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Live Reviews

Punkt Festival 2008: Day 2-3

By Published: September 7, 2008
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Synnove S. Bjorset / Ase Teigland

While Punkt is a festival that's all about looking forward, it's also a festival that's never denied the traditional roots that are at the core of many of its players—whether that be the jazz, classical or folk tradition. But for the first time, the festival is collaborating with the Arrin festival, a Norwegian event that features traditional music from around the world. For Punkt, they are bringing some of the country's finest folk traditionalists, and began their collaboration with a show featuring Hardanger fiddlers Synnove S. Bjorset and Ase Teigland.

Of generally thinner construction than the conventional fiddle, the Hardanger variety utilizes eight or, as was the case with this performance, nine strings—four that are played with a bow like a conventional fiddle, and five resonator strings situated below the played strings that are tuned to vibrate in sympathy and create a richer sound. The same way that many guitarists use altered tunings, so too do Hardanger fiddlers utilize multiple tunings and, consequently, both Bjorset and Teigland had three instruments each, all tuned differently.

Punkt Festival 08 / Synnove S. Bjorset / Ase Teigland

Playing together at the start, middle and end of the set but leaving plenty of space for solo spots made it possible to experience not only clear lines from the Norwegian tradition to the Celtic tradition but in addition the storytelling tradition as part of the performance—in keeping with the overall concept of the music being passed from generation to generation as part of an oral tradition.

While the two spoke entirely in Norwegian, AAJ photographer Jan Hangeland provided the running commentary, shedding light on a number of characteristics of the music, most notably that there are three types of songs written: songs for dancing, songs for weddings and other events, and songs for listening. Both artists introduced their songs, engaging the audience with stories of how the songs were written. In one story, an old church was built in a remote area in the mountains, but was later demolished, with the intention of moving to a more populated area. During the transport, one of the bells fell into the water and was never found, and after the second bell was mounted on the new church, it rang with a melancholy sound, as if it missed its partner bell. The song reflected that sadness.

While the Celtic connection is clear, the music had its own lilt that was subtly different, and both women used their feet to create a rhythm to propel the music Teigland possessed the richer tone, but both were fine players, creating some joyful noise especially when they played together.

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J. Peter Schwalm featuring Sophie Clements

Composer/producer J. Peter Schwalm is another festival regular, having participated in the Quercus remix at Punkt 07 and the ambitious Wagner Reloaded Project (WARP) at Punkt 06. This year, in collaboration with visual artist Sophie Clements, he put on a performance heavy on atmosphere, groove, melody and texture that also included Eivind Aarset, drummer Rune Arnesen and bassist Tim Harries.

With three projection screens—one at the back of the stage behind a table where Clements and Schwalm worked, and one on each side of the stage angled outwards—despite Aarset, Arnesen and Harries being at the front of the stage this was more a performance about the visuals, and another example of how Punkt, in its combination of outstanding sound, lighting and stage design, surpasses most (if not all) other festivals in terms of the quality of the presentation. Clements' images, which ranged from abstract geometric shapes to waves of water and birds, worked in concert with the music that, while clearly form-based and cued by Schwalm, had enough room for improvisation and experimentation to make for a set filled with sounds of surprise.

Punkt Festival 08 / J. Peter Schwalm / Sophie Clements

From abstract musical shapes to defined pulses propelled even further by Arnesen's hard-edged backbeats, and from delicate chime-like arpeggios to denser sonic landscapes, the group delivered a set where sound and image integrated, with Aarset once again proving himself a masterful orchestrator. As on his most recent release, Sonic Codex (Jazzland, 2007), however, Aarset has begun to return to sounds more closely associated with guitar; here he created some skewed Hendrixian wah wah and, at one point, a riff that sounded like something off of an earlier release, Connected (Jazzland, 2004).

But it was Schwalm's musical conception and Clements' sometimes dizzying imagery that drove the set, with emotional range, vivid dynamics and surprising depth and nuance.

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Live Remix: DJ Strangefruit / Jan Bang / Erik Honoré / Rune Arnesen / Kheir-Eddine M'Kachiche

In the laboratory of the Alpha Room, sometimes experiments work better than others, and as in any experiment, the greater the number of variables, the more difficult it is to control.

DJ Strangefruit (aka Pal Nyhus) took a big leap by bringing together the largest remix group of 2008— Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, alongside an unidentified electric violinist and, in an unusual move, drummer Rune Arnesen. It may well be a Punkt first to have a member of the group being remixed invited to participate in the remix, but firsts are what Punkt is all about, so having Arnesen perform in real time along with a remix of his own playing with J. Peter Schwalm, if sounding a bit convoluted, deserves to be done if for no other reason than that it hasn't been done before.

With so many people involved, it's no surprise that there seemed to be some slight hesitation when the group began, as had the earlier remix, in a dark place. Sonically the group appeared, on more than one occasion, to be building towards something that either it didn't feel right and was abandoned or simply died a natural death. Still, there were some interesting meeting points, with the violinist building long, delayed violin lines that became buried in the ambient landscapes being constructed by Strangefruit, Bang and Honoré.

Punkt Festival 08 / DJ Strangefruit

Arnesen stayed well away from the kind of propulsive energy of the original set—even though that was rarely tapped into for the remix—instead working with a reduced kit of bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat and djembe. He used his hands much of the time, though he switched to sticks and brushes, meeting his partners in color and texture. Bang found ways to inject odd electronic sounds and the occasional pulse, but the remix felt a little too much as if it were on the verge of something, while never quite making it.

Still, if risks weren't taken, there would never be the magical moments; and if this remix didn't exactly get where it seemed to be heading, the trip was just as worthwhile as the unreached destination.

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