Punkt Festival 2013

John Kelman By

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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).
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