Punkt Festival 2008: Day 2-3
Missing the first performance of the evening, electronic musician Rafael Toral, provided still the chance to hear at least some aspects of the performance at Punkt 08's first live remix, featuring guitarist Eivind Aarset alongside Punkt Artistic Directors/samplers/producers Jan Bang and Erik Honoré. The Alpha Room, where all the live remixes take place, is an intimate 250-seat venue that's darkly lit (a persistent challenge for photographers) and often makes the audience feel part of the experiment taking place on the floor in front of them (there's no stage). With sound painter Aarset, surely the guitar anti-hero if there ever was one, working with the remix, it was a largely dark and brooding performance, and a sharp contrast to the electronic manipulations heard the first night at Punkt Elope. Here space was an equal if not more significant part of the picture, where sometimes the sparest of colors, the simplest of lines, was enough to suggest other avenues for the three to explore.
For a team who have been working together since their teens, Honoré and Bang couldn't be more different as performers. Honoré, while focused on the music, often looks to be detached, only the occasional smirk indicating that something is going right...or, perhaps, wrong, always a possibility during the ever-present risk of the live remixes. Bang, on the other handand even with music that was in this case slow-moving and rarely with any kind of pulseis a body in search of a groove. A highly visual player (he clearly knows every button and knob on his array of gear so intimately that he plays it the same way a pianist plays without often looking at his instrument) who can't stop bobbing and swaying, even to the subtlest of rhythms, including an emergent 5/4 pulse that drove much of the remix.
With the space of a year between chances to see Aarset perform, it's always a treat to hear how he continues to evolve, with his own effects a seeming mess of boxes and wires that, like Bang and Honoré, he knows so well that he can create new colors the same way most guitarists create new melodies. But what's most impressive about Aarset, and the entire posse of Norwegians who regularly take part in the remixes, is how it's all about finding new ways to shape the sound, and has nothing at all to do with demonstrating how good he undeniably is. Aarset doesn't need to take lengthy solosor solos at allto prove his worth; the work speaks for itself, and the remixes always provide the best opportunity to hear where he's going.
For composer Gavin Bryars' first performance at Punkt, he brought along regular collaborators including Norwegian soprano Anna Maria Friman, who appeared with her regular group, Trio Mediaeval, at Punkt 07, tenor/Hilliard Ensemble member John Potter, violist Morgan Goff, cellist Nick Cooper and electric guitarist James Woodrow. Bryars primarily played bass although he did turn to piano for one extended piece towards the end of his eighty-minute set. He also recruited trumpeter Arve Henriksen, another Punkt mainstay who'll be leading a live remix on the festival's final evening, for two compositions that represented a first-encounter for the two artists.
With the majority of the performance devoted to vocal worksalbeit ones that ranged from short songs to longer-form compositionsthe strings were often largely in a supporting role for material in minor keys and, consequently, often melancholy but deeply beautiful. Whether it was Friman in duet with Bryars, her voice soaring above his simple arco lines, or intertwining with Potteras Bryars, Goff and Cooper created long, languid lines performed with such symbiosis that they often sounded as one instrumentshe continues to challenge the orthodoxy of the classical soprano while remaining unmistakably of the tradition.
Relating back to Bryars' lunchtime seminar, the inclusion of electric guitar in a classical chamber ensemble might seem an odd choice, but his ability to score with the individual player in mind meant that Woodrow's chordal swells and occasional serpentine lines meshed organically with the others on the ensemble. And when Henriksen joined the group, his own tone distanced from a conventional trumpet, his ensemble work was equally natural. During the second piece, when his voice became more dominant, he demonstrated why he's one of the most versatile trumpeters anywhere. It's not so much a matter of his being multidisciplinary; it's more that his sound is simply so singular and pure that it can be adapted to virtually any context.
Both Goff and Cooper were given opportunities in the spotlight, as was Potter on a longer composition later in the set. When Bryars switched to piano it was for an instrumental piece that found him trading rhythm and melody with Goff in a seamless fashion. Bryars has become increasingly enamored with vocal music in recent years, and the evening's performance at Punkt demonstrated the kind of ideal blend of lyricism and a keen intuition for combining instruments in various ways to achieve a great deal from a relatively small configuration.