Punkt Festival 2008: Day 3-3

John Kelman By

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Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3

Day three of Punkt 08 ranked as one of the strongest of the past three years. What's remarkable about the programming in the Agder Theatre is the attention to details beyond the music—though that would be enough. With lights and set design by Tord Knutsen, video by Jan Martin Vagen, and a team of Norway's best sound engineers including Geir Ostenjo, Frederik Rodberg, Kjell Morten Bruun, Elise Onseng, Phillip Moe and Mons Aasheim, Punkt sets the bar for sound and vision so high that it leaves most other festivals in its wake. Not only do the theatre shows sound clear and pristine whether it's a single fiddler like Nils Okland or a full group like Jon Hassell's Maarifa Street, but they are presented with a remarkable attention to the visual presentation.


Punkt 06 / Wibutee

Wibutee at Punkt 06

How the festival manages to implement not just swapping equipment for each performance while the audience is in the Alpha Room for a live remix, but complete set design changes, as they did for Wibutee's 2006 performance, is nearly impossible to imagine. Video screens come and go; stages are set up with long cloth panels that are lit separately; images of the performing artists are captured in real time, processed and projected; and so much more.

The final day of Punkt 08 featured some of the festival's most stunning designs, for some of its best performances.

Chapter Index

  1. Oyonn Groven Myhren
  2. Splashgirl
  3. Live Remix: Arve Henriksen / Rafael Toral / Erik Honoré
  4. Hakon Kornstad / Nils Okland
  5. Live Remix: Hakon Kornstad / Eivind Buene / Jan Bang / Erik Honoré
  6. Jon Hassell and Maarifa Street
  7. Live remix: J. Peter Schwalm and Tim Harries
  8. Punkt 08 Wrap-Up

Oyonn Groven Myhren

Continuing Punkt 08's collaboration with the traditional Arrin festival, singer Oyonn Groven Myhren opened the day up with a largely a capella performance that was entertaining even if her between- song introductions were all spoken, as the songs were sung, in Norwegian. Thanks again to AAJ photographer Jan Hangeland, it was possible to gain some insight into a storytelling tradition that also demonstrated how the same song could be interpreted many different ways, depending on which region of the country it came from.

Punkt Festival 08 / Oyonn Groven Myhren Myhren possesses an interpretive voice, capable of the nuances that differentiate regional versions of the same material, and a confident ability to capture the sligtest, most fragile variation or sing with a relaxed power that highlighted some of the material's more dramatic nature.

That some of the material, dating back as much as 700 years, bore a conspicuous predilection for explicit sexual themes may have been surprising to some in the audience. Two songs dealt with a woman losing her virginity—one, about the inability to reverse it, the other about trying to flee the country to save her lift. But there was lighter material as well, including a fairy tale-like song about a troll in the woods. Towards the end of her short set, Myhren brought out a seven-stringed harp, a beautifully spare accompaniment to a voice that took full advantage of the freedom to stretch and contrast time as it found new ways to interpret ancient material.

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Every year Punkt features emerging artists, and often they deliver some of the festival's best performances. Splashgirl was an exciting discovery and one of Punkt 08's best shows, ranking as the surprise of the year— and not just at the festival.

Featuring pianist Andreas Stensland Lowe—who also played with the far rockier and high decibal Lama as part of Punkt Elope on Day One— drummer Andreas Lonmo Knudsrod and bassist Jo Berger Myhre, the group was the ideal example of the remarkable maturity and creativity coming out of young Norwegian groups. With a sound that blended spare, near-ambient textures with majestic yet understated neoclassicism and outer-reaching but always captivating free improvisations, Splashgirl is a group that deserves a wider audience and, if it can get some proper exposure, no doubt will.


Lowe, who also coordinated Punkt Elope, is the group's primary composer, combining prepared piano techniques, a Steve Reichian attention to the value of repetitive motifs and a virtuosity that's kept completely under control by an attention to space and the value of a note in decay. He cued the group through episodic compositions that often covered considerable stylistic territory in surprisingly short timeframes. He also used a bowed acoustic guitar which, along with Myhre's autoharp and Knudsrod's vibes, created a warm audioscape as referential to folk music as it was classical romanticism and ambient music to open the set, gradually moving to a repetitive pattern that sounded like a gentler version of pianist Nik Bartsch's Ronin performance the previous evening.

The group also featured guest pedal steel guitarist Anders Hofstad Soras throughout much of the show, creating a lovely blend with Knudsrod's vibes later in the set. Trace elements of Brian Eno, Ketil Bjornstad, Erik Satie and Morton Feldman mixed with the hypnotic aspects of groups like Sigur Ros on a set that drew in part from its debut, Doors. Keys (AIM Records, 2007), though in a largely acoustic environment, though there was some processing involved throughout.

Splashgirl is just finishing up its second disc and, if the response from the audience and the group's distinctly compelling identity are any indication, this is unquestionably a group from which more will be heard in the future. With an attention-grabbing performance that relied on a mature devotion to space, interaction that was never overt but was an underscoring foundation, and a collective approach to interpreting cross-genre material, Splashgirl is a group already delivering on its strong potential.

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Live Remix: Arve Henriksen / Rafael Toral / Erik Honoré

With such terrific source material and an innate ability to hear and create larger form in real time, trumpeter Arve Henriksen turned the Splashgirl remix into one of the best of Punkt 08. Also featuring sampler/sound sculptist/Punkt Artistic Co-Director Erik Honoré and electronic experimentalist Rafael Toral, who opened Day Two of the festival, it was a remix that combined the noise improv of Henriksen's work in Supersilent with the trumpeter's devotion to strong, often simple but always compelling melodies that are a key component of his own records including the remarkable Chiaroscuro (Rune Grammofon, 2004).

Punkt Festival 08 / Arve Henriksen Rafael was wired up with a variety of electronic gadgets, some creating electronic sounds that responded to his body movement. While it appeared more textural at times, adding to the overall landscape of the remix, there were some serendipitous moments where he was so in tune with Henriksen that it felt like a single instrument. Henriksen, an artist with no small sense of humor, began mimicking Rafael's movements at one point during the set, adding a beautiful levity to music that could, at times, become dense and hard-edged.

Henriksen's trumpet tone may well have started with the innovations of Jon Hassell, but he's taken those concepts and developed them into a unique sound that resembles, at times, a Japanese shakuhachi. But while that shakuhachi-like tone has often been a defining quality in his approach, over the past several years it's become more a case of a strong color on his palette. Henriksen used an EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument), in addition to his trumpet, to create dense loops that interacted with the remixed material being fed to him by Honoré, but beneath it all was a remarkable attention to tone and the importance of every note.

The interaction between Henriksen, Rafael and Honoré was strong but nearly telepathic in nature, but it was clearly the trumpeter's show. Demonstrating an uncanny ability to create form on-the-fly, this was a lengthy experiment with a clear arc. That this arc revealed itself as a surprise, not just to the audience, but to the group, made it all the more captivating.

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Hakon Kornstad / Nils Okland

A double bill featuring two of Norway's most remarkable solo performers proved that there are many, often diametrically opposed, ways to approach performing without accompaniment. Saxophonist Hakon Kornstad's brief but evocative and exhilarating performance was matched by the powerful quiet of fiddler Nils Okland;'s set.

Punkt Festival 08 / Hakon Kornstad Kornstad—now 31 years old—has, in the space of a few short years, emerged as one of the most exciting young saxophonists, not just on the Norwegian scene, but on any scene. His work the more rock-centric but still improv-weighted Wibutee has been his own kind of laboratory, as has his work in acoustic environments on records including Swedish pianist Maria Kannegaard's Maryland (Moserobie, 2008). But it's his work with the collective Jazzland Community (Jazzland, 2007) and especially his solo record Single Engine (Jazzland, 2007) that's shown just how far he's come in his search for a nexus point where multiple extended acoustic techniques can be merged with looping and other processing to create a virtual saxophone orchestra, but one that possesses unshakable groove and vertical harmonic density.

Standing on a stage with cloth panels lit with dark earth tones and video screens showing him in real time and larger than life via videocam (while he remained largely in darkness), Kornstad layered his first tune with consonant multiphonics, percussive beats and Albert Ayler-like wails—all seamlessly built into a stream of looping that allowed him to improvise freely. Most exciting was his intimate knowledge of technology, changing the foundation in-the-moment and with the same natural comfort as he demonstrated on tenor saxophone, flute and flutonette—a hybrid that places a clarinet mouthpiece on a flute.

Unlike most saxophonists who develop technique with multiphonics, Kornstad's interest clearly lies in finding new ways to expand the conceit to create consonant harmonies that at times possessed a raw edge and at other times sounded pure and pristine but almost always work with an underlying aesthetic devoted to melody. His set ranged from viscerally powerful and huge to economical and delicate. In every case he demonstrated a wonderful sense for knowing when to explore a single idea and when to move on. It made for a varied performance that is a clear evolution from the groundwork he was laying during his even briefer at Punkt 06. Punkt Festival 08 / Nils Okland Closing out the Arrin/Punkt collaboration, fiddler Nils Okland's set, starting immediately after Kornstad on the opposite side of the stage, couldn't have been more different. With no electronics and no real set design, just three variations on the fiddle—a conventional violin, a nine-stringed Hardanger fiddle (like a violin but with five sympathetic resonant strings underneath) and the Viola D'Amore (a deeper- bodied instrument with strings that are played with an additional seven sympathetic strings)—Okland proved why he's one of the world's preeminent interpreters of traditional music and contemporary original music rooted in that tradition.

What makes Okland's approach so distinctive from players like Synnove S. Bjorset and Ase Teigland, who performed the previous day is his fine attention to dynamics. Much as drummer Jarle Vespestad appears to be almost whispering on his drums when playing with fellow Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen, Okland's touch was often so delicate, his playing so whisper quiet that the audience almost had to lean forward to hear him. That the audience was absolutely silent throughout his set—except, of course, for the enthusiastic applause between songs—is another reason why Punkt is such a remarkable festival. Everyone is there to have a good time, and there's plenty of socializing going on throughout, but when at a performance, attention is complete and undivided.

Unlike Bris (Rune Grammofon, 2005), which focused on original material in a group context, and his more experimental work with pianist Christian Wallumro;d's ensemble on A Year From Easter (ECM, 2005), Okland's set, while unannounced, certainly sounded as though, at the very least, its sources were from traditional Norwegian folk music. His interpretive skills were outstanding as he used the power of nuance to make the slightest dynamic shift dramatic and resonant on the most intimate of levels.

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