Punkt 2012: Kristiansand, Norway, September 6-8, 2012
Kilden Performing Arts Centre
September 6-8, 2012
Another year, another Punkt. If that sounds flippant or dismissive, that's not the intention; instead, it's a reflection that a year simply isn't complete without visiting Kristiansand, Norway, for the Live Remix festival that continues to expand its network and garner attention from people around the world.
And it's not just fans of co-Artistic Directors Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, and the vision they had when they launched the first Punkt festival in 2005. More and more musicians are hearing about this innovative festival, one which pairs live performances from across the broadest musical spectrum possible, with subsequent live remixes where invited guests reinterpret or use the previous performance as a jumping off point for music of their ownmore often than not, in collaboration with other musicians.
Past years have seen performances ranging from classical composer Gavin Bryars and British folk traditionalist June Tabor and Quercus to more distinctly jazz-centric music from drummer Bill Bruford and pianist Michiel Borstlap. Pop groups like Sweet Billy Pilgrim have shared the festival stage with Norway's Trio Mediæval; American trumpeter Jon Hassell has teamed up with Norway's Arve Henriksen for a remix that might have been a passing of the torch, were the American trumpeter not still so active; Swiss pianist Nik Bartsch has brought his ECM recording group Ronin; and groundbreaking singer Sidsel Endresen has teamed up for a double-bill with another intrepid vocal explorer, Maja Ratkje. And that's just scratching the surface.
Bang and Honoré have always kept their eyes on preventing the festival from repeating itself. From an initially Norwegian focus, the festival has adopted an increasingly international purview and has brought its moveable Live Remix concept to other countries and other festivals, including London, Mannheim, Paris and Tallinn. The 2011 edition broke the mold further by enlisting British avant-songsmith David Sylvian to curate a full evening, and it was tremendously successfuleven allowing Henriksen to perform his most recent CD, Cartography (ECM, 2008), for the first time with close to its original instrumentation, and with Sylvian participating. 2011 was a particularly strong year, with Sylvian also bringing the first-ever live performance of his studio collaboration with keyboardist Holger Czukay, Plight and Premonition (Venture, 1988). It's shows like theseand there are always others, year-after-year that not only make Punkt special, but make it a place where the audience is truly privileged, with opportunities to experience things that nobody else in the world has...or, in most cases, ever will.
2012 was a year of transition. While an overall success, Punkt had a few misses to go along with its predominant hits. After seven years in the Agder Theatrewhere the main hall held approximately 550 people, and the Alfaroom (Punkt's name for the Live Remix room) was able to accommodate about 250the new Kilden Performing Arts Centre gave Punkt a much larger concert hall. With state-of-the-art technology in multiple performance spaces, including a main theater capacity of about 1250, it meant that Punkt (already a techno- savvy festival) could do far, far more when it came to staging, with lighting and set designer Tord Knutsen and video artist Jan Martin Vågen creating some of their best work to date.
While the Kilden Alfaroom could hold more people, it did lose some of the intimacy of previous years. At the Agder there was no stage, and bleacher seating meant that it felt less a performance than a public laboratory, where the audience was a collective fly on the wall of a creative process few get to experience outside the confines of recording studios. At Kilden, the remixers were on a raised stage, and the main floor of the room (there was a small balcony, but it was closed to the audience) was set up in standing room format. It didn't change the experimental nature of the remixes, but it did change the dynamic between audience and artist. Hopefully there will be a way to redesign the Alfaroom to more closely mirror Agder's design, albeit with its greater capacity and better sound, in future years.
On a very plus side, during previous years the programming was very dense, usually with four shows and four live remixes each evening. While it was always great to become immersed in so much music, from about 5:00 p.m. until 1:00 the next morning, Punkt 2012's schedule of just three shows and three remixes meant a little more relaxed program, with time to actually grab a drink, a snack and a chat between live remixes and main theater sets. The program also ended earlier (11:30 p.m.) and started later (6:00 p.m.), which meantwell, for somemore sleep, and a little more energy for Punkt Seminars with artists including American cornetist Butch Morris, SmallTown Supersound label head Joakim Haugland, designer Nick Robertson, classical composer/oboist Cathy Milliken and others. It also meant being able to see two afternoon performances, one by Estonia's Weekend Guitar Trio, and another by Honoré and vocalist Greta Aagre, celebrating the release of their first internationally released album together, Year of the Bullet (Jazzland, 2012).
But the biggest change in 2012 was Bang and Honoré's decision to relinquish the programming chairand not just for one night, as in 2011, but for the entire festival; it was a risky proposition, no matter who was chosen. Enlisting producer, ambient music forefather and general creative thinker Brian Eno seemed like a great ideahe is, after all, one of Bang and Honoré's seminal influences and, along with Hassell and Sylvian, amongst Punkt's most significant touchstones. And this wasn't Eno's first visit to Punktas an invited guest in 2008, he did an installation, 77 Million Paintings for Punkt, and participated in a "conversational remix" with Hassell, who was also in attendance that year.
Eno's programming, while it brought many positives to the festivalthe most important being a far greater diversity in programming which stretched the live remixers and will hopefully be a model for future yearsdid introduced a few negatives as well.
In a press conference on the first day of the festival, when asked if (as Bang and Honoré have done in past years) there was any consideration, when choosing the main stage acts, as to how they would work as grist for live remix, his answer was a rather succinct, "no." This seemed odd, since Punkt's identity is based on live remix, and so to not be thinking about its core concept when programming meant, to some extent, placing what makes Punkt Punkt in a position of lesser importance. With the exception of J. Peter Schwalm's remix with members of the Nordic Live Electronics Network, and two by the Punkt "dream team" of Bang, Honoré, Henriksen and guitarist Eivind Aarset, most remixes were not collaborations between electronic artists and players of more conventional instruments. Still, at the press conference, Honoré made the point that not being as familiar with the artists and their potential for remix this year meant a more "dangerous and scary thing," and in the context of live remixesin the moment, improvisational and without a safety netneither of these words is anything but a good thing.
Eno also introduced the conference with the statement that, as a working musician, he rarely has the chance to listen to music beyond the scope of what he's working on, and so being asked to curate Punkt gave him a welcome opportunity to connect with what is happening now. While there may be some truth to this for some, it was also a tad suspect, given how his own past was often predicated on an awareness of the music going on around him, such as during the 1970s when he was clearly connected with the emerging electronic/electronic scene in Germany, which had significant impact on his Berlin Trilogy collaborations with singer David Bowie1977's Low and "Heroes" , and 1979's Lodger (all RCA).
Eno absolutely brought acts that Punkt would never have consideredperhaps the most obvious being American musical comedian Reggie Watts, who put on a tremendous show that was funny, insightful and musically deepand if Punkt learns anything from their experience with Eno, it's that as much as the festival has always been disinterested in musical boundaries, it still reflected certain predilections of its Artistic Directors. How, after all, could it not? But if comedy and the Afro-centric music of Malian guitarist Guimba Kouyaté proved that truly anything could be fodder for live remix (even if not intended as such by the curator), not all of the acts lined up with another statement from Eno. Claiming to be disinterested in nostalgia and, instead, wanting to build a program of international focus, music that the predominantly Norwegian audience would likely have not heard before, he stated that he wanted to focus not on where music has been, but where it's going; a fair statement from an artist whose career has been largely predicated on looking forward, not backward.
Acts like Britain's Three Trapped Tigers, Canada's Owen Pallett, Australia-born/Iceland- based Ben Frost and Iceland's múm absolutely demonstrated a forward-thinking mindset. Even Watts' set was built on tremendous use of contemporary technology in creating his one-man band, and his comedy was contemporary and topical. But the festival's opener, S.C.U.M., for example, was as retro as could be, with hints of early Roxy Music and a number of other obvious touchstones. And as good as Kouyaté wasa young Malian player for whom this was his first band as a leader and his first gig with that groupthere might have been better choices that Eno could have made, since the music itself was nothing beyond the ordinary, albeit well-played. While Kouyaté was clearly a talent deserving broader recognition, his music was absolutely steeped in tradition.
One of the more interesting statements Eno made at the press conference was in response to the question, "Why did you choose music?" Given that Eno studied fine arts in school, his reply was both understandable and, sadly, practical. "One of the main reasons," he said, "was because the distribution system in music seems fairer than in the fine arts. The bottleneck, in the world of paintingand the audienceis so very small." He also explained how, when he began playing music, rock was 15 years old and people were thinking, for the first time, that it might actually stick around, that the music might be durable and that its history to that point could be the palette. It was around the time when Eno became involved in music that "rock music became self- conscious," and that Roxy Music "effectively repackaged the short history of rock music to date. It has probably been a more interesting journey than had I been a painter."
And so, Eno's participation brought new ideas to the festivalones that will hopefully be considered for future yearsbut by placing less emphasis on live remix, he didn't completely capture what Punkt is all about, given its existing track record. On the other hand, while longtime Punkt attendees had some concerns about moving to the larger, more modern Kilden Performing Arts Centre, by the end of the first night all fears were allayed; and even if the Alfaroom wasn't quite right, it was, after all, the first year, and that meant there were bound to be some missteps. The good newsand what Punkt fans have come to justifiably count onis that with Bang and Honoré at the helm, and with the festival's beyond-outstanding volunteer staff, who made everything easy and everyone feel at home, there's no doubt that Punkt 2012's mistakes will not be repeated, and its successful differences will be taken onboard and expanded upon when the ninth edition takes place in 2013. If it was altered a tad too much this year, future Punkts will most assuredly return to honoring its primary raison d'être, live remix, and reinstate its essential position of greater importance and value.
As ever, BBC Radio 3's host of Late Junction, Fiona Talkington, was the MC for the festival, introducing the groups and acting as the heart of Punkt. A warmer, more appreciative host would be hard to imagine. As she made clear during the entire festival, its success was as much a function of the equally warm, equally appreciative and absolutely engaged audience that came this year to Kilden for the first time, to find out just how Punkt would transition into a bigger space, and with a different creative spirit at the helm.
September 4 Concert: S.C.U.M.
September 4 Live Remix: Marconi Union
September 4 Concert: Three Trapped Tigers
September 4 Live Remix: Bang / Honoré / Henriksen / Aarset
September 4 Concert: Reggie Watts
September 4 Live Remix: Brian Eno / J. Peter Schwalm
September 5 Afternoon Concert: Weekend Guitar Trio
September 5 Concert: Cyclobe
September 5 Concert: EBE OKE
September 5 Live Remix: NLE Students / J. Peter Schwalm
September 5 Concert: múm
September 5 Live Remix: Vladislav Delay
September 6 Afternoon Concert: Aagre / Honoré Year of the Bullet
September 6 Concert: Ben Frost
September 6 Live Remix: J. Peter Schwalm
September 6 Concert: Owen Pallett
September 6 Live Remix: Bang / Honoré / Henriksen / Aarset
September 6 Concert: Guimba Kouyaté