Jan Bang / Erik Honore: Uncommon Deities
Jan Bang / Erik Honoré
As the 2012 Punkt Festival debuts its eighth annual edition at its home base of Kristiansand, Norwaybut this time, in the brand new, state of the art Kilden Performing Arts Centreit has gradually evolved into something more than just a festival. The brainchild of co-artistic directors Jan Bang and Erik Honoré has even managed to transcend its founding premise of live remixestaking performances in the main theater and, immediately afterwards, conducting a live remix, with other musicians thrown into the mix. In collaboration with a growing network of Punkt associates including singer Sidsel Endresen, trumpeter Arve Henriksen, guitarist Eivind Aarset, pianist John Tilbury and avant-songsmith David Sylvian, Bang and Honoré have literally shaped a new approach to composition. Predicated on samples from improvised settings combined with real-time free play, in order to virtually reverse-engineer compositions, it has grown, over the past decade, from Henriksen's Chiaroscuro (Rune Grammofon, 2004) and the Punkt Records compilation, Crime Scenes (2006), both produced by Bang and Honoré, to fuller fruition on the trumpeter's 2008 ECM debut, Cartography, and Bang's first recording as a leader, ...and poppies from Kandahar (2010), not at all coincidentally on Sylvian's SamadhiSound imprint.
The Sylvian connection goes further still. The British songwriter's approach to building songs around standalone free improvisations began on his 2003 SamadhiSound premiere with guitarist Derek Bailey, Blemish (2003), but became even further realized with 2009's Manafon, and integrated with Bang and Honoré's soundworld through their participation on Died in the Wool: Manafon Variations (2011).
Uncommon Deities is the next logical step for Bang, Honoré, Sylvian and the expanding Punkt network. The idea began at Punkt 2011, when Sylvianalso invited to curate one evening of musiclaunched his audio-visual installation, Uncommon Deities, at Kristiansand's Sørlander Art Museum, using it as the broader umbrella for a series of improvised performances in support of texts by Norwegian poets Paal-Helge Haugen and Nils Christian Moe-Repstad.
Uncommon Deities, the recording, is not merely a live document of that installation, however, and performances from artists including many found here, including Henriksen, Endresen, Aarset and Tilburythough that would certainly have been enough. Instead, Bang and Honoré havetogether and in collaboration with others in the setconstructed a series of compositions that combine samples from Sylvian's installation, Punkt's 2011 visit to Tallinn, and other 2011 Kristiansand Punkt performances, with subsequent improvised recordings, all tied together, once again, by Haugen and Moe-Repstad's poetry, read with remarkable Zen by Sylvian.
Titles like "The God of Silence," "The God of Smaller Gods," "The God of Crossroads" and "The God of Gradual Abdication" reflect the increasing sophistication of Bang and Honoré's concepts, with some pieces feeling like ambient soundscapes, others approaching a skewed beauty through Henriksen's unmistakable tone and unpredictable lyricism, and still others reflecting a darker angularity, yet remaining strangely compelling and absolutely appropriate to Sylvian's word-perfect narration.
Endresenthe other significant contributor along with Henriksen and Sylviancontinues to hone her vocal innovations, which are equally fundamental to seven of Uncommon Deities' twelve tracks; her stuttering sibilances, odd vowel utterances and cell-based vocal techniques still absolutely musical. As absolutely oblique as she sometimes can be, the unfailing warmth and timbral richness of her voice works as both a textural partner to all the other sound sources, and as an instrument that, on occasion moves forward to the front of the mix.
If there was any precedent for Uncommon Deities it might be in contemporary composer (and one-time Punkt performer) Gavin Bryars and his A Man in a Room, Gambling (GB, 2003) and I Send You This Cadmium Red (GB, 2010). But, in both cases, Bryars took the spoken word source material and scored compositions around them. In the case of Uncommon Deities, the musical sources are freely improvised at various places and times, making it an album that changes the concept of linear composition into one of temporal displacement, where a string sample from one performance in 2011 can be combined with trumpet, piano and vocal samples from different shows at different times, and then augmented with additional synthesizers at yet another point in time.
Good music is often described as timeless, but precious little of it is timeless by actual definition; what Bang and Honoré have done, over the course of the past decade, is train their ears to hear unexpected commonalities from disparate musical sources taking place at different times. Uncommon Deities may sound academic, with all this talk of reverse composition and technology. But what makes it both a masterpiece in its own right and the obvious extensionnot just for its two primary protagonists, but for each and every participant in the recordingof lessons learned through the Punkt axis, is how organic, how natural, how inevitable it all feels. Uncommon Deities may seem to be about lofty concepts, but it's ultimately an unfailingly human experience, one that resonates long after the final track has ended, as it suggests both deeper musical truths and profound clarity about the human condition.
Tracks: The God of Single Cell Organisms; The God of Sleeplessness; The God of Silence; The God of Smaller Gods; The God of Small Caresses; The God of Black Holes; The God of Adverbs; The Ruminative Gap; The God of Crossroads; The God of Tiny Islands; The God of Gradual Abdication; I Swallowed Earth for This.
Personnel: Jan Bang: samples (1, 3-12), synthesizer (2); Erik Honoré: samples (1, 3-10, 12), synthesizer (3, 4, 8, 10, 12), synth bass (3-5, 8, 10), string samples (11); David Sylvian: voice (1-7, 9-12), cut-ups (5); Sidsel Endresen: vocal (1, 2, 5, 7-9, 11); Ingar Zach: percussion sample (1); Arve Henriksen: trumpet samples (1, 8), trumpet samples performed by Jan Bang (3), trumpet samples performed by Erik Honoré (10), trumpet (4, 11); Helena Tulve: string samples (1); John Tilbury: piano (3, 11), treated piano (5); Philip Jeck: record player (5); Margalit Oved: vocal and percussion samples (5); Eivind Aarset: guitar (6, 9); Dai Fujikara: string samples (7, 9), string samples performed by Zilliacus/Persson/Raitinen/Dornbusch (11); Christian Wallumrød: piano samples performed by Erik Honoré (10).