Punkt 2012: Kristiansand, Norway, September 6-8, 2012
If Eno's participation as Punkt curator was a coup for the festival, then his agreeing to participate in a live remix was an even bigger win. Eno rarely performs onstageand, in the context of live remix, there was much to live up to. A masterful producer and music- maker in the studio, going on stage and performing in a completely improvised context where there was no going back on decisions made, following the Bang/Honoré/Henriksen/Aarset remix created an even greater expectation: how would Eno fare, following a live remix from the people who'd been doing this for eight years and more than a dozen Punkts?
Fortunately, extremely well, with the participation of J.Peter Schwalm. Introducing the remix by saying "How do you remix the self-remixing Reggie?...but we'll give it a try," the remix demonstrated all that's still innovative about Eno as a maker of music and as a producer, all blended into an in-the-moment piece that began with harmonious ambient soundscapes, over which Watts' voice was layered, grabbing a particular repetitive pattern that blended perfectly with Eno and Schwalm.
The remix did not stay consonant, however, as the duo gradually introduced harsher extremesedgier, and more about sound than melody or harmonyand a denser sonic pattern emerged out of a repeated electronic pulse. The duo grabbed snippets of Watts, like the repeated "try to make some sense," and used them as rhythmic motifs that fostered its gradually evolving sound world. But it was as the remix moved into even sharper territory, with the repeated "We wanna know" leading into a loud, jagged collage of colliding sounds and pulses, that the remix morphed into something completely different from what the Norwegian contingent might have done. As Eno began to also chant "We want to know something more," the remix reached its peak...and then stopped, to massive applause from the filled-to-the-rafters Alfaroom.
While Punkt has been conducting seminars during the afternoons each yearincluding the present edition, with its series of fine participantsit decided to do something a little different on the second and third days this year, by including free early afternoon performances in the Alfaroom. First up, on the Friday, was Estonia's Weekend Guitar Trio, no strangers to the Punkt world after performing at the 2011 Jazzkaar festival with Jan Bang as part of Punkt in Tallinnwhich was, in fact, not the trio's first encounter; that happened earlier in the year at King's Place in London, as part of the Eesti Fest, curated by Fiona Talkington.
Here, without Bang's live samples and treatments, it became much clearer just what the members of Weekend Guitar Trio, all with different backgroundsRobert Jürjdendal's exposure to King Crimson co-founding guitarist Robert Fripp's Guitar Craft seminars, meshing with Tõnis Leemets' IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) and electronic music interests, and Mart Soo's background in jazz and free improvisation brought to the table, in a 50-minute set that was culled from some of the group's earliest music, right through to new material that's as yet untitled.
"Roads," the first piece the group ever played together back in 1993, opened the set and gradually evolved from relatively simple melodic motifs. Likewise, the more buoyant and folk-inflected "The Bird Market," with a more complex inner core, began to reveal itself as the trio's arrangement assumed greater shape, and Leemets took a curiously staccato solo of tremendous unpredictability.
What became clear, throughout the set, was just how different each guitarist was, despite all of them employing plenty of processingeven Jürjdendal, playing an Ovation electro-acoustic guitar. "Aura" was based on another spare context, with its simple, two-chord motif; but with Jürjdendal's slide guitar processed to create otherworldly sounds built around the ostinato, it was both ambient and commanding. Minimalistically tinged, "Under the Magnifying Glass" was aptly titled, with a variety of detailed, interlocking parts coming together in a myriad of ways as it took on its ultimate form of pulse and texture. Traversing more jagged landscapes , it suddenly cut into a riff-driven opportunity for Leemets to build a volume pedal-driven solo which soon submerged into the mix as Soo took over, his chorded rhythm running seemingly at cross-purpose with Jürjdendal. As the piece built to greater cacophony, its innate sense of construction became clear only when the trio, unexpectedly, came together for an abrupt conclusion.
It was a strong performance from a trio whose star continues to rise, and with plenty to which to look forward: a live recording with Bang, from King's Place, is forthcoming, as will be a new studio collaboration from Jürjdendal and Bang.
Cyclobe was another of Eno's choices to come from the UK. At the previous day's press conference, Eno explained that his original plan was to bring nine artists from nine different countries, but it didn't quite work out that way, with three from the UK, two from the US, one from Canada, one from Australia (albeit living in Iceland), one from Iceland, and one from Mali.
Cyclobe has been around for some time- -13 years, in factbut its Punkt performance represented only its third ever live date, though it has released six albums and five singles since its 1999 inception. It's no surprise that the group rarely plays live; with the myriad of instruments its six members employranging from keyboards and electronics to bagpipes, hurdy-gurdies, percussion, duduk, tulum, didgeridoo and morethe group must have one heckuva rider. Formed by Stephen Thrower and Ossian Brown (aka Simon Norris), both members of the experimental avant-rock group Coil, Cyclobe's distinct electro-acoustic mélange of acoustic instrumentation and modern technology was another clear fit for the Punkt sound world.
Its set was heavily based on drones, with little in the way of clear melody, though lines would periodically emerge from the miremost often from duduk/pipes player Michael J. York (another Coil alum), but also from Thrower and invited guest, electronics artist Ivan Pavlov. A highlight of the set as a brief interlude following the first piece, when Thrower, Brown, York and percussionist Dave Smith (a member of Rock In Opposition-affiliated group Guapo) moved front and center stage for a brief but unexpected, and ultimately beautiful, recorder quartet. It was an indication of greater possibilities that permeated a set which could easily have been the soundtrack to an imaginary film. The construction of Cyclobe's set was considerably different from the duo's normal approach, which is to compose its work over long periods of time, taking breaks during the process sometimes for months, sometimes yearsin order to let ideas germinate and clarify.
It was a set that unfolded with the kind of slow, at times almost imperceptible evolution that made it a bit of a challenge, but when taken together with recordings like the recent Wounded Galaxies Tap at the Window (Phantomcode, 2010), it's clear that Cyclobe travels to the rhythm of its own very different drummer. Punkt is a festival defined by artists following roads less traveled, and Cyclobe's uncompromising approach to sonic manipulation was, indeed, unique.