.
Both Wallumrød and Grydeland had harmoniums and, towards the end of the performance, used them to create a dense and often dissonant yet surprisingly attractive sound. While the entirely improvised set could seem, at times, unfocused and lacking in direction, by the time it reached its conclusion it was clear that, while there was likely no predetermined direction, the quartet knew how to evolve through interplay. It was a challenging set that was oftentimes more akin to new music than the kind of improvisation associated with more conventional jazz. Like Toop, there was no specific melodic, harmonic or rhythmic movement, yet it did possess an undeniable narrative, and was further evidence of the open-minded approach so many Norwegian artists have to expanding the sonic potential of more conventional musical instruments.
Like the earlier remix by Bugge Wesseltoft and Michiyo Yagi, the live remix of the Charles/Grydeland/ Wallumrød/Zach performance was less literal, and more in spirit. Beginning with Toop on flute and Henriksen alternating light vocal with occasional strong blasts of sound, the music manifested the gradual emergence of a defined pulse. As abstract as the source performance was, Toop, Henriksen, Bang and Honoré were no less so, but the sound they created was, for the most part, lighter and more atmospheric.
Watching Bang perform is nearly as interesting and entertaining as experiencing the music he makes. Very physically involved, he makes it easy to hear what he's doing, even when the sounds are far away from the norm. He moves to a sometimes invisible groove that occasionally staggers, his body movements reflecting the same stop-and-start. He may be playing electronic equipment that defies more reductionist characterization, but it's clearly an extension of his own body.
l:r Jan Bang, Arve Henriksen, David Toop, Erik Honoré
In contrast to Bang, Honoré's body is more static, but the slight grin that's always on his face when things begin to really coalesce, says just as much. Bang and Honoré have been playing together since their teens, and there's an uncanny and unspoken simpatico that makes them always intriguing collaborators.
One of the most interesting aspects of Punkt is the philosophy that virtually anything can be a musical instrument. Leaving trumpet and voice aside, Henriksen spent the large part of the remix's second half using a large metal dinner plate as a percussion instrument, although he ultimately returned to his trumpet, but with a reed mouthpiece in place of the normal one, creating a deeper tone. Henriksen, along with artists including Trygve Seim, have been experimenting with the use of different mouthpieces on conventional brass instrumentsjust one more area of exploration that defines the large and vibrant Norwegian music scene.
While the performances in the theatre have been no less imaginative, it's in the Alpha Room and the live remixes where there's an incredibly consistent sense of discovery, and a sound of surprise that's often as astonishing to the artists making the music as it is to the audience privileged enough to hear it.
British guitarist Robin Guthrie, the primary motivator for the ambient pop band Cocteau Twins, has developed a sound that can only be called celestial. With programs, loops and processing, he's transformed his instrument into something that, while still loosely related to a guitar sound, is much more. It's a huge, theatre-filling sound that's as much ambient wash as it is chord movement and melody.
And while some artists' exploration of ambient territory is static and more about texture, Guthrie is, beneath the expansive and cinematic soundscape, still a songwriter at heart. He writes ambient compositions that reveal form and, in some cases, programmed rhythms. It's no surprise, then, that he's collaborated regularly over the years with ambient composer/pianist Harold Budd, their most recent work being two simultaneous and conceptually parallel releasesAfter the Night Falls and Before the Day Breaks (Darla Records, 2007).
Guthrie's Punkt performance was a multi-media affair, with images projecting on a screen behind him on stage as well as the two side walls of the theatre. Unlike many of the performances at Punkt, Guthrie dealt in discrete compositions, many of them relatively brief. But, as has been the case with many of Punkt's shows, the overall effect was one of a longer story, where Guthrie's ethereal washes, occasional beats and shifting images were evocative of a sometimes melancholy, but always arrestingly beautiful soundtrack to the mind's eye.
It was easy to think of Guthrie's sonic approach as somewhat similar and consistent throughout the performance, but closer listening revealed a multiplicity of more nuanced timbres. And while it is true that Guthrie has a deeply personal sound that occupies a very specific space, it's also true that nobody suggests that the sound of a piano is "samey," so why should Guthrie's carefully honed sonic landscape be considered any different? Guthrie has, in fact, taken the guitar and transformed it into an entirely new, largely different instrument. If an instantly recognizable sound is one earmark of a successful musician, then Guthrie's performance and career have been an unequivocal achievement.
German keyboardist/electronic manipulator Burnt Friedman first emerged as a creative ambient/electronica artist in the late 1990s but is perhaps best known for his work with David Sylvian in the Nine Horses band, first heard on Snowbound Sorrow (Samadhi Sound, 2005). For his first appearance at Punktand the final theatre performance of the 2007 festivalhe enlisted the legendary drummer Jaki Liebezeit, of the proto-Kraut rock group Can, and saxophonist/clarinetist Hayden Chisholm, who works in the same sphere of artists and has appeared on Friedman's Can't Cool (Nonplace, 2003) as well as the Friedman/Liebezeit collaboration Secret Rhythms, Vol. 2, in addition to the Nine Horses project.
With one of the most stunning backdrops of the festival, the trio played music that, in its programmatic and repetitive nature, bore some conceptual resemblance to pianist Nik Bärtsch's Stoa (ECM, 2006). But whereas Bärtsch's self-described "ritual groove music" or "Zen funk" is largely acoustic, Friedman is all about electronic tones and processed sound. Still, with Friedman creating visceral grooves on an unconventional drum kit and Chisholm adding his own form of expanded minimalism, the trio made music that was both engaging and trance-inducing.
l:r Jaki Liebezeit / Burnt Friedman / Hayden Chisholm
There wasn't a weak link in the group, but it was difficult, despite the seductive images and vivid lighting, to take one's eyes away from Liebezeit. Creating complex rhythms, often in irregular meters, the tone of his kit was unique (no bass drum, but a very deep and resonant floor tom), and his approach to evolving ideas, not to mention the place he ended up at by a song's completion, was different from where he began yet somehow seeming inevitable.
Friedman's control of sound, melody and pulse made him a perfect act to close the theatre program. From delicate electronic blips to near-metal guitar tones, like Liebezeit he found ways to develop what was often a simple premise for as long as ten minutes in ways that were both hypnotic and demanding close attention. Chisholm, rather than being any kind of soloist, meshed both sonically and thematically with Friedman, the two often piggy-backing on each other's tone to create a richer whole. There were no changes to speak of, yet there was always a gradual sense of unfolding that kept things interesting throughout.
In many ways the final live remix of Punkt 07 had the feeling of a torch being passed. While there's still plenty of music left in Jon Hassell, his influence on the cadre of Norwegian musicians (amongst others) who have been mainstays at Punkt since its inception has always been undeniable; but to see him playing with guitarist Eivind Aarset, samplers/processors/Punkt co-founders Jan Bang and Erik Honoré and, in particular, trumpeter Arve Henriksen, was a deeply moving and profound experience.
Hassell, who opened up the Punkt pre-show with a rare performance of his 1969 minimalist piece "Solid State," had a lip problem that made it extremely difficult to play his trumpet. Still, from the first notes Hassell's tone remained intact. He may not have been able to go for the high notes, but it was an opportunity to hear, in the flesh, an artist who, with his concept of Fourth World Music and the man responsible for 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), literally reshaped the musical landscape of the past 35 years.
Like many of the remixes of the evening, the group used very little of the actual source material from the Friedman/Liebezeit/Chisolm show. Instead, a deep, dark and slow jungle groove powered most of the set, with Aarset creating spare harmonic accompaniment through a mix of guitaristic and more abstract sounds. Sensuous at a nearly subconscious level, Hassell adjusted for his situation with spare, low register melodies before calling Henriksen to the stage. And that was where the real magic began.
Hassell's influence on Henriksen is inescapable, but the Norwegian trumpeter has long since found his own voice and become one of the most imaginative and forward-thinking musicians, not just of the Norwegian scene, but of his generation. When Henriksen played, there was clearly evident a reverence toward Hassell, but when the two played togethersounding as if they were truly a single mind, speaking with a single voiceit was a rare and deeply moving experience.
The remix was over all too soon, but it was not just the perfect closer to Punkt 07, it was one of those performances that will be remembered no matter how long Punkt continues to exist (which, hopefully, will be a very long time).
Hard though it is to imagine, Punkt 07 represented a number of significant steps forward for the festival. With a more varied and international roster of artists, it's become an even richer laboratory for first encounters and a wealth of new ideas. The visual arts and music collaborations of Punkt Kunst took the festival's philosophy of bringing together different art forms to a new level. The Punkt Magasin is more than just a memento for those attending a festival: it's a work of art in itself, designed by Alf Solbaken and including vivid images from the 2006 festival; an excerpt from Jon Hassell's forthcoming book, The North and South of You; an article by BBC Radio 3's Fiona Talkington about June Tabor and Quercus; a piece on Kammerflimmer Kollektief by German radio host Michael Engelbrecht; an essay by Davis Toop, and much more. With the addition of shows at local club Kick, a focus on emerging artists with Punkt Elope, and even more daytime lectures, Punkt has become more than just a music festival: it truly is a focal point for art, collaboration and community.
For a festival that can accommodate a capacity of only 500 people at one time, it's an ambitious celebration without precedent. The live remix premise alone would be enough, but with the remarkable lighting and set designs of Tord Knudsen and pristine sound of engineer GeirØstenjø in the theatre, Punkt makes every show a completely different experience on every level. The organizational peopleincluding chairman Arne Chr. Bang, media department Camilla Nordahl, Kjeil Bentsen and Monica Bang, and everyone from transportation to accommodationsmake it a festival that, with a program of between four and five concerts and corresponding remixes (totaling eight to ten different performances) running back-to-back each day of the festival without a hitch, is ambitious in scope yet personal in its approach. Regular attendees really are part of the "Punkt Family," and it's truly a festival experience like no other.
With such a strong roster, it's nearly impossible to pick favorite performances, but there were some that managed to rise above a very high bar.
Main Theatre Performances
- Quercus: June Tabor / Iain Ballamy / Huw Warren That traditional British folk music can coexist with the more adventurous harmonies of jazz is something that could only take place with singer June Tabor, pianist Huw Warren and saxophonist Iain Ballamy. Tabor's direct delivery was expanded by Warren and Ballamy's combination of reverence for the song and constant search for new means of interpretation.
- Trio Mediæval A performance by these three sopranos who have made a remarkable impact since emerging at the start of the decade, would have been enough. But the trioAnna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Torunn Østrem Ossumcontinues to mine new territory, with the forthcoming Folk Songs (ECM, 2007) leaving the classical repertoire for now to focus on traditional Norwegian tunes. And by bringing special guests Arve Henriksen and Jan Bang onboard, Trio æval made it perfectly clear that it's just as interested in dissolving arbitrary and limiting musical boundaries as any other artists performing at Punkt.
- Hans Appelquist Despite being one of the most programmed and least improvisational shows of the festival, Hans Appelquist's performance of Naima (H?pna, 2006) was a clear highlight. A multi-media performance that combined images, sampled voices, and layers of multi-tracked music, Appelquist's tale of the mysterious woman with a pelican head managed to find a place where delightful absurdity and serious message coexist with profound humanity.
- Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra/Arve Henriksen/Jan Bang: Crossing Images Arve Henriksen and Jan Bang continue to demonstrate their significance in a performance that uses Henriksen's own melodies as a musical concept, but is expanded into an unprecedented integration of form and freedom. Peter Tornquist's Crossing Images finds its own musical nexus point, combining a flexible chamber symphony orchestra with two of Norway's most remarkable improvisers.
- Trio æval Live Remix: Erik Honoré/Nils Chr. Moe-Repstad By taking the Trio æval's flawless performance and blending it with ambient sounds and a requiem by Alfred Schnittke to create a setting not unlike Gavin Bryars' The Sinking of the Titanic (Point, 1995), Erik Honoré created a foundation for author Nils Chr. Moe-Repstad's reading of a dark poem from World War II. Nuance and subtlety, near-silence and dynamics made this a unique remix experience.
- Sweet Billy Pilgrim Live Remix: Sidsel Endresen/Jan Bang/Erik Honoré Sweet Billy Pilgrim's set was a fountain of lyrical ideas, but Endresen required only a couple as inspiration for her unparalleled vocal innovations. The consolidation of her work-in-progress on One (Sofa, 2006) has been surpassed, making Endresen the most groundbreaking vocalist on the scene today. The many years that Bang and Honoré have spent working together created a simpatico context, where they acted as catalysts for Endresen's all-acoustic, all natural and completely dumbfounding ability to articulate and shift gears in ways no other singer can.
- Crossing Images Live Remix: Bugge Wesseltoft/Michiyo Yagi With the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra's performance of Peter Tornquist's Crossing Images as an inspiration, rather than direct reference, Jazzland owner/ keyboardist/soundscapist Bugge Wesseltoft had a first musical encounter with the remarkable Japanese koto player, Michiyo Yagi. Abstract and edgy, it provided some of Punkt 07's most intense moments, and some of its most magical, as two artists from two cultures and two traditions found expansive and expressive common ground.
- Friedman/ Liebezeit/Chisolm Live Remix: Jon Hassell/Eivind Aarset/Jan Bang/Erik Honoré/Arve Henriksen The only way to close Punkt 07 was to have the artist who, in so many ways, charted the course that would be followed by so many of the artists who are what Punkt is all about. Memorable, moving, profound and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch Jon Hassell work, without any safety net, with some of Norway's most intrepid explorers, it was an experience that the audience will never forget.
Visit Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra, Arve Henriksen, Jan Bang, Bugge Wesseltoft, Michiyo Yagi, David Toop, Xavier Charles, Ingar Zach, Erik Honore, Robin Guthrie, Burnt Friedman, Jon Hassell and Punkt Festival on the web.