Punkt 07 - Kristiansand, Norway - Day Four, September 1, 2007
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.