Punkt Festival 2009: Day 3, Kristiansand, Norway, September 4, 2009
Making his first Punkt 2009 appearance, Arve Henriksen has had a pretty eventful year himself, with Cartography (ECM) picking up similar acclaim for its 2009 US release as it did when first released in Europe in 2008. He'll be playing with that trio at the festival's final day, but here he found himself in the Alpha Room with Bang and Honoré, looking for new ways to interpret Sweet Billy Pilgrim's music. Not surprisingly, the trumpeter/vocalist/sonic manipulator managed to turn an already memorable live performance into one of the festival's best live remixes.
Plenty has been written about Henriksen's distinctive trumpet tonenow tones, reallyand a voice that has gone from angelic falsetto to, in recent years, more viscerally in the natural range. He continues to evolve distinctive extended techniques, and he found ways to use all of these musical tools in a characteristically inventive way that matched Sweet Billy Pilgrim when it came to emotional resonance. In recent times Henriksen has begun speaking into his horn through the mouthpiece, an effective device. But he did something here that seems to be new: not only speaking through his horn, but actually playing a more conventional trumpet sound at the same time. If nothing else was remarkable about the remix, that would be enough, but there was plenty more.
While the entire remixanother relatively short one, but truthfully so perfect in its synchronicity that it was really exactly the right lengthhad plenty to recommend, one brief passage revealed something about just how deeply its participants interacted and integrated. Near the end of the remix, Henriksen looked down at a piece of paper, and began singing a line from one of Sweet Billy Pilgrim's songs in his natural range. Gradually, imperceptibly at first, Honoré began to fade up Elsenberg singing the same line as Henriksen seamlessly shifted to falsetto. It was a chills-up-the-spine moment that may well be the festival's single most magical one, but demonstrated just how in touch everyone was with the tracks they'd sampled from Sweet Billy Pilgrim's performance and that, while there clearly is some advance consideration given to a remix's foundation, it wasn't just the audience who was surprised by how the remix evolved.
Taken together, Sweet Billy Pilgrim's performance and the Henriksen/Bang/Honoré remix demonstrated all that's important about Punkt, a rare place in the world (Punkt is, in fact, Norwegian for "point") where fixed form can synthesize with complete improvisational freedom to create an unforgettable experience for the relatively small audience (the main hall holds approximately 550 people, the Alpha Room under 200) fortunate enough to be there at that particular moment in time.
When Punkt 2009 is over and it's time to tally the best performances of its four-day run, it will be a very close callif one can even be madebetween the Sweet Billy Pilgrim performance/remix and that of Susanna & The Magical Orchestra. Susanna is Susanna Wallumrød who, in addition to her Magical Orchestra, has been releasing solo albums under just her first name, including Flowers of Evil (Rune Grammofon, 2009). The Magical Orchestra is Morten Qvenild who, in addition to creating a truly orchestral foundation here, is keyboardist/co-founder of In the Country, whose Whiteout (Rune Grammofon, 2009) is both its most ambitious album to date and another contender for the year's best, following its equally positioned debut, This Was the Pace of My Heartbeat (Rune Grammofon, 2005).
Morten Qvenild, Susanna Wallumrød
Together, the duo has released its third album, appropriately titled 3 (Rune Grammofon, 2009). This special release concert culled material primarily from this new disc, but the duo also sourced music from its previous Melody Mountain (Rune Grammofon, 2006) and List of Lights and Bouys (Rune Grammofon, 2004). As might be expected from a duo that revolves a great deal around programming, looping and processing, there wasn't a tremendous difference between the album and its performance in terms of the actual contentespecially because Wallumrød is not a singer to overstate her case; relying, instead, on nuanced simplicity. Still, live there was an energy that brought the material to greater life, not to mention the visualsboth Tord Knutsen and Jan Martin Vågan's set design, lighting and video work. And while Wallumrød's stage presence was as paradoxically understated yet commanding as her delivery , Qvenild was also curiously compelling to watch, moving almost in slow motion to the duo's brand of dark, electronica-tinged ambient pop.
Qvenild, with multiple keyboards, a computer and other technology spread around him, may have been the one dealing with the most gear, but Wallumrød was no stranger to technology, harmonizing her voice on the memorable chorus to "Guiding Star" and processing it more subtly on the opening "Recall." Even when the beats were relatively subtle, as they were on "Recall," what madeand makesSusanna & The Magical Orchestra so surprisingly appealing is a certain humanity that lies underneath the layers of electronic textures. Qvenild's choice of synth tones were anything but organic; yet there was something distinctly natural about the way programming and real-time playing came together, even on songs like "Someday," which began with pulsing white noise.
The visuals were, as ever, an integrated part of the performance. From stark white light to a red backdrop over which white lines moved upwards across two layers of projection screensone translucent, the other opaquethe staging and as-ever impeccable sound were both examples of the remarkable level of quality unfailingly paid by Punkt to all aspects of presentation.