Punkt Festival 2013

John Kelman By

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Punkt Festival
Kristiansand, Norway
September 6-8, 2013

Punkt is back. Three simple words with greater significance. While the annual festival, which has made its name on the strength of two additional words—Live Remix—had an eighth edition in 2012 that, on paper, should have been nothing short of spectacular, it was ultimately not just disappointing but, for longtime attendees, something that actually engendered real anger.
The reasons were two-fold: first, invited festival curator Brian Eno—a producer and, at least at one time, forward-thinking musical innovator—chose to make the festival's raison d'être completely secondary to a program of main stage acts that ranged from superb (Three Trapped Tigers, Ben Frost, Reggie Watts, múm) to good (Owen Palette, Guimba Kouyaté) to downright poor (S.C.U.M., EBE OKE). By not considering how the main stage acts would be grist for live remix (which Eno actually admitted in his press conference on the opening night), he took away the primary reason the festival was founded. Yes, there were live remixes, and some good ones, too; but, equally, few included the interaction with live musicians—long part of the Punkt tradition—and clearly seemed an afterthought rather than a fundamental part of the plan.
Second, while Kristiansand's wonderful new state of the art culture house, Kilden, was a remarkable building, it was simply too large, too sterile, too impresonal for a festival like Punkt, which thrives on intimacy and transparency.

Fixing the first problem was easy: for Punkt's ninth edition, co-Artistic Directors Jan Bang and Erik Honore were back in the curator chairs, and put together a program that may well have been one of its very best, including world premiers by Bang, for his new recording Narrative from the Subtropics (Jazzland, 2013), and trumpeter Arve Henriksen's Places of Worship (Rune Grammofon, 2013), released on the same day as their double album release show. Punkt also featured the premiere of The Kilowatt Hour, a new electronic project by avant songsmith David Sylvian, guitar sound sculptor Christian Fennesz and electronics artist Stephan Mathieu, while trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer closed the festival with the debut of his collaboration with programmer/synthesist Mortiz von Oswald, soon to be released as 1/1 (EmArcy, 2013). Additionally, Eivind Aarset has been touring his leader debut for ECM, Dream Logic, with his Sonic Codex group, but for his Punkt appearance, he added Bang—who collaborated with the guitarist on the recording—while Punkt fans had the chance to experience pianist/electronics innovator Bugge Wesseltoft on a work-in-progress and a solo performance by singer/soundscapist Maja S.K. Ratkje that ranks amongst her best.

As is typical of the ever-expanding Punkt network, there were some new faces, too: Ethiopian singer Eténèsh Wassié and French bass guitarist Mathieu Sourisseau made their first visit to the festival, and pianist Tigran Hamasyan, too, in a wonderful duet with Bang that also had one of the surprises that are so typical of Punkt. Last, the festival opened with Mariam the Believer, featuring Mariam Wallentin, a tremendous singer/songwriter with a distinct voice and a terrific band to back her up.

And there were some tremendous remix potentials, including the live remix power trio of Bang, Honoré and singer Sidsel Endresen; other remixers included Arve Henriksen; rising star trumpeter Mathias Eick (making his first Punkt appearance); Huntsville guitarist Ivar Grydeland; Per Martinsen; classical composer Rolf Wallin (performing perhaps the year's most unusual remix—maybe even the most unusual in Punkt's nine- year existence); drummer Audun Kleive and, back from Punkt 2012, Vladislav Delay.

But with Kilden out of the question, for a number of reasons but mainly because it was simply not the right venue for Punkt—and with its old home, the Agder Theatre, now out of the running, where to go? Choosing Kick—a club that has, in the past, been used for the Punkt Elope series for young, up-and-coming artists, may not have seemed like an obvious choice; after all, there were no two rooms in which to set up main stage performances and the Alfa Room for live remixes. But adversity sometimes causes people to think outside the box and so, while there was some concern when it was announced that Kick would be used, and that they would somehow use its single stage for both main stage performances and live remixes, there was also the trust in Bang, Honoré and the entire team of Punkt volunteers; if they felt it was possible, then it would be possible.

And it was. Not without the need to alter the mindset, and there were certainly some small snags—many of which were ironed out as the weekend progressed—but there were also some new advantages that were revealed as well. In past years, shows would be seen on the main stage of the venue. Following their completion, attendees would have to exit the hall and move to the other room (the Alfa Room) downstairs; even in the Agder, where the vibe was much less performance and much more intimate laboratory, where it was like being in the middle of a musical experiment, the time lapse between performance and remix sometimes resulted in a loss of continuity—although it did allow the remixers to set up during the main performance, listen and consider possible fragments for use.

At Kick, with an alcove situated above and behind the main stage that, walled in white drapery, was referred to by Honoré as "the doll's house," it was possible to start the live remix instantly following the end of the main stage performance, allowing for a real connection to be made; no more obvious was this when Henriksen, Bang and Honoré remixed Eivind Aarset's Dream Logic show. Over the course of three nights at Kick, having the remix begin instantly and then having a longer break before the next main stage act created a greater delineation between each performance and remix that, in almost every case, worked extremely well.

Punkt 2013 also missed one other important ingredient, unexpectedly: Fiona Talkington- -British radio show host of BBC's Late Junction, curator of the Conexions and Scene Norway series in London and much more—took ill at the last moment and so, having been the festival's MC and introducer for the past several years, a replacement had to be found on short notice. Thankfully, Dave Mullan—a longtime, self-avowed Punkaholic and web designer for artists including Bugge Wesseltoft and Arve Henriksen—was there to pick up the task. While Mullan didn't have Talkington's warmth and heart, what he brought to the stage introductions was a distinctly Irish sense of humor and informality that got better as the weekend wore on. Nobody could ever expect to replace Talkington, clearly the festival's heart, but with Mullan, Punkt had found its funny bone.

Day One, September 6: Mariam the Believer / Tigran Hamasyan & Jan Bang / Arve Henriksen & Jan Bang Double Release Concert

While the 2013 edition of Punkt did a little returning to roots, with a program that featured many of its mainstay performers—members of the ever-expanding Punkt family—it's always a sure bet that the festival will invite artists new to the festival and, in many cases, new to its audience. Swedish singer Mariam Wallentin was not a totally unknown entity, but how she has been known—WIldbirds & Peacedrums, her experimental duo with husband/drummer Andreas Werlin, and her work with bassist Anders Jormin on his most recent ECM recording, Ad Lucem (2012)—being in completely different contexts to the band she brought to Punkt, Mariam The Believer.

Considerably more straightforward than either Wildbirds & Peacedrums or her work with Jormin, Wallentin was celebrating the recent release of the group's first record, Blood Donation (Repeat Until Death, 2013). Werliin—better known, perhaps, as one-third of the Fire! trio with saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and bassist Johan Berthling, and heard on albums including You Liked Me Five Minutes Ago (Rune Grammofon, 2009), and the larger Fire! Orchestra, which released its ambitious, critically acclaimed debut, Exit! earlier this year—was back, the rock in a quartet that also included bassist Jo Berger Myhre, of Norway's Splashgirl, and keyboardist Tomas Hallonsten, a founding member of Camera Obscura and also a participant in Fire! Orchestra.

Together, the result was a singer/songwriter's pop group, one capable of curious arrangements, otherworldly sonics and visceral grooves, all in support of the charismatic Wallentin, whose voice combined the upper and lower register leaps of oriental and middle eastern music into a unique and captivating hybrid. A careful, theatrical performer who came onstage in a flowing, colorful wrap that she later removed, revealing a pitch black dress underneath, Wallentin added some guitar to the mix but, far more often than not, the focus was on her vocal delivery of material that combined bleak subjects like "Dead Meat" with the similarly dark but ultimately more hopeful title track.

The music ranged from slower, anthemic tunes like "The String of Everything," with Hallonstens's swooping electronics, to more up-tempo songs like "Invisible Giving," a potent song driven by Werliin's military-style drumming and Berger Myhre's chord- centric bass work, creating a foundation that gradually slowed down and turned into an atmospheric ending, Wallentin singing over Hallonsten's cushiony synth washes. It was a terrific start to Punkt 2013, and early proof that the festival had, indeed, found a new home at Kick.

The first remix also brought someone new into the Punkt family. Trumpeter Mathias Eick has proven, since the release of his solo debut, The Door (2008), and its followup, 2011's Skala—both on ECM—not just a terrific sideman with groups like Jaga Jazzist and Finnish pianist Iro Haarla's quintet, but fine a leader with specific concepts and a player with an appealing tone and approach that finds connecting points amongst players like Clifford Brown, Kenny Wheeler, Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvær. Having spent plenty of time in the pop and rock world as well, his first Punkt appearance, remixing Mariam the Believer with Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, was an inspired choice.

It also gave Punkt fans the first chance to see how the festival was dealing with remixing main stage acts on the same stage—or, at least, in an alcove behind it. For this first remix, the curtain opened on an alcove where there was barely enough room for everyone, but as Bang and Honoré searched for fragments to process, loop and otherwise twist and turn, Eick contributed characteristically lyrical lines that wove in, out and around samples of Wallentin's vocals as if they were made for each other.

A capella trumpet passages led to sensual grooves sampled from Mariam The Believer's show, skewed ever so slightly to create a remix that not only promised a great weekend ahead, but came as a great relief to those who, while absolutely trusting in Bang and Honoré's decision to move Punkt to Kick, could still not be entirely convinced until they actually saw it in action. And, as the weekend went on, it was clear that each performance and remix was a lesson to visual artist Tord Knudsen and sound engineers Asle Karstad and Johnny Skalleberg, as they adapted to every possible challenge, trying out a number of solutions until, by the end of the festival, the direction became much clearer. It wasn't quite the feeling of being in a laboratory that the original Alfa Room provided at the Agder Theatre but, in its own way, it reinvented what a live remix could be, and if it wasn't the Agder, it clearly didn't need to be.

Before Jan Bang took the stage for the next show, a duo with rising star pianist Tigran Hamasyan, Sverre Lunde of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave a short speech. A longtime supporter of the jazz scene in Norway—and directly responsible for the kind of support that allows foreign journalists to cover Norwegian events, in country and around the world, he announced that, after eight years, the Ministry was now providing some financial support to the festival, and that Punkt was now considered amongst the country's elite events.

But beyond this great—and well-deserved—news, was a simply fact that said everything about how Norway gets behind culture and its export to the world. Lunde explained that the country's goal has been to devote a full one percent of its budget to culture; that means, last year, that ten billion Norwegian Kroners—nearly 1.7 billion US dollars—was devoted to the arts. North Americans often look at Norway and suggest that the reason Norway can do what it does when it comes to culture is because is has oil and other natural resources; the sad truth, however, is that were a country like the United States or Canada (witness a recent turn of events that could close the door on international collaborations in Canada) come into the same kind of money per capita that Norway has, there is no way in the world that it would make that kind of commitment to culture of all kinds—this money being devoted to all art forms—that this small country in the north of Europe has.

So, as Punkt approaches its tenth anniversary in 2014, it's great news that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is now considering Punkt a festival of significance, and putting some of its money into it.

Back to the music, Armenian-born/US-resident Tigran Hamasyan has, in a few short years, made a significant impression on everyone from Chick Corea and Brad Mehldau to Herbie Hancock (supervisor of the annual Thelonious Monk Competition, which Hamasyan won on 2006). Since then, the pianist has released a seres of albums, including the impressive, occasionally fusion-heavy Arrata Rebirth (Plus Loins, 2011), and far more intimate solo recording, A Fable (EmArcy), released the same year.

Hamasyan also plays on one track of Bang's Narrative from the Subtropics (Jazzland, 2013), and it was from this recording that the two began their set. The folkloric "Singers Childhood" also features Estonians Tuule Kann (vocals, kantele) and Weekend Guitar Trio's Robert Jürjendal, but their parts were sampled and provided by Bang, allowing Hamasyan to improvise freely but with tremendous focus over its repetitive theme. Playing inside the piano at times, Hamasyan emulated Kann's kantele, but then began to layer lovely chordal support, with a touch so delicate that, at times, it seemed more like breathing on the keys than touching them.

A second piece---if not written by Hamsyan, then at least instigated by him—featured a slowly emerging form and melody whistled by the pianist, while Bang's delicate but perfect live sampling choices reinforced the experimental nature of this music; at the same time, it was almost as gentle as a child's lullabye. If the beginning pieces seemed geared towards spare beauty, the set gradually began to broaden in depth and complexity, with more obvious examples of Hamasyan's virtuosity bolstered by Bang's staggered sampling and processing—all, as ever, with Bang physically movement to an internal pulse that gradually assumed shape, and became a fulcrum on which the two balanced rhythmically.

Suddenly a Middle Eastern-tinged cycle of chordal propulsion emerged in synch with Bang, the set assuming a great many shapes and colors. Hamasyan, in his one introduction, explained that this was his "first time at Punkt Jazz....no, Punkt Festival; I've been dreaming of being here since I was a kid." An exaggeration, perhaps, but the point was made as he introduced a guest, guitarist Eivind Aarset, who joined the two for their closing piece, contributing serpentine eBowed lines to the ethereal landscape. Beginning in stasis but slowly assuming form, Hamasyan's falsetto took on the melody as Aarset began layering gentle clouds of chord and color.

It's these kinds of unexpected surprises that make Punkt so exciting (but in this case, in the quietest possible way); Punkt's programming is already so strong that, when unexpected collaborations take place, Kristiansand truly becomes a place in the world where things happen that will never occur anywhere else.

It was also great to see someone so entrenched in the jazz world as Hamasyan embrace Punkt so fully; Punkt has never been a jazz festival—with acts ranging from pop to classical to, yes, some more recognizable jazz shows, but across the genre's broadest possible spectrum—but its relentless experimentalism and improvisational spirit certainly place it somewhere along the genre's broad continuum. Punkt may not need someone of Hamasyan's growing stature to endorse it, but it remains demonstrative of the open-mindedness that is essential to allowing the jazz world, perhaps more than many others, to support the kinds of possibilities Punkt engenders. Still, at the end of the day, it's really just music...and that's plenty good enough.

With Honoré and guitarist Ivar Grydeland (Huntsville, Dans les Arbres) doing the remix, it was a near-certainty that the treatment would be more outré than the main performance, and it was. It also signaled a significant shift in how the remixes were presented. In the past, remixes have been strictly about the music, with barely enough lighting to make the performers visible. This time, Honoré and Grydeland were in the doll's house, behind an opaque curtain, upon which Knudsen began washing a blue light, gradually turning yellow and, if not revealing the two remixers' precise forms, then at least some silhouette-like shapes.

While Grydeland's primary improvisational outlets can be quite extreme, he is capable of more melodic forms, as he demonstrated on his wonderful 2012 solo album, Bathymetric Modes (Hubro). Still, in his remix with Honoré, the emphasis was on deep atmospherics and purposeful densities. As rhythms began to emerge and the music began to coalesce, the lighting turned a more fiery yellow-white, in keeping with the more brooding yet somehow harsh sonic mix.

It was a remix where, for the first time, it became something other than a laboratory experience; instead, it was a mood-generating experience where Knudsen's in-the- moment lighting and real-time camera work became integral to the experience, even as Grydeland stretched the boundaries of his instrument's capacity for texture and timbre, and Honoré submerged samples from Bang and Hamasyan's performance well underwater, with rapid piano trills emerging briefly, only to sink back again, beneath the surface.

For the final show of Punkt 2013's first evening, the world premiere of two recordings from two of Punkt's most important people: Jan Bang and Arve Henriksen, though many of the other members of the Punkt family were involved, ranging from singer Sidsel Endresen to Nils Petter Molvær, and from Eivind Aarset to Stian Westerhus. The idea of performing together, making it a double-album release made perfect sense, since Bang's Narrative from the Subtropics and Henriksen's Places of Worship are truly halves of a larger whole, and recordings that could not have developed as they did, were it not for Punkt. Punkt is, after nearly ten years, becoming more than a festival, and even more than a live remix philosophy; it's becoming a way of making music, and a way of collaborating with open minds and hearts, as a press conference on the festival's final day clarified. Artists ask others to play on their recordings, and money rarely, if ever, changes hands; there are no label battles or hinderances, as proven by these two recordings being released by two different labels, with plenty of personnel crossing over between them.

For this performance, Bang and Henriksen brought Honoré (significant, given he and Bang co-produced Henriksen's record), Aarset and Ingar Zach—a percussionist who, with Ivar Grydeland, runs the SOFA record label and has built a reputation as a textural percussionist capable of bringing everything from brooding pulses to furious thunder to a set.

While pieces from both albums were performed, not unlike the touring that Bang and Henriksen did for the trumpeter's Cartography (ECM, 2008)—the stylistic predecessor to Places of Worship, where Henriksen, Bang and Honoré began to develop their reverse- engineering approach to composition—how they moved from one piece to another, and how these compositions were reshaped in real time into something else entirely made this more than just a simple reiteration of music both beautiful and, at times, extreme.

Arve went to low registers not normally played and upper ranges rarely heard, with absolute purity, He played lines that Bang would sample and send back to him, but this time two octaves higher. Zach, less about pulse and more about color, primarily employed a large gong and a massive concert drum that must have easily been three feet across, and placed on a stand so that the playing surface was presented flat to him, like a massive snare or a tom tom.

Henriksen's album is more intrinsically lyrical, so when it was time to turn to Bang's recording, it represented some of the set's most extreme moments—a different kind of approach to free improv that seems to have little to do with either American or European free improv approaches and is, instead, simply describable as: Punkt.

Henriksen changed horns often, and changed mouthpieces, too, putting a saxophone mouthpiece on his pocket trumpet. Using a mute to achieve a brassier tone on his trumpet, his playing was particularly memorable when Bang turned to the bass-heavy, sensual groove of "Funeral Voyage," which was, alas, all too brief, before morphing into something else and then back again. A brief encore was even more outré, with Henriksen's throat singing and Aarset's distorted swells of white noise fading to the sound of a dictaphone recording of an old singer, over which Henriksen began to to layer long lines redolent of, perhaps, Brazil—and, most assuredly, the subtropics.

Clearly Henriksen and Bang used their respective recordings as starting points rather than ultimate destinations, but if they took the music to places even those few already familiar with the music could not have envisaged, then Vladislav Delay's remix took things even further.

Delay was one of the carryovers from last year's not-quite-Punkt festival. A Finnish electronic musician (real name: Sasu Ripatti) who adopts different pseudonyms depending upon the music, Vladislav Delay is clearly more about industrial sounds and less about overt rhythms, as he took Bang and Henriksen's performance and turned it into something harsher, denser, more foreboding...but still, somehow, strangely compelling, just as was the case in 2012. Delay was one of only two remixers who chose to work alone, without any musical collaborators; it might have been interesting to see what someone like Stian Westerhus, sadly not in attendance this year, might have done with Delay's massive sonics, but clearly Delay prefers to work alone. With the house now packed, Delay was truly invisible, only some heavily processed images of his hands, projected by Knudsen on the opaque curtain covering the remix alcove, gave any indication that there was someone back there. A subversive remix that incorporated elements of the source performance, but, at the same time, entirely reshaped the music.

Day Two, September 7: The Kilowatt Hour / Bugge Wesseltoft / Maja Ratkje

Punkt's reputation as a festival where new things happen has evolved to the point where artists want to premiere new works there. Sometimes it's by accident—as when John Paul Jones joined noise improv group Supersilent on the relative spur of the moment—a guest at the festival, when he asked if he could play a short opening set to another group with his bass and laptop, it turned out to be Supersilent who, at sound check, were then asked by Jones if he could play with them— but other times it's absolutely by design.

In the case of The Kilowatt Hour—a new electronic group that brings together British avant-songsmith David Sylvian (who curated a wonderful evening at Punkt in 2011), German electronics sound sculptor Stephan Mathieu and Austrian guitarist/soundscapist Christian Fennesz, it was most certainly by design. Sylvian and Fennesz have worked together on numerous occasions, most recently on Manafon (SamadhiSound, 2009), while Sylvian and Mathieu collaborated recently on Wandermude (SamadhiSound, 2013).

The Kilowatt Hour is representative of just how far Sylvian has come from his early days in Japan and the beginnings of a solo career on albums like Brilliant Trees (Virgin, 1984) and The First Day (Virgin, 1993). Since starting his SamadhiSound label in the early part of the new millennium, Sylvian has moved farther and farther from pop music—first deserting conventional songwriting on albums like Blemish (SamadhiSound, 2003) and, ultimately, Manafon; now, he has, at least for the time being, deserted singing entirely—and playing conventional instruments; instead, on the stage of the Fønix Kino (Cinema), Mathieu, Fennesz and Sylvian were lined up in a row in front of the huge theatre screen, largely with laptops (only Fennesz had a guitar, though the sounds he eked from it were far from conventional), mixing boards and other processing devices, for a 70-minute piece that centered around a poem by Franz Wright, the American poet who holds the illustrious position of being part of the only father/son team to both win Pulitzer Prizes (his father was James Wright, who won the price in 1972 for Collected Poems), Franz winning in 2004 for Walking to Martha's VIneyard).

The poetry chosen was taken from his most recent collection, Kindertotenwald (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), and was delivered in as deadpan, worn and weathered voice of a man seriously ill, leading to a dark conclusion: "Nobody is alone...God is alone...if you liked being born, you're gonna love dying." The music was suitably bleak as well, with long, near-trance inducing sections where it was questionable what exactly each person on the stage was doing (even when Fennesz was playing guitar, it was only occasionally recognizable as such).

From the trio's website: "For Sylvian, the project entails taking risks: he will forego his most familiar instrument—his voice—and he will be returning to the stage for the first time since his 2007 tour. 'What will actually transpire once we're in a room together might be grounded in these early developments or something other might result from them and/or the chemistry between us,' says Sylvian. 'Both Stephan and Christian have systems in place that they're very familiar with. In this respect I'm something of an outsider as I've avoided working with specific setups most of my life. Each new project involves a learning curve, a process of starting over. I'm curious as to what my response will be to Christian and Stephan's intimacy and fluency with their setups. If I'm honest I'd be disappointed if I failed to discover a new language with which to work.'

With no rules to restrict them and no plan beyond these concerts, the Kilowatt Hour venture out with nothing but their intuition and taste to guide them. The performances will be an adventure for audience and artists alike."

It was a strange adventure, to be sure, one with long passages of stasis, broken up only by the narrator's voice, with occasional brief thematic motifs injected: sometimes a guitar, sometimes a piano, but more often long, evolving sonics that, combined with visuals on the theatre screen that built to a climax of sorts, only to then begin to reduce again, back to the simple, throbbing image of the performance's very beginning. It's difficult to assess this music on normal terms, as it so often lacked the many things that make up conventional form: melody, harmony, rhythm. Instead, it was more like a soundtrack, a dreamscape, a mood or a state of mind. As the group's first live performance—a real coup for Punkt, and one that only could happen because of the positive relationship Sylvian has enjoyed with Punkt and with Bang and Honoré on projects like Died in the Wool: Manafon Variations (Samadhisound, 2011)—it's hard to know where it will go or what it will become. But, once again, Punkt fans were treated to a first glimpse at a new process, and irrespective of the response, it was the kind of experience that has become almost normal, but never, ever taken for granted.

A quick walk back to Kick—The Kilowatt Hour was held at the Kino because of it's larger capacity, with Kick, when absolutely full with seating, handling just about the same 500 people that the old Agder Theatre held—and the only live remix this year where there was a time gap between it and the source performance. In this case, it was another Punkt power trio of Bang, Honoré and Sidsel Endresen that remixed the Kilowatt Hour and, as expected, it was a winner. Endresen continues to move her exploration into the human voice's most extreme possibilities, while working so intimately with Bang and Honoré, that it almost seems as though, for the most part, they were communicating telepathically.

Anything with Endresen is bound to be if not good then at least intriguing—a live remix is, after all, about risk, and sometimes it succeeds massively, sometimes it fails, but the journey is always worth it—but more often than not (way more often, truthfully), it's not just good, it's great. Opening with but a single repeated note, Endresen's voice became the starting point that might actually have been better than the source performance, something that can also happen. Her range continues to grow, and what Bang and Honoré did was to cull the more engaging, somewhat active portions of the Kilowatt Hour performance and expand and contract it into new shapes. Perhaps most revealing was, at one point, when Bang somehow released (intentional or not) a loud, dramatic note, at which point the entire trio stopped briefly; Honoré appeared to give a hand signal, and the trio then picked up where it left off.

The density and general stasis of source material made building a remix with its own narrative something of a challenge, but Endresen, Bang and Honoré did just that as they turned to harsher, more jagged terrain.

Dave Mullan introduced the next performance as a work in progress, but when the artist taking the risk of going onstage to place that work in progress in front of an audience is keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft, like Endresen, it's almost certain that it will be something worthwhile. Mullan referred to Wesseltoft—who has long employed him for website work, both with the Jazzland site and the Gubemusic site, one of the first to sell high resolution music files—as "my king," but with more hair than he's shown in years, he looked more like a mad scientist as he moved around the stage, turning knobs, twisting dials and occasionally settling into some absolutely captivating acoustic piano work.

Over the last couple of years, Wesseltoft has been mining the jazz tradition, playing solo performances of jazz standards—with one album, Songs (Jazzland, 2012), proving that it's possible to grow up in Norway and still have a direct, albeit considerably different, connection to the jazz tradition. His Punkt performance—a return after an absence of a couple years— seemed, at first to be a return to earlier explorations that blended acoustic piano work with processing, sampling and more, last heard on Playing (Jazzland, 2009), but it didn't take long to see that Wesseltoft's symbiotic connection between acoustic and electric instrumentation has gotten just that much deeper in the intervening years.

As usual, he began on grand piano, alone, evoking darker images than usual, with sparer ideas than in the past. But it wasn't long before the keyboardist began to sample his own playing, processing it, harmonizing it and just overall expanding it. What makes Wesseltoft stand out amongst the many electronic musicians are his instincts; he seems to know exactly what to do and when, even as he builds a set-long piece from zero. Some new textures, in particular a buzzing, distorted application to his piano was almost irritating, but that was, perhaps, the idea; to create an unsettled feeling so that when he resolved back to something easier on the ears—whether it was back at the piano or creating some programmed beats and synth textures—it came as a palpable relief.

In some ways, while there are those who might consider the thought blasphemous, Wesseltoft is what Keith Jarrett might have been, were he not so pathologically against electric instruments. Certainly Wesseltoft has proven, over the years and in many contexts—ranging from burning in a distinctly modal way with bassist Arild Andersen in Stavanger in 2008, and hosting the Jazzland Community tour that hit Montreal, Canada in the summer of 2007, to delivering a 2012 solo performance in Trondheim, Norway that was one of the year's best shows— that his credibility is unquestionable.

Wesseltoft's textures weren't always attractive, but they were intriguing; meanwhile, Knudsen's visuals were particularly good, as Wesseltoft built up again to a thundering pulse and searing Jimi Hendrix-isms, only to stop and turn quieter, before shifting back to beats, electronic soundscapes and a curious synthesis of jazz and techno that is quintessentially Norwegian.

From ethereal attitudes to hints of stride, flurries of cascading notes and aggressive, Cecil Taylor-esque block chords, but his performance was another step forward for an artist who had the hubris to call his early work New Conceptions of Jazz- -a wonderful sample of which was collected in a four-disc box set of the same name on Jazzland in 2008. But Wesseltoft has demonstrated, time and again, both the confidence and the humility to adopt that banner with complete justification. He introduced looping so seamlessly as to be indiscernible at first...later moving into areas where strange injections of distortion and pitch shifting took the music even further out, before adding a deep bass pulse, some programmed cymbals and snare drums, only to move to the piano but process it completely beyond recognition. If his performance at Punkt 2013 was merely a work in progress, the ultimate end result will indeed be something to look forward to.

Rolf Wallin—far better known as a classical composer—hit the stage as soon as Wesseltoft was gone, for what may be the most unusual live remix in Punkt history. Armed only with an iPhone and using a self-developed app, he delivered a remix that was part music, part performance art, his app connecting to his Mac behind the scenes, responded to movement, to connection with his body, and to being covered and then opened up again—or, as he did at one point, slamming it face-down on a table, lifting it up, only to swoop down with it again.

Wallin moved around the stage, making the iPhone swoop and swirl as the music he sampled and remixed from Wesseltoft's performance did the same thing. How it worked? Few knew. But if it wasn't necessarily the best live remix of 2013—it was on a high plane with the rest of them—it certainly was the most talked about after the show and the next day.

To close out the Saturday evening—normally Punkt's last day but, because Kick was already booked on the Thursday when the festival made the decision to relocate, it had to be moved from Thursday to Saturday to Friday to Sunday—experimental vocalist/composer Maja S.K. Ratkje delivered a set that lived up to Mullan's introduction, which described three people coming out of a show in Belfast, and one of the responses being "she scared me shitless."

It may well have had a similar effect on some of the audience members at Punkt, but veterans that they were, they rarely showed it. Ratkje is also a member of the longstanding, all-female improvising group Spunk and the duo Fe-Mail, in addition to releasing albums in North America on John Zorn's Tzadik label like River Mouth Echoes (2008), in Norway on Rune Grammofon, and either appearing on or composing work for her husband, accordionist Frode Haltli, on ECM Records including 2007's Passing Images. She last performed solo at Punkt in 2009, but in a double bill with Sidsel Endresen; that meant shorter performances for both—though it couldn't have provided a sharper contrast between the two singers' almost diametrically opposed approaches> She also delivered a truly epic live remix of an Estonian choir performing the music of Veljo Tormis in 2010 that was amongst that year's best.

Beginning with the simply repeated word, "grace," Ratkje began in spatial territory: gentle, at first, and beautifully melodic, with hints of Middle Eastern tonalities. While Endresen is the queen of acoustic voice experimentation, few singers integrate technology as Ratkje does. And she knows how to build a set, with near-episodic periods of ebb-and-flow, as she began to introduce a gently metallic percussive tone that faded in and out. Ratkje also possesses a rare ability to layer her voice in ways that make clear just how deep her understanding of harmony is. With a small microphone that she placed in her mouth to create vocal sounds not otherwise possible, her drone- based improv became increasingly more angular and rough-hewn

And if she scared that Irish attendee shitless, if anything, her set got scarier by the minute as she began to inject screeches, sibilant "sah's" and rapid chatter, all building to a cacophony of clearly controlled chaos—but controlled was the key, as she held a note for a seemingly impossible duration without the slightest hint of a quaver.

After building to a cathartic climax, she gradually brought things down again to come full circle to her gentle beginning, with simple words, processed chimes and a more mellifluous singing voice. Ratkje's clear understanding of dynamics and how to structure a set made this her best main stage appearance at Punkt, completely in the moment and with sheer and unerring instinct.

With Trømso-based electronics artist Per Martinsen alone for the remix—and, as became increasingly the MO this year, largely hidden behind an opaque curtain with only a silhouette of his body visible—he demonstrated the same kind of internal rhythm as Bang, a pulse that may or may not be revealed to the crowd...only time would tell, as the remix progressed.

In this case, there was, indeed, a pulse, but it was an odd one that combined some strange vocalizations from Ratkje—"Aooga," "Waaaah" and "Sah!" looped. But this only came after an opening with very little voice and a lot of gut-punching low frequencies. It was an odd remix, but one where, once again, the improvisational aspect of Tord Knudsen's visuals could not be overlooked. Knudsen responded with the same split- second instincts as any other musician, with Martinsen incorporating a wealth of discrete elements (how he kept track of them all was anybody's guess) into a sonic soup that closed the evening off on a high note.

Day Three, September 8: Eténèsh Wassié & Mathieu Sourisseau / Eivind Aarset "Dream Logic" / Nils Petter Molvær & Moritz von Oswald

With so much packed into so few days, try as one might it's almost impossible to catch everything going on. But mention must be made of Punkt's ongoing series of daytime seminars that, this year, included Bugge Wesseltoft, visual artist Hannah Bertram— responsible, amongst other things, for the compelling cover art to Jan Bang and Erik Honoré's Uncommon Deities (SamadhiSound, 2012)—Finnish architect Sami Rintala, Maja Ratkje, Estonian composer Helena Tulve and Norwegian video producer/soundscapist Kjell Bjørgeenen. That, along with two installations this year—one, at Kristiansand's Kunsthall, called Night gets five exits, a collaboration between Bjørgeenen and local poet/longtime Punkt collaborator Nils Christian Moe-Repstad, and the other at the Hotel Norge (where most artists, media and guests stay) that was meant to be a place where folks could go and unwind/destress—demonstrated the festival's commitment beyond music performance (and accompanying visuals) into all aspects of creativity.

Then there was K-35, the place where musicians, media and guests of the festival went, during the day and late into the evening, to eat, drink, relax and interact. Punkt has always maintained a remarkable transparency that dissolves the walls between artists and media and artists and fans. With only a couple of exceptions, if you want to meet your favorite artist, he or she is often as close as the seat beside you at breakfast, at Kick, or at K-35, and it's this creation of an open, friendly atmosphere that has contributed to some of Punkt's best ideas; after all, when a couple of artists who've never met each other before sit down for a drink at K-35, who knows what might come of it?

Meanwhile, back at Kick for the last night of Punkt 2013, it was a combination of old friends, new friends and old friends in new constellations. The evening opened up with festival first-timers, Ethopian singer Eténèsh Wassié and French bassist Mathiew Sourisseau. Bass and vocals are not a new idea—in the jazz world, for example legendary singer Sheila Jordan has shared a longstanding duo with bassist Harvie S. But with Sourisseau playing an acoustic bass guitar fed through a series of processors, the possibilities became much greater for a duo that, at first, seemed to have the audience a little puzzled but, as the show went on, captured it entirely, the closing number meeting with a level of applause far louder than what the number of people in Kick should have realistically been able to muster.

And it was a well-deserved ovation. The duo was originally invited to perform at a Punkt evening last year in Paris, at France's Banlieues Blaues festival. Elements of Africa/Nigerian tradition met, with Sourisseau's strummed, low chords, something akin to Tunisian oudist Anouar Brahem's music.

The show gradually became more dramatic, bolstered by some remarkable visuals; a row of planetoid-looking ovals were scattered in ways that looked three-dimensional; as Sourisseau began to play with greater intensity, adding distortion to the mix, Tord Knudsen's waves of light—almost like a cage—began to surround them—a remarkable effect.

At one point a heavily reverbed and prepared bass created a drone, with overtones and harmonic feedback, as Sourisseau played his instrument with a handheld device— possibly a small rotary sander. The piece became increasingly extreme, with sudden peaks, stops and starts; at one point, Sourisseau literally flipped his bass on its head and rubbing the top of it along the stage floor. Becoming more extreme still, everything suddenly stopped and, with all the noisy sonics gone, the piece concluded with nothing but spare chords and Wassié's whispery voice. With Sourisseau's softly tremelo'd bass guitar and Wassié's expressive voice, there were times when the set loosely resembled Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger's trio with Africa singer/percussionist Mola Sylla and fellow Dutch pianist Harmen Fraanje, heard recently on Down Deep (Winter&Winter, 2013)

There were also times when Wassié's plaintive voice made the meaning of her words if not unimportant, then at least unessential to feeling what the music was about. She seemed, at times, to be more speaking than singing, but it all made for a powerful performance that closed with an a cappella vocal intro that demonstrated Wassié's full (and broad) range, and her control over dynamics. As Sourisseau joined in, driving the number with a powerfully propulsive groove, the audience spontaneously began to clap along; proof that the audience may have been uncertain at the beginning of their show, but was completely won over by its conclusion.

With music of such Afro-centric origins, it was no surprise that the festival chose Audun Kleive to participate in the live remix with Jan Bang. The drummer/percussionist is one of Norway's most well-known drummers, having played with everyone from guitar hero Terje Rypdal to pianist/composer Jon Balke, in addition to releasing his own records, many under the moniker of Generator X. A rare player who can do more with a single cymbal—as he proved, last year, at the 60th birthday celebration for Sidsel Endresen at Oslo's Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria—than many drummers can do with a full kit, he's also a member of the remarkable Jøkleba trio, with Balke and trumpeter/singer Per Jorgensen that impressed those brave enough to participate in the Ekstremjazz afternoon at this year's Vossa Jazz Festival, where Kleive used nothing but a Roland Wave Drum.

For the Punkt live remix, while Kleive wasn't directly visible with Bang, as the opaque curtain largely hid them from the audience, Knudsen's camera captured and processed his image—often, just his hands—to create another visual presentation that suggested Punkt's old laboratory ambience may be gone, but what's replaced it was no less captivating. At times, the remix drew on Wassié and Sourisseau's music so directly that it felt like Kleive was a drummer who would have worked very well with them in real time, even though their music didn't really need it. Kleive's stylistic reach seems endless, and his ability to work with Bang to create a live remix with its own narrative flow resulted in a performance that stood both alongside its source music and on its own as a separate entity. With Punkt's tenth anniversary now on the horizon, and with only one album released—Live Remixes Vol 1 (Jazzland), featuring Sidsel Endresen and trumpeter Jon Hassell (a clear touchstone for much of the music emerging from the Punkt axis today)—already five years old, it's time to release some more examples of Punkt's innovations to a larger international demographic.

When guitarist Eivind Aarset released Dream Logic (2012)—his first release as a leader for ECM Records, after a string of superb albums on Jazzland—it came as something of a surprise, even to the most ardent fans of this guitar anti-hero. A near-solo recording, with layers of guitars, the only collaborator was Jan Bang, and while this unexpectedly dark, quiet and gentle recording has been performed live in duo with Bang, it's largely been toured with Aarset's Sonic Codex group—bassist Audun Erlien and drummers/percussionists Rune Arnsen and Erland Dahlen—bringing a completely different perspective to some of Aarset's deepest writing of his career. As one more special Punkt performance, Aarset was able to bring Bang together with Sonic Codex, resulting in a show that demonstrated the guitarist's increasing musical depth and breadth.

Opening in dark ethereal terrain, with Aarset's snakelike eBowed guitar and Bang creating broad brushstroke washes of sound, Dream Logic was taken much further, and to far different places. Dark, early '70s Miles Davis-informed grooves blended with singing saws (Dahlen), tuned metal (Arnesen) and bowed guitar to take the music into territory at once whisper-delicate and more aggressively free than Aarset achieved with the studio recording. That only two years ago Sonic Codex was more akin to progressive rock—as evidenced by its incendiary show at the 2011 Montreal Jazz Festival—than the indigo moods of Dream Logic only supported Aarset's unfailing confidence in the potential of this group, Erlien even picking up a guitar at one point, to add a tremelo'd chordal foundation to one of Aarset's pieces.

With Norway possessing a number of outstanding drummers that's disproportionate to its small population of five million, it also does twin-drummer groups like few others, Dahlen and Arnesen (who goes back to Aarset's earlier Light Extracts group) seemed joined at the hip; beyond the additional textures they added with a plethora of hand percussion and Dahlen's saw, when they settled into a groove together on kits, it seemed like a single body with four arms and four legs, rather than two separate people. Erlien's bass play was some of his most inspired in recent memory; clearly Aarset's music has inspired everyone in the group to think considerably more outside the box. Meanwhile, Aarset was his characteristically patient self, allowing the music to unfold slowly, and doing very little to draw attention to himself, except that the sonic landscapes he created—and, in this case, in some lovely push and pull with Bang—were impossible to deny.

Unlike most of Aarset's live performances, this show was not completely continuous; still, while there were breaks between pieces, with the exception of introducing the band at the end of the set, there were no additional introductions by the characteristically quiet, reticent guitarist. But Aarset never needed to speak; his music has always said everything, but with Dream Logic representing a significant step forward, at his 2013 Punkt performance his music spoke even greater volumes.

With the dream team of Arve Henriksen, Jan Bang and Erik Honoré remixing Aarset's performance, the benefit of being able to jump right into the live remix with almost no pause was proven, as Henriksen took the two notes that Aarset's group made its thundering, dramatic conclusion, and turned them into the starting point for a remix that also demonstrated Punkt's ever-present philosophy: that a live remix is no shorter than it needs to be, but no longer, either.

With Bang and Honoré taking Henriksen's two notes and slowly moving into ambient. territory, the trio ultimately almost moved in parallel to Aarset's show as it began to turn towards freer and more extreme territory. That Henriksen is a founding member of Norwegian noise improv group Supersilent means that such extremes are far from foreign to him, but with his own solo work, leading right up to Places of Worship, predicated far more on beauty and lyricism, it was great to hear him cut loose a bit.

As Bang treated Henriksen's playing and Honoré introduced Dahlen's singing saw, Henriksen orbited around its otherworldly thematic fragments, as the trio brought the remix to a close: short, but oh, so sweet.

For Punkt's final performance of 2013, another member of the family premiered a new project. Nils Petter Molvær has appeared many times at Punkt, including the final performance of his decade-old group at the festival in 2007, which signaled a significant change in direction for the trumpeter who literally created a musical paradigm shift in 1997 when he released his first of two albums on ECM, Khmer. While it is still uncertain where he will be going after the dissolution of his trio with Erland Dahlen and Stian Westerhus, documented solely on 2011's Baboon Moon (Sula), the premier of his collaboration with techno/dub legend Moritz von Oswald suggested both change for the intrepid Molvær and a partial return to the more beat-heavy music of his mid-naughties albums er (Sula, 2005) and Streamer: Live (Sula, 2004).

For one thing, Molvær has been playing a lot more unprocessed horn these days, and it suits him well. His distinctive tone remains, but was, at times, a little more tart than the breathy tone he has so often adopted. That's not to suggest he wasn't still processing his horn; he also had some new approaches, including using a pitch shifter to create a parallel harmony, but then using a foot pedal to bring the two notes closer together— sometimes so close as to create rapid beats of their own.

Along with von Moritz, nephew Laurens von Moritz fleshed the project out to a trio, and between Molvær's horn and the two von Oswalds' broad-spectrum electronics, the set ran the gamut from ethereal, ambient atmospherics to downright danceable grooves. While Punkt had set Kick up for a largely seated audience, this was music that might have been even better had it been in a standing room environment or, better yet, a dance club. Molvær's intrinsic melodism was the connecting thread throughout this continuous set, culled from the duo's debut recording, 1/1 (EmArcy, 2013), due out October 4. But, once again, Punkt got the lead on a project that will not be performed live again until the end of September, just a few days before the album hits the streets.

With Molvær's horn continuing to push the envelope, the release of 1/1 will represent something of a sidestep for the trumpeter, but one that should garner him even more international acclaim than he as already achieved. As for his own projects? He'll be hitting King's Place in London in November, for a series called Scene Norway 2, curated by Fiona Talkington and featuring a solo performance along with collaborations including drummer Martin France's Spin Marvel and a live soundtrack to silent film, together with Jan Bang.

Which, sadly, brought Punkt to its final remix and final performance, another solo live remix by Vladislav Delay. There's no doubt that Delay is a master remixer and legitimate new member of the Punkt family, but one of the cornerstones of the festival's live remixes has been their integration with live musicians. Delay is tremendously creative, and took von Moritz and Molvær's set to more extreme, industrial places that they might never have imagined, but as Delay's second remix of the year, it would have been interesting to see just what he would have done in collaboration with others. No doubt he will be back in future years; hopefully he'll consider the possibility of working with others.


And so, with a new home and a very intentional refocus on the cornerstones that have made Punkt the internationally renowned festival it is, it very much looks as if Punkt is back, after an unexpected sidestep in 2012. While the program returned to a more Scandic-heavy roster, reminiscent of its earlier years, there have been so many lessons learned over the past several years that Bang, Honoré and the whole Punkt team have still managed to keep it moving forward.

From the morning after through to an evening in Oslo, nearly a week later, where Bang, Honoré, Endresen and other Punkt regulars were taking in Stian Westerhus' new group, Pale Horses, there's been continued discussion about what worked this year, what didn't and how the team can prepare for its tenth anniversary in 2014. There are already some intriguing plans in the works, but what is certain is that Punkt will return to Kick, and while some retrospective looks at its first ten years will be expected, the other thing that Punkt fans can take to the bank is that from a musical perspective, Punkt will continue to strive towards new frontiers, new constellations and new collaborators from around the world.

If Punkt 2013 was one of its best years ever, watch out for 2014: the best is most certainly yet to come.

Photo Credit

All Photos: John Kelman


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