Punkt Festival 2008: Day 1-3

John Kelman By

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Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Every year the anticipation of returning to Kristiansand, Norway and its unmatched Punkt Festival begins earlier. A beautiful town of 75,000 people with a devotion to culture that exceeds many North American cities ten times its size, it's in many ways the only place where a festival like Punkt could emerge.

Punkt Festival 08

Kristiansand may be small, but its people think big. Punkt, now in its fourth year, is a festival with more than an identity, it's a festival with a philosophy—one that has continued to garner more notice with each passing year as more and more forward-thinking artists and industry people hear about its innovation. Largely taking place in the town's Agder Theatre, what makes Punkt special—aside from its performing artists, organizers, volunteers and attendees—is its premise: Live Remix. Performances run in Agder's 500- seat theatre ranging, in past years, from the improv-heavy Huntsville and classically-informed Trio Mediaeval to pop artists Anja Garbarek and jazz-centric vocalist Solveig Slettahjell, and for most festivals that would be enough. But after each performance, take a quick walk downstairs to the Alpha Room and there's an immediate live remix of the show, featuring other musicians interacting and improvising alongside the remix.
It's a music laboratory where risk is de rigueur and, consequently, the results can vary. But even the failed experiments are not just worth hearing, they're essential listening as musicians who've often never met, let alone played together, push the envelope, looking for new approaches to sound in an intimate environment where the audience is an equal part of the experience. And when magic happens—as it does often, two examples recently released on Live Remixes, vol. 1 (Jazzland, 2008)—it's the kind of rare happenstance that can lead to new concepts that inexorably change the way the potential of music is viewed and push the music forward, sometimes in big leaps, other times in small steps.

Punkt Festival 08

Punkt isn't a jazz festival—as broad as that definition is, it's still to narrow to express what takes place over the course of its short but dense run. Technology is a large part of it, but is so organically integrated that when Trio Mediaeval were joined, at Punkt 07, by trumpeter Arve Henriksen and live sampler/Punkt co-Artistic Director Jan Bang, it didn't feel unnatural or unexpected, it felt absolutely inevitable. Punkt isn't a jazz festival; it's a music festival, full stop.

Well, almost. Each year Punkt, now in its fourth, continues to broaden its reach. In 2007, the festival not only expanded its horizons by making the roster more international in nature, it began to reach out to other art forms. Punkt Kunst was a first-time collaboration with Kristiansand's Sorlandets Kunstmuseum, an art gallery where thirteen artists, all known to Punkt audiences—plus one winner of a web-based remix contest—were commissioned to create sound sculptures inspired and in direct collaboration with a series of visual works. 2008 goes even further with the invitation of legendary and world-renowned producer/ambient music forefather Brian Eno and equally innovative trumpeter/sonic explorer Jon Hassell (at Punkt for his third year) to create installations that defy easy categorization and preconception.

Punkt Festival 08

Two days of programming when, as always, the quality of the music is matched by the stage design, sound and lighting continues a winning trend of ongoing evolution without ever losing sight of the festival's core devotion to unparalleled quality and musical experimentation. An exciting line-up places Zen Funk-meister Nik Bartsch, saxophonist Hakon Kornstad, Hassell's Maarifa Street group and new music composer Gavin Bryars alongside up-and-comers Splashgirl and Norwegian traditionalist Nils Okland, with remixes involving long-time Punkt mainstays, guitarist Eivind Aarset, trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, Bang and co-Artistic Director/sonic manipulator Erik Honoré. Even faced with the significant loss of a municipal grant meant for start-up programs and limited to three years hasn't stopped Punkt 08 from not just maintaining its high standards, but actually improving upon them.

Chapter Index

  1. Brian Eno: 77 Million Paintings for Punkt
  2. Punkt Elope: Ogopogo / Jacob / Lama

Brian Eno: 77 Million Paintings for Punkt

While Brian Eno is widely known for his work in music, he's also been working with visual arts all along, with an interest that began in his teenage years. As he explained in a press conference that took place after an opportunity to experience his remarkable installation, 77 Million Paintings for Punkt, he explained how the genesis for applying the randomness used in combining a number of musical fragments in nearly infinite permutations on groundbreaking records like Music for Airports (Virgin/Astralwerks, 1978) could be applied to a visual medium. The idea of music so slow it's almost still, and paintings that move at a snail's pace have become lifelong pursuits for Eno, with advances in technology facilitating even greater explorations in these areas.

Punkt Festival 08 / Brian Eno

It's part of an artistic aesthetic that sees the artist as beginning something, but then relinquishing control to allow that something to grow, evolve and change with a life of its own. Eno, who calls the process generative, compared it to being like a gardener who plants seeds and knows with some degree of accuracy what's going to grow, but not exactly how it's going to grow.

Eno described how the idea for applying motion and randomness in the visual medium came about when he began projecting an image of the view from his apartment window onto a television screen in his room, and strangely found himself looking at that image on the screen rather than the real one existing outside. He gradually conceived the notion of panels with paintings that would gradually morph into something else, but how rapidly they would change and what they would change to was unknown.

77 Million Paintings for Punkt continues to evolve the concept that Eno has created in other cities, including Venice, London ad St. Petersburg. Twelve panels, subdivided into three groups of four, each group controlled by a separate computer with a program that randomly combines the images and moving through a series of approximately four hundred images, creates a possible number of permutations and combinations of approximately 77 million cubed; essentially infinite. Combined with music that, like Music for Airports blends a number of musical fragments in random ways to create an equally infinite aural experience, results in an installation that can be soothing and spare, but also dense and more gently invasive—sometimes shifting from moment-to moment.

Punkt Festival 08 / Brian EnoPunkt Festival 08 / Brian EnoPunkt Festival 08 / Brian Eno

With the twelve panels on a wall in a room on the Sørlandets Kunstmuseum's second floor, the lights dimmed to near-dark, with odd sculptures on the floor that resembled sand piles but with pastel colored lighting, and chairs and sofas economically placed in the installation space, it's the kind of experience that can be repeated often—Eno explained how, in other locations, people would come with their lunches and sit for an hour every day while the installation was on display. It's easy to see why: watching the images morph in such a way that, while watching continuously, it's easy not to see the small changes; yet looking at the wall periodically and suddenly being aware of a difference, the change can be not only unmistakable but dramatic.

The music works in concert with the images, even though they are operating independently of each other, to create an experience that goes beyond either the aural or visual. As Eno has explored the idea of random confluence that creates sometimes extraordinary moments of happenstance, 77 Million Paintings for Punkt, which runs past the festival until September 20, allows festival attendees and the town of Kristiansand to experience a deeply resonant blend of sound and image, though more often than not through nuance and subtlety. It's an innovation where perception of what it represents is in the eyes and ears of the beholder; where its innate complexity is entirely hidden from view; and where the artist relinquishes control from the minute the installation is set into motion. A remarkable work where patience is rewarded, it also challenges the frequent contemporary claim that people are increasingly sound-bite driven, requiring rapid and constant change to hold their attention.


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