Punkt 2012: Kristiansand, Norway, September 6-8, 2012
If Marconi Union's first remix was a tad on the safe side, the Three Trapped Tigers remix, from Punkt Co-Artistic Directors Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, plus guitarist Eivind Aarset and trumpeter Arve Henriksen, made clear just what Punkt and Live Remix was about. With Bang and Honoré celebrating the release of Uncommon Deities (SamadhiSound, 2012) which uses music from past Punkts, as well as Sylvian's Sørlander Museum installation from last year, as the primary reference points and inspirationthe duo, along with Aaret and Henriksen, demonstrated the kind of language which they've been honing over the past eight years.
Live Remix is fraught with risk; there's no safety net, and if mistakes are made, then there's no opportunity to go back and fix them. It's a fundamental difference that has made Punkt such a thrilling place to be. There's never any idea where a remix will go (the artists only considering what they might use while the show on the main stage is going on...beyond that, nothing), but even when it's less than completely successful, the journey can be just as importantor, even, moreas the destination. Here, this quartet of Norwegian improvisersall leaders in their own right, with Henriksen preparing a seven-LP box set of his Rune Grammofon recordings (plus bonus material) for later this fall, and Aarset's ECM debut, Dream Logic, also set for release in the next couple monthssomehow managed to ratchet down Three Trapped Tigers' crunching energy, for a remix with a strong sense of purpose and clear development. Bang took drummer Betts and staggered his rhythms, twisting and turning his visceral pulses and turning them on their side, while Henriksen's harmonized trumpet layered an intrinsic melodicism over Aarset's washes.
Gentle landscapes juxtaposed with greater dissonances, dovetailing perfectly with the diversity of the source material, also demonstrating another important quality of a good remix: knowing when to stop, with the quartet ending after a scant twenty minutes. But it was the perfect length; anything less would not have been enough, while anything more would have been too much.
The idea of bringing a comedian to Punkt may have been Eno's most radical decision. After all, how can standup comedy beeven, as in the case with American comedian Reggie Watts, combined with no shortage of musical contentused for a live remix? The answer would come soon after, when Eno would take to the stage in the Alfaroom for an extremely rare live appearance and remix with J. Peter Schwalm. But in the meantime, Watts delivered another Punkt 2012 highlight, with a set that had the audience in stitches, yet proved to be far more than just a giggle.
As for the audience? One of the festival's big concerns was how it could come close to filling the 1250-seat main stage in Kilden, after seven years in the 550-seat Agder Theatre, especially when advance sales didn't seem to suggest any larger attendance. They needn't have worried. If S.C.U.M.'s show was reasonably well-attended, by the closing show of Punkt 2012's first night, the main floor of the hall was easily 75% full, and there were people up on the first level balcony as well. Word had clearly gotten out, and the idea of bringing a comedian to Punkt clearly drew a crowd that might not otherwise have given the festival a try but, based on attendance for the rest of the festival, clearly stuck around and got into the Punkt spirit.
Entering the stage speaking with a Russian accent that soon morphed into Jamaican, which then changed to French and others, Watts made clear that he was not just delivering a prearranged set; instead, he was an improviser, just drawing from a different palette. There were plenty of Scandinavian references throughout the set, delivered with a kind of comfortable ease that made lines like "a lot of you have come from some place...and not a lot of people can say that," or, as he moved to his table of electronics for the first musical piece, "this piece was written in 1776; thank you for listening to what it's trying to be"or, "if we are just holographic projections, we might was well have a good time doing it'enough to reduce the audience to tears (of laughter, of course).
Watts is already garnering significant attention in the US for his performances as part of Conan O'Brien's tour, and for his live CD/DVD, Why S#!+ SO Crazy? (Comedy Central, 2010), but the comedianwho started out as a musical arranger proved to be even broader than his existing list of accolades would suggest. Musically, Watts possesses a tremendous voice, capable of just about anythingwere he to choose to be a "serious" singer he could, no doubt, do just as well (though this is even better)and combined with his intimate comfort with a variety of processing devices, including looping, echo, reverb and harmonizing, he suggested how Bobby McFerrin might sound, had he an outrageous sense of humor.
From conversations with himself, panned to the left and right of the stage, to creating songs built from beatbox, layered vocal harmonies and occasional keyboards, Watts' performance ultimately embodied something that has long been a part of the Punkt festivalan intimate and organic blend of acoustic instrumentation with electronics that goes beyond gimmickry and shtick, and into the realm of a new kind of music where technology is as much an extension of the artist as the voice or conventional musical instrumentation. And with topical discussions about how great Norway is ("The next song is a Norwegian folk song I've taken and remixed a bit; it's about fish") turned into a deep rap that mixed "Yo, yo" with a piss-pull and scarily accurate impersonation of Icelandic pop star Björk, it became clear just how little of Watts' set was scripted. At one point emulating musical instruments à la McFerrin, at another slowing himself down as the stage lighting magically followed, it was a closing performance for the first night of Punkt 2012 that few will soon forget.