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Live Reviews

Punkt Festival 2008: Day 3-3

By Published: September 9, 2008
Live Remix: Hakon Kornstad / Eivind Buene / Jan Bang / Erik Honoré

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.


Punkt 08 / Hakon Kornstad / Jan Bang / Erik Honoré / Eivind Buene

As Kornstad drew his segment to a close, the chamber ensemble—violin, cello, clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe, bassoon/contrabass bassoon—for 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 was—far more so than Kornstad's actual performance—but 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.

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Jon Hassell and Maarifa Street

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 activities—his NEAR FAR—Bells in Kristiansand installation, his Conversational Remix with Brian Eno and the closing concert in the Agder Theatre, with his reformed Maarifa Street group.


Punkt 08 / Jon Hassell and Maarifa Street

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 Records—his 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 Khavarzamini—the 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 label—Fourth 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 tone—a 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'Kachiche—a compelling player to watch if only for the way he plays, with his violin upright on his left knee—brings 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.

Punkt Festival 08 / Jon Hassell and Maarifa Street 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, thick—Hassell'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.

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