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Punkt 07 - Kristiansand, Norway - Day Four, September 1, 2007

John Kelman By

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Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

Despite its relatively small size, Punkt is a festival that always thinks big. The best sound and lighting people in the country are enlisted—resulting in always superb sound and set/lighting designs that, rather than being created for the venue and remaining constant, change, often significantly, from performance to performance. Every year there's something new, like the Punkt Magasin, which is more than just a program: it's a large-sized publication that, in addition to outstanding photos from Punkt 06, has articles by and/or about many of the artists performing at the festival. And, of course, there's the multimedia Punkt Kunst, at the Sørlandet Art Museum, as well as a greater number of seminars/lectures on a wealth of topics, ranging from intellectual property to audio/visual readings and the discussion of juxtaposition of disparate styles in performance. All organized and run with incredible efficiency by the festival staff.

Other festivals could do well to learn more about Punkt's purposeful artistic vision and ability to execute it almost flawlessly.

But all good things must come to an end, and the final day of Punkt 07 had more than just a series of fine performances and live remixes: it actually managed to tie its own artistic precedents with current younger artists who have evolved from and expanded upon them.

Chapter Index
  1. Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra/Arve Henriksen/Jan Bang: Crossing Images
  2. Crossing Images Live Remix: Bugge Wesseltoft/Michiyo Yagi
  3. David Toop
  4. Charles/Grydeland/Wallumrød/Zach
  5. Charles/Grydeland/Wallumrød/Zach Live Remix: David Toop/Arve Henriksen/Jan Bang/ Erik Honoré
  6. Robin Guthrie
  7. Friedman/ Liebezeit/Chisolm
  8. Friedman/ Liebezeit/Chisolm Live Remix: Jon Hassell/Eivind Aarset/Jan Bang/Erik Honoré/ Arve Henriksen
  9. Festival Wrap-Up


Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra/Arve Henriksen/Jan Bang: Crossing Images

One of Punkt 06's most ambitious performances, in terms of scope, was WARP (WAgner Reloaded Project), which brought together a string orchestra, four samplers, a turntablist, guitarist, bassist, drummer and pianist/keyboardist for a forward-thinking look at the epic-scale, "multimedia" music of late nineteenth-century classical composer Richard Wagner. Punkt 07 took the concept a step further with Crossing Images, a composition by new music composer Peter Tornquist that creates an innovative interaction between a chamber symphony orchestra and two improvising musicians—Arve Henriksen and Punkt co-founder Jan Bang. Using real quotes from Henriksen's music, Tornquist has created a score that's fluid, in its own way responsive to and interacting with Henriksen's trumpet and Bang's live sampling and electronics.

Punkt Festival 07 / Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra / Arve Henriksen / Jan Bang

It was a remarkable performance, during composed structures, very much in the most abstract contemporary classical sphere, cued and were cued by Henriksen and Bang. There were periods when the small orchestra, conducted by Ingar Bergby, stood alone, as there were points at which the orchestra held back and left the stage to Henriksen and Bang, who have worked together for so long now that they communicate at the deepest of levels. Neither Bang nor Henriksen was using notated scores, suggesting the contribution of each to the performance was entirely improvisational, with Henriksen's wealth of textures ranging from his well-known shakuhachi-like tone to a rarer, more recognizable and brassy sound. Punkt Festival 07 / Jan Bang

While Bang contributed his share of unusual electronic textures, it was his ever-present ability to play his equipment with the same kind of intuitive and symbiotic knowledge that one hears from artists who play more "conventional" instruments— creating subtle pulses, loops and sonic washes—that was yet another demonstration of the ability to integrate music organically with technology, regardless of context.

At times, if listeners closed their eyes, it was impossible to know what was live and what was sampled. At one point Bang sampled the entire orchestra, processed it and fed it back with a rhythmic pulse. Henriksen, playing themes that those familiar with his work would recognize from his recordings for Rune Grammofon, including Chiaroscuro (2004) and Strjon (2007), continues to redefine what is possible with his instrument. Together with the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra, Henriksen and Bang revised the potential for the nexus of detailed form and the greatest of freedom: real- time improvisation where the orchestral music may have been scored but was nevertheless an equal extemporaneous partner, as its movement through the score and pace were spontaneous events consonant with the freedom enjoyed by Henriksen and Bang.

Crossing Images Live Remix: Bugge Wesseltoft/Michiyo Yagi

As imaginative as Crossing Images was, Norwegian keyboardist/soundscapist Bugge Wesseltoft and Japanese koto player Michiyo Yagi (who gave an outstanding solo performance on the first day of programming) delivered a live remix that, rather than using the source material in a more literal sense, took it as inspiration for one of the more emotionally intense and cathartic remixes of Punkt 07.

Wesseltoft began on an upright piano, creating spare but angular lines that were quickly taken up by Yagi, on the 21-string koto. While her solo performance was largely informed by tradition, it was in her duet with Wesseltoft that both her and the pianist's remarkable improvisational skills and keen intuition were at their most accomplished, communicative levels. Yagi plucked, strummed, bowed and struck the descendent of the Chinese zither. She used a drumstick both to hit the strings and as a slide that created ascension and descension while she at the same time vigorously strummed the strings.

Punkt Festival 07 / Bugge Wesseltoft / Michiyo Yagi

As Yagi began to develop strong rhythms, Wesseltoft introduced electronics to the mix, with dense and, at times, disruptive textures. But it was the way that the two synchronously evolved rhythmic patterns and responded to dynamic shifts that made this challenging yet undeniably captivating remix so successful. When Yagi moved to the remarkable bass koto half-way through, it only added to the density of the sometimes near-anarchistic performance, and took the tension to an even greater level. For a first meeting, Wesseltoft and Yagi proved that, with open ears and minds, anything is truly possible in the world of sound.

David Toop

David Toop, a British artist who is as well-known for his literature as his music, delivered a performance that made clear how any sounds, even those one least expects, can be musical in the proper context. Toop has collaborated with other artists who experiment in the broader possibilities of sound manipulation, including Brian Eno and Bill Laswell. His performance at Punkt was a hypnotic ambient experience that was virtually transcendent in its ability to transport the listener to a slowly but, nevertheless, shifting landscape. Punkt Festival 07 /David Toop

Toop opened the performance on a wooden flute that created an organic context from which his computer-generated sounds could evolve. While there was the occasional pulse, the music was largely static, more about texture and color than melody and rhythm. Still, despite the combination of odd electronic tones, found sounds and ethnic samples—and the use of space as an equal partner—Toop created a spare but lengthy arc. It may not have had a strictly defined beginning, middle and end, but with its calm expanse and the lulling images and lighting, it was a different kind of improvisation that made for a relaxed and subdued contrast to the more assertive remix that preceded it.

Charles/Grydeland/Wallumrød/Zach

The collective improvisation by clarinetist Xavier Charles, guitarist Ivar Grydeland, percussionist Ingar Zach and pianist Christian Wallumrød was, for the most part, equally ethereal compared to David Toop's music, but was an all-acoustic affair, nevertheless exploring the greater possibilities of every instrument.

Charles used multiphonics and circular breathing to create, at times, near- infinite patterns and unexpectedly whispery textures. Wallumrød, known to ECM fans for his recordings as a leader including The Zoo Is Far (2007), spent nearly as much time inside the piano as he did on the keyboard creating everything from dense clusters and jagged repetition to more idiosyncratic melodies. Punkt Festival 07 / Xavier Charles

Grydeland, along with Zach a member of Huntsville, who gave a fine performance earlier in the festival, used a prepared guitar with clips on the strings, and also applied an ebow (a device that, essentially, has a tape recorder head that causes the adjacent string to vibrate endlessly) to create a strange almost bell-like sound. On banjo he spent most of the time playing it with a small bow. Curiously, it was Wallumrød, in fact, whose piano preparation at one point sounded more like a banjo than Grydeland's instrument.

Zach used a most unconventional percussion setup, with a huge drum as the foundation, surrounded by various bells and bowls. He explored the deep sound of the large drum in a number of different ways, rubbing the skin, pounding it with his hand and, at one point, vibrating a drumstick that was perpendicular to the drum.

Both Wallumrød and Grydeland had harmoniums and, towards the end of the performance, used them to create a dense and often dissonant yet surprisingly attractive sound. While the entirely improvised set could seem, at times, unfocused and lacking in direction, by the time it reached its conclusion it was clear that, while there was likely no predetermined direction, the quartet knew how to evolve through interplay. It was a challenging set that was oftentimes more akin to new music than the kind of improvisation associated with more conventional jazz. Like Toop, there was no specific melodic, harmonic or rhythmic movement, yet it did possess an undeniable narrative, and was further evidence of the open-minded approach so many Norwegian artists have to expanding the sonic potential of more conventional musical instruments.

Charles/Grydeland/Wallumrød/Zach Live Remix: David Toop/Arve Henriksen/Jan Bang/Erik Honoré

Like the earlier remix by Bugge Wesseltoft and Michiyo Yagi, the live remix of the Charles/Grydeland/ Wallumrød/Zach performance was less literal, and more in spirit. Beginning with Toop on flute and Henriksen alternating light vocal with occasional strong blasts of sound, the music manifested the gradual emergence of a defined pulse. As abstract as the source performance was, Toop, Henriksen, Bang and Honoré were no less so, but the sound they created was, for the most part, lighter and more atmospheric.

Watching Bang perform is nearly as interesting and entertaining as experiencing the music he makes. Very physically involved, he makes it easy to hear what he's doing, even when the sounds are far away from the norm. He moves to a sometimes invisible groove that occasionally staggers, his body movements reflecting the same stop-and-start. He may be playing electronic equipment that defies more reductionist characterization, but it's clearly an extension of his own body.

Punkt Festival 07 / David Toop / Arve Henriksen / Jan Bang / Erik Honoré

In contrast to Bang, Honoré's body is more static, but the slight grin that's always on his face when things begin to really coalesce, says just as much. Bang and Honoré have been playing together since their teens, and there's an uncanny and unspoken simpatico that makes them always intriguing collaborators.

One of the most interesting aspects of Punkt is the philosophy that virtually anything can be a musical instrument. Leaving trumpet and voice aside, Henriksen spent the large part of the remix's second half using a large metal dinner plate as a percussion instrument, although he ultimately returned to his trumpet, but with a reed mouthpiece in place of the normal one, creating a deeper tone. Henriksen, along with artists including Trygve Seim, have been experimenting with the use of different mouthpieces on conventional brass instruments—just one more area of exploration that defines the large and vibrant Norwegian music scene.

While the performances in the theatre have been no less imaginative, it's in the Alpha Room and the live remixes where there's an incredibly consistent sense of discovery, and a sound of surprise that's often as astonishing to the artists making the music as it is to the audience privileged enough to hear it.
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