Jan Bang: Head, Shoulders, Hips, Knees and Toes
Bang also brings his Dictaphone to .... and poppies from Kandahar. An album whose list of samples actually exceeds the list of "live" musical performances, it's a logical follow-on to Cartography, another example of the collaborative nature of this group of Norwegian artists, and their egoless approach in getting their music out to the world. "For me," Bang says, "Cartography and poppies are two albums made in the same way. The first has Arve's name on it, and the second one has my name on it. They could easily have been swapped, and that, in itself, is interesting to me. To work with different artists, and sometimes put my name on it, sometimes put their names on it, and still just feel that it's good music. To create something that is, especially for a record, completely different from a live document."
Cartography at Molde 2009, from left: Helge Norbakken
Arve Henriksen, Jan Bang (missing: Eivind Aarset)
While Henriksen has been touring Cartography and Bang will be touring poppies, there's always the matter of how a live show can be differentiated from a studio construction. One subject that many artists discuss is whether or not live performances should even be recorded and released. Some, like ECM recording artist Stephan Micus, have intentionally not released live albums because they believe a performance is something to be experienced in real time once, and once it's over, it's gone, never to be heard again. Even when live recordings are made, they are, by their very nature, different from the actual experience, with three-dimensional soundscapes, created during post-production, inherently different than what someone hears sitting in the concert hall.
Still, in the world of improvised music, there's a strong argument for recording and releasing shows that are particularly compelling, if for no other reason than ensuring a permanent document exists. Even with five years of Punkt and dozens of live remixes, Bang and Honoré have released only one album: Live Remixes, Vol. 1 (Jazzland, 2008), which contains two live remixes, from two separate years of Punkt, featuring Sidsel Endresen and Jon Hassell. "For us it was to have a document of two performances that were very special," Bang says. "I don't go back and listen to that record because I was involved in it, but I still think it could be important, as a document, for Norwegian music."
That said, Bang still believes there's something to be said for the unique nature of each live performance. "I think that in these timeswhere everything is so accessible, where we can feed things everywhere, where you can hear music from every obscure artist from the '70s, where everything is there for us and we can Google everyoneyou still can't be at every place at every time. If you want to see Punkt, you have to go to Punkt; you have to live it, you have to go to those concerts to be able to get that information, that experience. I think that's a good thing about the live concert situation, at least for artists who do creative things, who dare to do these things."
In performance, Bang is a visual performer; even when the music around him seems abstract, ethereal, ambient, he moves to some internal rhythm that only he, perhaps, can hear. "For me it's all about rhythm," says Bang. "That comes from working with machines, and trying to make those machines live as organic instrumentsto make that stupid instrument, that box that contains nothing, live. To make life inside that instrument. It comes from working with that kind of attitude. This is actually something I learned from Per Martinsen, a Norwegian producer and pioneering techno artist who was, at the beginning of the '90s, part of the first wave of European techno. That was very much linked to Carl Craig and Derrick May and Detroit techno; they certainly knew how to make those machines live.
"Before that, people used synthesizers and drum machines to make demos," Bang continues. "And then they asked the bassist to come into the studio and play the bass part, and a drummer to play the drum partbut if they couldn't afford a drummer they'd just stick with what they had. So you had a lot of bad programming going on. But these guys [May, Craig, Martinsen], they worked with machines as the end result, meaning that they were finding life within these instruments, and that was my startthinking rhythmically with my instrument and how to program something that is alive, that is funky, that is human, that is bodily. So even working with ambient sounds, to me it's all about movement, all about finding the rhythm in itself. I suppose that, because I work with fragments and work a lot with loops, there's rhythm within each phrase, and I try to find the beats within each sound. This sounds quite abstract, but for me it's very real."
Of course, technical advancements have removed some of the mechanical feel of programmed beats, and have allowed artists to inject some of the same imperfections that make live percussionists feel natural and organic. Still, to achieve the same result requires a lot of effort, and a lot of experimentation to hone it as a craft. "Technically, I work with different elements, different parameters," Bang explains. "I work with pitch, to find the right pitch for each sound. Going back to when I was a kid, working with my first sampler, and later, when I used to spend an entire day making five banks of sound, and within those banks, let's say there were seven-to-ten different sounds in each bank. I had a rule that I had to make five tracks each day. I started at nine in the morning, and finished at six [laughs]. Then I started working at sampling sounds and finding the perfect pitches for each sound, so then I knew that if I pitched this instrument down, an octave or even a few notes, it would sound hugeit would sound so much better than the original pitch. Or that that sound works well backwards."
Bang is an especially motivated artist, who puts in a full work day, each and every day. "It's got nothing to do with getting inspired," Bang asserts, "it's about getting work done. I just moved my studio from where it was for the last 10 years to a new space in Odderøya [a small island off the Norwegian coast, near Kristiansand], with a view of the ocean and the woods. It's just beautiful and it changes every day. So I go to the studio and work until 4 o'clock in the afternoon, then I pick up my kids, go home and make them dinner. To me, that's the basic; there's nothing more mystical than that."