Punkt 2012: Kristiansand, Norway, September 6-8, 2012
J. Peter Schwalm's final remixhis participation on each night changing the dynamic of a festival which, in past years, was dominated by Bang and Honoré (who, with just two remixes and the Year of the Bullet afternoon performance, could actually go to shows, hang out in the halls and experience Punkt the way their audiences have) was clearly a challenge. Beyond the sheer amount of information coming at him from Frost's performance, he only received a two-channel stereo mix quite uncharacteristic, given that performances are usually fed to the Alfaroom in greater multi- track form, allowing the remixer to more selectively pick and choose what's to be used for the remix.
Still, it's a testament of Schwalm's own ears and creative mindset that he managed to expand upon aspects of Frost's thumping, low-end frequencies, adding his own acoustic piano samples and chordal washes. The most visible non-Norwegian at Punkt over the last couple yearsalso invited to Tallinn in 2011 and Mannheim in 2009there's a reason why Bang and Honoré continue to enlist the German producer and remixer, who is currently readying an album for release in the coming months. Like his Norwegian counterparts, Schwalm knows how to build stories out of the raw materials he's given; he also knows when enough is enough, ending his Frost live remix after a scant 20 minutes. It was absolutely enough, and for all the best possible reasons.
Toronto, Canada-based Owen Pallett is, perhaps, better known for what he called his "day job" at the Punkt afterparty at K-35the hangout for musicians and guests of the festival, where food and drink is on tap from early afternoon to well into the wee hours of the morningplaying violin on albums by everyone from R.E.M. and The Pet Shop Boys to Taylor Swift and the reunited Duran Duran, as well as ongoing membership in Canada's Arcade Fire. But it's the classically trained musician's own music that, no surprise, matters the most, even though he rarely gets to play it, these days, outside the context of impromptu shows in the Toronto area. His only self-released recording, Heartland (Self Produced, 2010), leverages a greater instrumental, well, palette, than his trio-driven Punkt performance, with Pallett playing various keyboards in addition to the strings, and inviting a variety of guests to add everything from electric guitar, cello and marimba to electric piano and timpani.
For his Punkt performance, he brought two longtime friends and musical collaborators, drummer Rob Gordon and low guitarist Matt Smith. Performing songs from Heartland and others, what Pallett lacked in orchestration he made up for in energy and sheer virtuosity. And while he may not have had quite the instrumental arsenal at his disposal, between his keyboard and almost mindboggling looping with his violin, he managed to create some seriously joyous noise.
Not at all like Sweet Billy Pilgrimbut not completely unlike the British band either Pallett makes a similar kind of intelligent person's pop music, filled with detail and complexity, while remaining effervescently catchy and lyrically curious. There was even one song that, after announcing the group was going to "give it a go," required a second kick-start, as Pallett's frighteningly fast keyboard line got out of synch with Gordon's drumming (or was it the other way around?); still, it was to Pallett's credit as an affable stage presenceeven if not exactly relaxed (he was too energetic)that he felt comfortable enough to not only try something he wasn't sure they'd managed, but try it a second time, to see if they could get it right. They did.
For the second remix by the Norwegian contingent, Bang, Honoré, Henriksen and Aarset took Pallett's music to an overall darker place. But that shouldn't suggest a lack of levity amongst these longtime musical and otherwise friendsespecially with the puckish trumpeter onstage. Partway through the relatively brief remix, a cell-phone went off in the audience, prompting Henriksen to bend down and speak gently into his microphone, "Owen? Owen? Is that you? " With so many artists becoming increasingly sensitive to this kind of occurrence, Henriksen demonstrated an alternative approach: rather than be annoyed, make something out of it; use it.
In addition to his standard trumpet, Henriksen also brought out his saxophone mouthpiece to convert it into trumpophoneone of a number of odd Norwegian hybrids that also include Håkon Kornstad's flutonette (flute with a clarinet mouthpiece), and Trygve Seim's clarophone (a saxophone with a clarinet mouthpiece). Aarset, who has been leaning more towards guitar-like sounds recently, as opposed to the often unrecognizable sonics of years past, worked in concert with Henriksen to bring melodic space to the remix. Honoré was his usual statue-like self, while Bang moved to an internal rhythm when there wasn't an overt one to be found. It was a short but perfect remix that demonstrated the vernacular these players have built, and why it was essential to have them participating in at least some of this year's events.