Punkt Festival 2013

John Kelman By

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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.
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