Punkt Festival 2008: Day 2-3

John Kelman By

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Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

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 regulars—drummer Audun Kleive and singer Sidsel Endresen—had 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.

Chapter Index
  1. Punkt Seminar: Gavin Bryars
  2. Jon Hassell: NEAR FAR -Bells in Kristiansand / Conversational Remix with Brian Eno
  3. Live Remix: Eivind Aarset / Jan Bang / Erik Honoré
  4. Gavin Bryars
  5. Synnove S. Bjorset / Ase Teigland
  6. J. Peter Schwalm featuring Sofie Clements
  7. Live Remix: DJ Strangefruit / Jan Bang / Erik Honoré / Rune Arnesen / Kheir- Eddine M'Kachiche
  8. Nik Bartsch's Ronin
  9. Live Remix: Nils Petter Molvaer / Eivind Aarset / Jan Bang

Punkt Seminar: Gavin Bryars

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 configurations—sometimes 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 ensemble—three members who all played piano, with Bryars also playing bass and the others playing tuba and tenor horn—where 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 which—since the footage of the old man was never used—the 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.

Jon Hassell: NEAR FAR -Bells in Kristiansand / Conversational Remix with Brian Eno

With Jon Hassell a regular fixture at Punkt—participating in three of the festival's four years—and 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 Fønix 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 people—Eno, 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.

Live Remix: Eivind Aarset / Jan Bang / Erik Honoré

Missing the first performance of the evening, electronic musician Rafael Toral, provided still the chance to hear at least some aspects of the performance at Punkt 08's first live remix, featuring guitarist Eivind Aarset alongside Punkt Artistic Directors/samplers/producers Jan Bang and Erik Honoré. The Alpha Room, where all the live remixes take place, is an intimate 250-seat venue that's darkly lit (a persistent challenge for photographers) and often makes the audience feel part of the experiment taking place on the floor in front of them (there's no stage). With sound painter Aarset, surely the guitar anti-hero if there ever was one, working with the remix, it was a largely dark and brooding performance, and a sharp contrast to the electronic manipulations heard the first night at Punkt Elope. Here space was an equal if not more significant part of the picture, where sometimes the sparest of colors, the simplest of lines, was enough to suggest other avenues for the three to explore.

For a team who have been working together since their teens, Honoré and Bang couldn't be more different as performers. Honoré, while focused on the music, often looks to be detached, only the occasional smirk indicating that something is going right...or, perhaps, wrong, always a possibility during the ever-present risk of the live remixes. Bang, on the other hand—and even with music that was in this case slow- moving and rarely with any kind of pulse—is a body in search of a groove. A highly visual player (he clearly knows every button and knob on his array of gear so intimately that he plays it the same way a pianist plays without often looking at his instrument) who can't stop bobbing and swaying, even to the subtlest of rhythms, including an emergent 5/4 pulse that drove much of the remix.

With the space of a year between chances to see Aarset perform, it's always a treat to hear how he continues to evolve, with his own effects a seeming mess of boxes and wires that, like Bang and Honoré, he knows so well that he can create new colors the same way most guitarists create new melodies. But what's most impressive about Aarset, and the entire posse of Norwegians who regularly take part in the remixes, is how it's all about finding new ways to shape the sound, and has nothing at all to do with demonstrating how good he undeniably is. Aarset doesn't need to take lengthy solos—or solos at all—to prove his worth; the work speaks for itself, and the remixes always provide the best opportunity to hear where he's going.

Gavin Bryars

For composer Gavin Bryars' first performance at Punkt, he brought along regular collaborators including Norwegian soprano Anna Maria Friman, who appeared with her regular group, Trio Mediaeval, at Punkt 07, tenor/Hilliard Ensemble member John Potter, violist Morgan Goff, cellist Nick Cooper and electric guitarist James Woodrow. Bryars primarily played bass although he did turn to piano for one extended piece towards the end of his eighty- minute set. He also recruited trumpeter Arve Henriksen, another Punkt mainstay who'll be leading a live remix on the festival's final evening, for two compositions that represented a first-encounter for the two artists.

With the majority of the performance devoted to vocal works—albeit ones that ranged from short songs to longer-form compositions—the strings were often largely in a supporting role for material in minor keys and, consequently, often melancholy but deeply beautiful. Whether it was Friman in duet with Bryars, her voice soaring above his simple arco lines, or intertwining with Potter—as Bryars, Goff and Cooper created long, languid lines performed with such symbiosis that they often sounded as one instrument— she continues to challenge the orthodoxy of the classical soprano while remaining unmistakably of the tradition.

Relating back to Bryars' lunchtime seminar, the inclusion of electric guitar in a classical chamber ensemble might seem an odd choice, but his ability to score with the individual player in mind meant that Woodrow's chordal swells and occasional serpentine lines meshed organically with the others on the ensemble. And when Henriksen joined the group, his own tone distanced from a conventional trumpet, his ensemble work was equally natural. During the second piece, when his voice became more dominant, he demonstrated why he's one of the most versatile trumpeters anywhere. It's not so much a matter of his being multidisciplinary; it's more that his sound is simply so singular and pure that it can be adapted to virtually any context.

Both Goff and Cooper were given opportunities in the spotlight, as was Potter on a longer composition later in the set. When Bryars switched to piano it was for an instrumental piece that found him trading rhythm and melody with Goff in a seamless fashion. Bryars has become increasingly enamored with vocal music in recent years, and the evening's performance at Punkt demonstrated the kind of ideal blend of lyricism and a keen intuition for combining instruments in various ways to achieve a great deal from a relatively small configuration.


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