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Punkt 07 - Kristiansand, Norway - Day Three, August 31, 2007

John Kelman By

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Kammerflimmer Kollektief

Since emerging in the latter part of the 1990s, Germany's Kammerflimmer Kollektief has garnered considerable attention. Evolving from a solo project by guitarist/electronic experimentalist Thomas Weber, it grew to a sextet of multi- instrumentalists before paring down to the core trio of Weber, double-bassist Johannes Frisch and harmonium player/vocalist Heike Aumüller. Still, on its most recent release, Jinx (Staugold, 2007), the trio all played additional instruments, and was augmented with a series of guests on its eight tracks.

Perhaps that was the problem with its performance at Punkt. Reduced to the trio and with Frisch staying solely on double-bass, Aumüller on harmonium (and, on two pieces only, vocals) and Weber working with a relatively limited arsenal of samples/processing and electric guitar, there was too little variation in the set to keep things interesting. The trio has been considered a confluence of jazz, psychedelia and ambient music, but while there was certainly a fair amount of ambient textures, the psychedelia and jazz elements were harder to find. Weber seemed content to stick with very simple vamps—either strummed chords or using a slide on his guitar—over his ambient washes and occasional loops; meanwhile Aumüller's generally repetitively minimalist harmonium work might have been trance-inducing, but also often became simply dull.

Frisch was the focal point for the group—both visually and as the primary solo voice. Using a bow to eke out everything from dissonant harmonics to jagged scratches, and with a pizzicato style that may well have been free but was marred by a too-sharp tone and, on occasion, less-than-perfect intonation, his approach ultimately, too, lost its sense of surprise.

It's a shame, since the group has garnered such critical acclaim that there's clearly more to it than met the eye at its Punkt performance. But either the group has to consider expanding again to provide greater interest and diversity in performance, or rethink its approach as a trio to ensure the same.

Sweet Billy Pilgrim

Sweet Billy Pilgrim front man Tim Elsenburg's remix of Huntsville's performance the previous day was a generally atmospheric affair, a gentle coda to Huntsville's more assertive set. Sweet Billy Pilgrim's theatre performance, closing out Day Two of Punkt programming, found Elsenburg alongside Anthony Bishop on banjo and backup vocals. Too electric (and eclectic) for folk but too soft for the indie rock label, it was, quite simply, a set of captivating songs that demonstrated Elsenburg's fine way with words and his strong grasp of looping and other processing—despite a borrowed and tuning-challenged guitar which, as Elsenburg said, came from "a very nice man but [whispering] it's not very good."

But it was easy to forgive techn ical matters, as Elsenburg delivered terrific lines like the dark "I see a dead man with his dying left to do." Astute observations were juxtaposed with a certain naivet? and tenderness, and in many ways this pared-down version of Sweet Billy Pilgrim left Elsenburgs's writing, playing and voice fully exposed. Bishop may have been off to the side of the stage, but he was a strong vocal foil, and added some of his own comic relief towards the end of the set as Elsenburg tried to tune the untunable.

Guitar troubles aside, Elsenburg's an intriguing player who seems to combine a hint of Richard Thompson's visceral bends with Robert Fripp-like sustained distortion. He avoids any undue virtuosity, but the changes he writes for songs, the interval he sometimes uses, and the way that he layers multiple loops, belies a greater facility. As does his use of altered tunings.

Elsenburg is also a wonderfully self-effacing artist. His lyrics may have depth and, at times, severity, but his between-song patter was entertaining. As soon as the house brought up the lights following his comment about being unable to see the receptive audience, he immediately quipped: "I had a vision of the lights coming on and nobody being there. It's happened... a lot."

Elsenburg also played harmonium, as he did at the Huntsville remix. Sweet Billy Pilgrim may not have been there in trio form, but with Elsenberg as front man and songwriter, and Bishop on comfortable support, it was there in spirit, and gave the audience a chance to hear his songs in a more intimate setting.

Sweet Billy Pilgrim Live Remix: Sidsel Endresen/Jan Bang/Erik Honoré

There simply isn't another singer like Sidsel Endresen. Not in Norway, not anywhere. Then again, it may not even be accurate to call her a singer anymore, since that somehow diminishes what she's been working on for the past several years. Her most recent album, One (Sofa, 2006) may not be a first choice at parties, but it's a groundbreaking work that consolidates the wealth of vocal techniques she's been honing. Still, she continues to develop them, as a capacity audience heard at the last live remix of the day, where Endresen was joined by both Jan Bang and Erik Honoré to tackle Sweet Billy Pilgrim's set.

Beginning alone with the remarkable vocal sounds that range from guttural utterances to what seem like brief conversational snippets, Endresen began to weave in a more melodic phrase ("I don't want to be alone in here") as well as a line from one of Elsenburg's songs ("I am a bullet"), as Bang sampled her voice and, by feeding it back to her, created a near cacophony of conversational voices to which Endresen continued to respond. That Endresen could seamlessly shift from odd vocal effects to high register melodies and lower register spoken word at the blink of an eye shows just how far her innovations have evolved since One.

But what was missing on One was Endresen's gorgeous singing voice. Even her performance as part of the Jazzland Community, at the 2007 Montreal Jazz Festival, didn't demonstrate the full range and expression of which she's capable. Nor did either context show how well she works with Bang and Honoré as a part of a three-way musical conversation that was as remarkable for her ability to evoke sounds that others would require significant processing to achieve as it was for both Punkt founders' real- time sampling, remixing and soundscaping skills.

This was also the first opportunity Punkt 07 audiences have had to see Bang and Honoré work together in a live setting. Watching them interact, it's no surprise that, four years after first conceiving of Punkt, the two continue to enjoy collaborating on a variety of levels. And as telepathic as they were, Endresen was equally linked, making this live remix—the most heavily attended (and, no doubt, eagerly anticipated) so far this year—another festival high point. Endresen, Bang and Honoré all represent the kind of fierce imagination that's all the more remarkable when considering the vibrant music scene in Norway, a country whose population is about one-quarter that of the greater metropolitan area of New York City.

Tomorrow:
Performances: Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra/Arve Henriksen/Jan Bang, David Toop, Charles /Grydeland/ Wallumrød/Zach, Robin Guthrie, Burnt Frieman/Jaki Liebezeit/Hayden Chisolm.
Live remixes: Bugge Wesseltoft/Michiyo Yagi, Hans Appelquist, David Toop/Arve Henriksen/Jan Bang /Erik Honoré, Russell Mills/Undark/Eivind Aarset/Jan Bang/Erik Honoré, Jon Hassell/guests.

Visit Solveig Slettahjell, David Rothenberg, Scanner, Trio Mediæval, Arve Henriksen, Jan Bang, Erik Honoré, Kammerflimmer Kollektif, Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Sidsel Endresen and Punkt Festival on the web. Photo Credit
Jan Hangeland (also at MySpace)

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

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