Punkt Festival 2010
The beauty of Punkt and its Live Remix concept is how its family continues to expand with each passing year. Musicians come to the festival for the first time and are instantly drawn in; others may have been here before, but find themselves collaborating with friends both old and new. An intriguing quartet was put together for the Live Remix of Bang's performance. A past collaborator with Hassell, and with a sizable discography under his own name, J.A. Deane began life as a session trombonist in the 1970s, but in the ensuing decades has become increasingly involved in the electronic side of things, moving into the arena of live sampling, in addition to being an ever-reaching experimentalist with new instruments like the three-string lap steel dulcimer he had built for him recently by Quintin Stephens. Deane made his first appearance at Punkt in 2009 as part of percussionist Adam Rudolph's large Go: Organic Orchestra. This year, in addition to this remix, he organized the festival's opening show on September 2, conducting students of the University of Agder, as well as delivering a seminar on performance/improvisation and live electronics.
Saxophonist Håkon Kornstad was no stranger to Punkt, having performed in contexts ranging from his groundbreaking group, Wibutee, in 2006, to a solo performance in 2008, where his use of looping and unorthodox instruments like the flutonette (a flute with a clarinet mouthpiece) made it one of the festival's most impressive sets. Keyboardist David Wallumrød and drummer Anders Engen were new to Punkt this year, but with performances at this remix and the following day with singer/songwriter Unni Wilhelmsen, it's a certainty that they'd become members of growing Punkt family.
The remix was more about interpretation than remix, though Deane did incorporate pieces of Bang's performance, creating layer-upon-layer of sonic washes as a context for Kornstad, whose combination of extended techniques and electronics continues to evolve. Harmonically static, Engen created the gentlest of pulses, while Wallumrød augmented the remix with his own soundscapes. Still, ten minutes into the remix, Endresen's vocals from "The Midwife's Dilemma" suddenly appeared, sparking some staggered responses from Kornstad, who was perhaps most familiar with the singer's work, having performed with her in a series of duo concerts in 2009. Moving to flutonette, Kornstad, in particular, demonstrated open ears to the movement around him; while his personal focus is increasingly on solo performance, sets like this, his all-improv 2010 Kongsberg show with drummer John Hollenbeck and bassist Skúli Sverrisson, and his work in violinist Ola Kvernberg's "Liarbird" show at Molde Jazz earlier this summer, prove that he's lost none of his ability to work in spontaneous collectives.
The quartet's remix may have appeared somewhat static on the surface, but the multiple layers and a gentle sense of forward motion made it a suitably sublime rework of Bang's transcendent ...and poppies performance.
Perhaps best-known in recent years for his work as musical director for avant-popster Laurie Anderson, participation in drummer Jim Black's AlasNoAxis, and some hard-hitting fusion on guitar icon Allan Holdsworth's Hard Hat Area (Restless, 1994), Icelandic bassist Skúli Sverrisson's own music, in particular the richly layered, heartfelt Sería (12 Tónar, 2007) (winner of the Icelandic Music Awards' "Album of the Year") leans more towards composition than performance. Not that Sverrisson isn't a terrific bassist; he is, but with a personal approach that eschews most standard bass conventions, substituting textural and chordal harmony for groove and centering.
From left: Skúli Sverrisson, Eyvind Kang
For his first visit to Punkt, Sverrisson brought a unique chamber group to perform music from Sería, as well as a new album that's been recorded and is due out any day. Fans of Bill Frisell fortunate enough to have caught the guitarist on tour this summer, with his Beautiful Dreamers trio, will have seen violist Eyvind Kang; here, with Sverrisson, his role was more interpretive, performing the bassist's sublimely structured compositions. Less about defined solo space and more about collective ambiance, Kang's ability to play at levels so quiet it was almost necessary to lean forward to hear him, made him a compelling lead instrumentalist throughout the set.
Cellist Hildur Gudnadottir provided more pulse than Sverrisson, occasionally adding wordless vocals to the mix, while keyboardist David Thor Jonsson provided textural backdrops with work inside and out of the piano box, and subtle synth colorations. Sverrisson played his five-string electric bass more like a guitar, with finger- picked arpeggios often driving the music, as well as expansive sonic washes created via strumming, a volume pedal and a variety of effects processing. His writing was almost hypnotic, seemingly static on the surface, but revealing movement over time. The overall ambiance was hushed, with traces of folk music and contemporary classical music imbuing a set that seemed to morph seamlessly from one piece to the next.
Again, Tord Knudsen's lighting augmented the music perfectly, with constant shifts as gradually unfolding as the music; a backdrop of floating stars gradually intensifying only to shift to vertical bars of gray, creating a visual travelogue to the aural one being created by Sverrisson, Kang, Jonsson and Gudnadottir.
Following earlier performances by Bang and Tormis/Segakoor Noruss, Sverrisson's set completed a trifecta of shows heavy on subtle shadings, and dynamics so subtle that the barest of changes felt intense and dramatic. Whether or not Punkt had a theme in mind for its Friday performances (and the closing double bill that ended with the aggressive rock stance of Serena Maneesh would suggest not), its programming of these three artists turned out to be ideal; combining elements from so many sources to further the idea of Punkt as a festival that doesn't just bend the rules, but thoroughly demolishes them.