Punkt Festival 2008: Day 3-3
Day three of Punkt 08 ranked as one of the strongest of the past three years. What's remarkable about the programming in the Agder Theatre is the attention to details beyond the musicthough that would be enough. With lights and set design by Tord Knutsen, video by Jan Martin Vagen, and a team of Norway's best sound engineers including Geir Ostenjo, Frederik Rodberg, Kjell Morten Bruun, Elise Onseng, Phillip Moe and Mons Aasheim, Punkt sets the bar for sound and vision so high that it leaves most other festivals in its wake. Not only do the theatre shows sound clear and pristine whether it's a single fiddler like Nils Okland or a full group like Jon Hassell's Maarifa Street, but they are presented with a remarkable attention to the visual presentation.
Wibutee at Punkt 06
How the festival manages to implement not just swapping equipment for each performance while the audience is in the Alpha Room for a live remix, but complete set design changes, as they did for Wibutee's 2006 performance, is nearly impossible to imagine. Video screens come and go; stages are set up with long cloth panels that are lit separately; images of the performing artists are captured in real time, processed and projected; and so much more.
The final day of Punkt 08 featured some of the festival's most stunning designs, for some of its best performances.
- Oyonn Groven Myhren
- Live Remix: Arve Henriksen / Rafael Toral / Erik Honoré
- Hakon Kornstad / Nils Okland
- Live Remix: Hakon Kornstad / Eivind Buene / Jan Bang / Erik Honoré
- Jon Hassell and Maarifa Street
- Live remix: J. Peter Schwalm and Tim Harries
- Punkt 08 Wrap-Up
Continuing Punkt 08's collaboration with the traditional Arrin festival, singer Oyonn Groven Myhren opened the day up with a largely a capella performance that was entertaining even if her between- song introductions were all spoken, as the songs were sung, in Norwegian. Thanks again to AAJ photographer Jan Hangeland, it was possible to gain some insight into a storytelling tradition that also demonstrated how the same song could be interpreted many different ways, depending on which region of the country it came from.
Myhren possesses an interpretive voice, capable of the nuances that differentiate regional versions of the same material, and a confident ability to capture the sligtest, most fragile variation or sing with a relaxed power that highlighted some of the material's more dramatic nature.
That some of the material, dating back as much as 700 years, bore a conspicuous predilection for explicit sexual themes may have been surprising to some in the audience. Two songs dealt with a woman losing her virginityone, about the inability to reverse it, the other about trying to flee the country to save her lift. But there was lighter material as well, including a fairy tale-like song about a troll in the woods. Towards the end of her short set, Myhren brought out a seven-stringed harp, a beautifully spare accompaniment to a voice that took full advantage of the freedom to stretch and contrast time as it found new ways to interpret ancient material.
Every year Punkt features emerging artists, and often they deliver some of the festival's best performances. Splashgirl was an exciting discovery and one of Punkt 08's best shows, ranking as the surprise of the year and not just at the festival.
Featuring pianist Andreas Stensland Lowewho also played with the far rockier and high decibal Lama as part of Punkt Elope on Day One drummer Andreas Lonmo Knudsrod and bassist Jo Berger Myhre, the group was the ideal example of the remarkable maturity and creativity coming out of young Norwegian groups. With a sound that blended spare, near-ambient textures with majestic yet understated neoclassicism and outer-reaching but always captivating free improvisations, Splashgirl is a group that deserves a wider audience and, if it can get some proper exposure, no doubt will.
Lowe, who also coordinated Punkt Elope, is the group's primary composer, combining prepared piano techniques, a Steve Reichian attention to the value of repetitive motifs and a virtuosity that's kept completely under control by an attention to space and the value of a note in decay. He cued the group through episodic compositions that often covered considerable stylistic territory in surprisingly short timeframes. He also used a bowed acoustic guitar which, along with Myhre's autoharp and Knudsrod's vibes, created a warm audioscape as referential to folk music as it was classical romanticism and ambient music to open the set, gradually moving to a repetitive pattern that sounded like a gentler version of pianist Nik Bartsch's Ronin performance the previous evening.
The group also featured guest pedal steel guitarist Anders Hofstad Soras throughout much of the show, creating a lovely blend with Knudsrod's vibes later in the set. Trace elements of Brian Eno, Ketil Bjornstad, Erik Satie and Morton Feldman mixed with the hypnotic aspects of groups like Sigur Ros on a set that drew in part from its debut, Doors. Keys (AIM Records, 2007), though in a largely acoustic environment, though there was some processing involved throughout.
Splashgirl is just finishing up its second disc and, if the response from the audience and the group's distinctly compelling identity are any indication, this is unquestionably a group from which more will be heard in the future. With an attention-grabbing performance that relied on a mature devotion to space, interaction that was never overt but was an underscoring foundation, and a collective approach to interpreting cross-genre material, Splashgirl is a group already delivering on its strong potential.
With such terrific source material and an innate ability to hear and create larger form in real time, trumpeter Arve Henriksen turned the Splashgirl remix into one of the best of Punkt 08. Also featuring sampler/sound sculptist/Punkt Artistic Co-Director Erik Honoré and electronic experimentalist Rafael Toral, who opened Day Two of the festival, it was a remix that combined the noise improv of Henriksen's work in Supersilent with the trumpeter's devotion to strong, often simple but always compelling melodies that are a key component of his own records including the remarkable Chiaroscuro (Rune Grammofon, 2004).
Rafael was wired up with a variety of electronic gadgets, some creating electronic sounds that responded to his body movement. While it appeared more textural at times, adding to the overall landscape of the remix, there were some serendipitous moments where he was so in tune with Henriksen that it felt like a single instrument. Henriksen, an artist with no small sense of humor, began mimicking Rafael's movements at one point during the set, adding a beautiful levity to music that could, at times, become dense and hard-edged.
Henriksen's trumpet tone may well have started with the innovations of Jon Hassell, but he's taken those concepts and developed them into a unique sound that resembles, at times, a Japanese shakuhachi. But while that shakuhachi-like tone has often been a defining quality in his approach, over the past several years it's become more a case of a strong color on his palette. Henriksen used an EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument), in addition to his trumpet, to create dense loops that interacted with the remixed material being fed to him by Honoré, but beneath it all was a remarkable attention to tone and the importance of every note.
The interaction between Henriksen, Rafael and Honoré was strong but nearly telepathic in nature, but it was clearly the trumpeter's show. Demonstrating an uncanny ability to create form on-the-fly, this was a lengthy experiment with a clear arc. That this arc revealed itself as a surprise, not just to the audience, but to the group, made it all the more captivating.
A double bill featuring two of Norway's most remarkable solo performers proved that there are many, often diametrically opposed, ways to approach performing without accompaniment. Saxophonist Hakon Kornstad's brief but evocative and exhilarating performance was matched by the powerful quiet of fiddler Nils Okland;'s set.
Kornstadnow 31 years oldhas, in the space of a few short years, emerged as one of the most exciting young saxophonists, not just on the Norwegian scene, but on any scene. His work the more rock-centric but still improv-weighted Wibutee has been his own kind of laboratory, as has his work in acoustic environments on records including Swedish pianist Maria Kannegaard's Maryland (Moserobie, 2008). But it's his work with the collective Jazzland Community (Jazzland, 2007) and especially his solo record Single Engine (Jazzland, 2007) that's shown just how far he's come in his search for a nexus point where multiple extended acoustic techniques can be merged with looping and other processing to create a virtual saxophone orchestra, but one that possesses unshakable groove and vertical harmonic density.
Standing on a stage with cloth panels lit with dark earth tones and video screens showing him in real time and larger than life via videocam (while he remained largely in darkness), Kornstad layered his first tune with consonant multiphonics, percussive beats and Albert Ayler-like wailsall seamlessly built into a stream of looping that allowed him to improvise freely. Most exciting was his intimate knowledge of technology, changing the foundation in-the-moment and with the same natural comfort as he demonstrated on tenor saxophone, flute and flutonettea hybrid that places a clarinet mouthpiece on a flute.
Unlike most saxophonists who develop technique with multiphonics, Kornstad's interest clearly lies in finding new ways to expand the conceit to create consonant harmonies that at times possessed a raw edge and at other times sounded pure and pristine but almost always work with an underlying aesthetic devoted to melody. His set ranged from viscerally powerful and huge to economical and delicate. In every case he demonstrated a wonderful sense for knowing when to explore a single idea and when to move on. It made for a varied performance that is a clear evolution from the groundwork he was laying during his even briefer at Punkt 06. Closing out the Arrin/Punkt collaboration, fiddler Nils Okland's set, starting immediately after Kornstad on the opposite side of the stage, couldn't have been more different. With no electronics and no real set design, just three variations on the fiddlea conventional violin, a nine-stringed Hardanger fiddle (like a violin but with five sympathetic resonant strings underneath) and the Viola D'Amore (a deeper- bodied instrument with strings that are played with an additional seven sympathetic strings)Okland proved why he's one of the world's preeminent interpreters of traditional music and contemporary original music rooted in that tradition.
What makes Okland's approach so distinctive from players like Synnove S. Bjorset and Ase Teigland, who performed the previous day is his fine attention to dynamics. Much as drummer Jarle Vespestad appears to be almost whispering on his drums when playing with fellow Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen, Okland's touch was often so delicate, his playing so whisper quiet that the audience almost had to lean forward to hear him. That the audience was absolutely silent throughout his setexcept, of course, for the enthusiastic applause between songsis another reason why Punkt is such a remarkable festival. Everyone is there to have a good time, and there's plenty of socializing going on throughout, but when at a performance, attention is complete and undivided.
Unlike Bris (Rune Grammofon, 2005), which focused on original material in a group context, and his more experimental work with pianist Christian Wallumro;d's ensemble on A Year From Easter (ECM, 2005), Okland's set, while unannounced, certainly sounded as though, at the very least, its sources were from traditional Norwegian folk music. His interpretive skills were outstanding as he used the power of nuance to make the slightest dynamic shift dramatic and resonant on the most intimate of levels.
Continuing the previous night's Live Remix innovation of having an artist in on his own remix, Hakon Kornstad was invited to participate in a remix of his set, along with members of the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra, performing music by Norwegian composer Eivind Buene written specifically for the remix.
The concept of prewritten music being used as a partner with live remix and improvisation is not unfamiliar to Buene, who has done similar work with Christian Wallumro;d and Frode Gjerstad, who have both played at Punkt in various contexts over the festival's short history.
Kornstad took a more subdued role in the remix, still utilizing his remarkable control over multiphonics to create additional layers of looping to interact with the remix information being provided by Jan Bang and Erik Honoré. A soft kind of white noise underscored the first part of the remix, which focused entirely on Kornstad, Bang and Honoré. Near-ambience supported the emergence of oblique yet lyrical melodies from Kornstad, as Bang continued his usual bob-and-weave, though in a considerably more subdued fashion in response to his own contribution.
As Kornstad drew his segment to a close, the chamber ensembleviolin, cello, clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe, bassoon/contrabass bassoonfor a piece that had clear form, where clarinet and oboe worked at times in counterpoint to bassoon/contrabass bassoon and bass clarinet. The contrabass bassoon created a deeper foundation as the violin scraped the bow across the strings to create a scratching, atonal sound while the cello played a repeated motif around an ascending glissando.
Abstract it wasfar more so than Kornstad's actual performancebut creating a context where the source artist, composer and live sampler/remixers can interact in a free way that places few, if any, boundaries on the experience means that where the music goes in the laboratory that is the Alpha Room is never predictable.
While he's never gone away, Jon Hassell has been less visible for some time. This year, however, there's been a huge increase in visible activity, with the trumpeter performing twice at Punk 07 first performing his 1969 electronic composition "Solid State" to open the festival and then the final Live Remix with Eivind Aarset, Jan Bang, Erik Honoré and Arve Henriksen, one of the most moving performances of that year. He has been working with Norwegian pianist Jon Balke's Siwan project, performing at Mai Jazz 2008 in Stavanger this past May, and is now back at Punkt for the third time in the festival's four year existence, participating in three activitieshis NEAR FARBells in Kristiansand installation, his Conversational Remix with Brian Eno and the closing concert in the Agder Theatre, with his reformed Maarifa Street group.
l:r: Kheir-Eddine M'Kachiche, Jan Bang, Jon Hassell, Peter Freeman, Pedram Khavarzamini
Hassell is also putting the finishing touches on a new album with that group, a recording that will be released in early 2009 on ECM Recordshis first for the innovative and iconic label since Power Spot (1985). Hassell's performance in Kristiansand was significant, then, for a number of reasons. It was an opportunity for the festival audience to have an early look at some of the material on the new disc, from a group which features Jan Bang alongside longtime Hassell collaborator, bassist Peter Freeman (also a sonic manipulator with a laptop, technical assistant Arnaud Mercier, and violinist Kheir-Eddine M'Kachiche and tombak player Pedram Khavarzaminithe latter two also members of Siwan.
It's also a chance to hear the artist who has been so instrumental in the music that has ultimately led to Punkt. It's no hyperbole to suggest that, while he may not be as legendary to a larger public as Miles Davis, to a large group of artists working in many areas of music, he's no less influential. Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvaer may well be the leading musicians they are today without Hassell, but they'd be very different musicians, were they not exposed to albums like those he release for Brian Eno's Obscure labelFourth World Volume 1: Possible Musics (1980) and Fourth World Volume 2: Dream Theory in Malaya (1981).
Hassell spoke at great length, during the Conversational Remix about his concept of The North and South of You, which suggests that humankind has lost touch with the South or sensual side and become increasingly driven by intellect and decisions that neglect the basic question: What do you really like? Maarifa Street's music reflected Hassell's belief that the two can and should live together, with music that was cerebral, but equally was sensual and passionate, though in a way that was visceral on a purely subconscious level. This was music that could be taken on either level, but ideally experienced as a joining of both.
Hassell's tonea combination of embouchure to create a sound that is the clear precedent for both Molvaer and Henriksen in its more vocal quality, but also layered at times with harmonizing processing to give it an other-worldly, Fourth World, ambience. Hassell's incredible attention to the significance of every note and the tone of those notes makes for melodic lines that breathe.
This isn't about chops: it's about creating a context of deep, physical groove combined with the potential of live sampling, slow evolution often driven by Freeman's in-the-gut bass tone, and the injection of other cultural paradigms. M'Kachiche is from Algeria and Khavarzamini from Iran, and both are virtuosos on their instruments (the tombak is goblet drum considered to be the principle percussion instrument of Persian music). Here, however, the purity of their own cultural music is shifted into Hassell's world, as M'Kachichea compelling player to watch if only for the way he plays, with his violin upright on his left kneebrings processing of his own into the mix, adding pitch shifting and wah wah, and a far greater attention to space and brevity than in Siwan.
Khavarzamini opened the show alone, providing both color and rhythm, and the first live instrument for Bang to sample and feed back to the group. Here he demonstrated the kind of virtuosity on his instrument that, like M'Kachiche, can be taken to another place by introducing a cross-cultural musical landscape that is a direct evolution from the first Maarifa Street release, Magic Realism, Vol. 2 (Nyen, 2005), with the only constant being Freeman. Freeman's time is meticulous, allowing him to lay a foundation for the group that's unshakable, yet feels anything but overly precise and metronomic. He builds his grooves through repetition, and gradual addition/subtraction, creating a loose feel that's filled with space, yet moves forward with relaxed inevitability.
Between Freeman's laptop, Bang's sampling gear and Hassell's trumpet and occasional keyboard work, there's plenty of textural potential. Add M'Kachiche and Khavarzamini to the mix and the potential for density and associated potential problems is there, but the group manages to avoid them all. Not that there aren't times when the music is, indeed, thickHassell's vertical layers of harmonized trumpet has a rich mass. But the group never lets the music become cluttered, paying attention to what is going on around them. Instead, Maarifa Street's set was a hypnotic experience of an aural landscape that's possesses a clear line to Fourth World, but is also an evolution that, through the marriage of acoustic instruments and electric instruments, traditional instruments and modern technology, and compositions that are rooted in so many places that reference points become meaningless, creates anticipation for Hassell's forthcoming record.
Hassell may never have gone away, but there's no question he's back.
Following a show like Jon Hassell's would be tough for anyone, but another strength of Punkt is the ability of its Artistic Directors, Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, to pick the right people to do the Live Remixes. Composer/producer J. Peter Schwalm, whose Day Two performance at Punkt 08 was another festival highlight, was the ideal choice as his own sensibilities are not completely removed from where Hassell is, but equally there are plenty of differences to suggest that he'd be able to find new ways to interpret and mould Hassell's source material.
Bringing along bassist Tim Harries for the remix turned out to be one of the most inspired decisions by any artist leading a Live Remix in 2008. Harries' own resume goes back to working in British drummer Bill Bruford's Earthworks with Django Bates and Iain Ballamy from the late '80s through to the early '90s, as well as occasional dates with the Anglo/Norwegian collective Food. With Schwalm taking snippets of Hassell's rich trumpet and creating multiple loops and multiple vertical harmonies, it left Harries the freedom to do exactly what he wanted.
What he wanted was to employ prepared techniques with his electric bass guitar, including using clips to hold down notes, playing the instrument on his lap so he could achieve certain harmonics that he'd not have been able to manage otherwise, and detunung/retuning strings to create shifting notes that, much like bassist Peter Freeman in Maarifa Street, went for the gut; a deep visceral texture that grounded some of Schwalm's more ethereal work.
J. Peter Schwalm and Tim Harries
It's no surprise that Bang and Honoré have brought Schwalm back to the festival on more than one occasion. His ability to find melodic fragments, and grab small snippets from them and loop them on the fly and in real time was remarkable. Schwalm proved, in his improvisational ability to take a sound source, manipulate it and turn it into something different through split-second decisions and clear intuition, that what he uses to create his musicunorthodox as it is, being technology that, in other hands, is nothing more than a tool with a purposereally is an instrument, just as Bang, Honoré and DJ Strangefruit have been doing for many years.
Introducing more fervent pulse on occasion, Schwalm and Harries Honoréd the spirit of Hassell's music, even as they turned away from some of its core premises, for one of the most successful remixes of Punkt 08.
As Punkt 08 wraps up, the lasting impression is one of a festival that manages to face off against adversity and still manage to come out better than the previous year. The programming may have been smaller but the devotion to quality in all areasa cornerstone of the festival along with Live Remix since the very beginninghas not only been retained, it's been improved. From the modernistic edge of the set design for J. Peter Schwalm's show with Sophie Clemens to the Spartan look of Nik Bartch's Ronin performance, the equally striking and contemporary look of Hakon Kornstad's solo show and the dark, mysterious look of Jon Hassell's Maarifa Street closer, the look, sound and feel of the shows in the Agder Theatre couldn't have been improved upon.
The festival has retained the intimacy and experimental nature of its Live Remixes in the Alpha Room and while visually they were inherently more limited, they were presented in a way that made the audience feel a part of the experiment. With Brian Eno and Jon Hassell's multi-disciplinary installations, Punkt continues to find new ways to mix seemingly disparate artistic pursuits. The programming is a perfect mix of established names, up-and-comers and barely emerging artists, with the three-band Punkt Elope another highlight of the 2008 festival. And with the concurrent release of Live Remixes Vol. 1 (Jazzland, 2008), it's possible for those not able to make the trek to Kristiansand to experience the magic of its live remixes.
The openness of the festival not only encourages interaction between fans, artists and media, it breaks down barriers completely, allowing peopleespecially those who return year after yearto bond and develop friendships that extend beyond the confines of the festival. And while so much attention is paid to the people who deliver the direct goods, the relaxed and friendly vibe of Punkt is maintained by everyone from Chairman of the Board Arne Chr. Bang to Media representatives Camilla Nordahl, Kjell Bentsen, Oyvind Holthe and Monica Bang to all the people who drive artists and other guests of the festival from place-to- place. The list is large, but it's an organization that clearly love and is committed to what it does.
Where can Punkt go from here? The possibilities are limitless, the opportunities boundless. As Punkt 08 wraps up, Bang and Honoré are already thinking about where to take the festival next. While hoping that next year will continue the steady path of growth that the festival has maintained for four years would be the right idea, history has proven that there's little room for doubt that Punkt 09 will continue to evidence innovation, presenting fresh viewpoints to ensure a festival like no other, where the boundaries of music are pushed, pulled and, ultimately, dissolved. Visit Splashgirl, Arve Henrkisen, Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, Rafael Toral, Hakon Kornstad, J. Peter Schwalm, Jon Hassell, and Punkt Festival on the web.