Published since 2004
With the realization that there will always be more music coming at him than he can keep up with, John wonders why anyone would think that jazz is dead or dying.
Punkt 08's first day of full programming was a full one. In addition to five concerts and three live remixes, festival goers were treated to a lengthy public discussion between Brian Eno and Jon Hassell that proved as entertaining as it was enlightening. Punkt has also been running daytime seminars since inception, but this year another rare and equally enlightening event was Gavin Bryars' lunchtime session, with a performance later that evening that was, along with Nik Bartsch's Ronin, one of the most eagerly anticipated shows of the festival. And it didn't disappoint.
Illness meant that two of Punkt's regularsdrummer Audun Kleive and singer Sidsel Endresenhad to cancel at the last minute. While their presence was missed, as always Punkt's Jan Bang and Erik Honoré recovered without a blip, making this first day one filled with memorable moments and some fine laboratory work in the Alpha Room Live Remixes.
While the affable Bryars filled his hour-long seminar with enough information to require a separate article, perhaps the most important points of an otherwise relaxed and informal discussion were his description of how he developed his own voice; how he composes with specific performers (and instrumental configurationssometimes by choice, other times out of necessity) in mind; and the genesis of perhaps his most famous piece, "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet."
Growing up in rural England, where the only live music was played by local amateurs, Bryars discussed the value of making do with what you have. He described an early ensemblethree members who all played piano, with Bryars also playing bass and the others playing tuba and tenor hornwhere the permutations and combinations were limited. Learning to make music that sounded natural rather than music that sounded like it was made because of what he had available to him was a lesson that he continues to apply to this day, as is a philosophy where he not only writes for the instruments and specific performers in mind but views making music entirely as an experience of collegiality, friendship and mutual respect. Using various sound samples from his own work, and specific personal episodes, he shed light on the entire process.
Bryars went into great detail about his discovery of the 26-second snippet of tape that featured an anonymous old man singing a song about "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet," found on a tape of rejected research from a film on whichsince the footage of the old man was never usedthe singer's identity became lost. Bryars admitted that, even after hearing the musical fragment thousands of times, he is still deeply moved by it, and hearing the voice stripped bare as Bryars played the musical fragment, it's easy to understand why. A range of emotions from deep sadness to shedding a more positive light on an anonymous singer who revealed so much with so little (including, by singing in pure pitch, that he was not an untalented singer), will in fact, be remembered through the music.
Bryars kept the tone light but the information substantive, making it an hour well-spent by those in attendance, and a chance to start thinking about his upcoming show later in the evening.
With Jon Hassell a regular fixture at Punktparticipating in three of the festival's four yearsand the involvement of Brian Eno, a longtime collaborator and friend, Punkt 08 seemed to provide more opportunities than usual to look at what this musical innovator could do in a variety of contexts. Audiences will have a chance to hear his new Maarifa Street line-up perform music from its upcoming ECM album (to be released in 2009), but in addition to another of the festival's most anticipated shows, Hassell took advantage of an invitation to come up with his own installation, NEAR FAR - Bells in Kristiansand. Throughout the festival, as part of the same Punkt Kunst facet of the festival that is featuring Eno's 77 Million Paintings for Punkt, the bells of the town's Domkirke are chiming every hour with a unique harmony designed by Hassell. Lasting less than five seconds, the experience, despite its short duration, sounded as if it could come only from Hassell and manifested a tonality that few would expect to hear coming from a church.
It was a good introduction to a lengthier encounter with Hassell at F&#248;nix Kino, where he and Eno entertained over four hundred people for nearly ninety minutes as they essentially put on a workshop/laboratory experiment of their own. Both Eno and Hassell have been working on books, and it occurred to them that, sharing many of the same philosophies, they might well be writing the same book and so, perhaps, a collaboration would be in order.
Or not. While the ultimate outcome is yet to be determined, Hassell introduced the session, called "A Conversational Remix," as "eavesdropping on the process of making a book." With pages of text organized around the floor in front of the two onstage, they both referenced various pages of text to shed light on their shared philosophy, one that each articulates differently but which ultimately comes down to a shared idea that there's a disconnect between head and heart. Hassell's description (and tentative title of his book) is The North and South of You, the lyric from Cole Porter's "All of You" in this instance used to reference the dichotomy between the first and third world countries largely divided by the equator, and the equal split between the intellectual and the sensual, with the equator being the waist of the body. Eno's working title is Surrender which, relating to Eno's press conference the previous day, speaks to the idea that surrendering means gracefully becoming a part of something rather than controlling it, with his paradigm of north at one end and south at the other representing the opposing impulses of control and surrender.
On from there the two went, engaged in a combination of dialogue and monologue, with plenty of humor thrown into the mix, the clear result of a friendship that, in some ways could be considered a little curious as the two are very different peopleEno, ever the producer, at times directing Hassell not to describe a page that was being displayed on an overhead screen at the same time as the audience was meant to be reading it, only to have Hassell throw the same instruction back at him later on. But it was all in the spirit of good fun and the kind of repartee that can only come from two people who clearly see eye-to-eye on so many things.
Despite the lightness of the tone, the subject often came down to some substantive concepts, including that of pleasure being your compass, asking yourself what you really like and how all political systems work on a small scale but inherently not on a larger one.
Whether or not the two ultimately collaborate on the book remains to be seen, those at Punkt had a rare opportunity to hear the two artists together in conversation. It was a window into the minds of two iconic artists in an informal context that, despite being in a large theater, was not unlike sitting in a living room, listening to two old friends toss ideas back and forth.
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