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Punkt Festival 2014

Henning Bolte By

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Punkt Festival
Kristiansand, Norway
September, 4-6, 2014

Kristiansand, home of the Annual Punkt Festival for the past decade, is a municipality situated on the southernmost point of Norway at the Skagerrag strait. It has a population of 86,000 (the greater urban area, 155,000) and is the county capital of Vest- Agder.

Crystallization of new concepts and development often take place and are given a push from the periphery, with Punkt a good and prominent example. Organized by Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, who have known each other very well from their adolescent days in Kristiansand, started The festival in 2005, carrying through and reaching the festival's 10th edition this year. To mark the anniversary, the festival invited one of music's most important artistic pioneers: American musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson.

Punkt Elements

The festival concept is centered around the concept of Live Remix. Immediately following Punkt performances, they are remixed live for the audience. The remixes work on the basis of the recorded original performance, which is reused and transformed in manifold ways. The remix can be solely electronic, but more often than not it is a combination of musicians acting in both modes, electronically and acoustically. As a small-scale festival, Punkt is artistically focused, interdisciplinary, horizontal, local and communicative.

Over the years Punkt's key element, the live remix, has had a lot of consequences. It has brought about lots of challenges, involvement in a range of interdisciplinary processes, and changes in the perception of music and its innovative effects. At certain points this has resulted in recordings like this year's Heliographs (from Erik Honorė) or, from the previous two years, Honoré and Bang's Uncommon Deities, guitarist Eivind Aarset's Dream Logic, Trumpeter Arve Henriksen's Places Of Worship and Bang's Narrative from the Subtropics. These albums are inseparable from the whole process and context of Punkt. To really get an idea of the reality of the remix and the performance and production processes it really must be experienced first hand at the yearly festival In Kristiansand -or at the smaller offshoots that have taken place at festivals in Europe and further abroad. This experience quality is a core thing, crucial in a digital era with unlimited access to oceans of recorded and stored music).

Over the years, Punkt also has served a "looking glass" function for musical developments in Norway and elsewhere. Punkt has developed its own routine(s) and grown into adulthood, but is still opening up to and focusing on new things. As such, it is still both ardent and necessary.

Punkt has always been built on a web of interdisciplinary activities spread over an easily walkable area in the town. This year's events, with its 17 concerts, took place at five neighboring places: Kristiansand Kunsthall; Musikkens Hus; Hotel Norge,; Kick Scene; and the big Fønix Kino Hall.

All told, Punkt 2014 consisted of five concerts (sPace moNkey, Honoré's Heliographs release concert, Christian Fennesz, Zapp 4 and Dodebum/Friis/Osgood) immediately followed by live remix performances; five other concerts (Beckett, Streifenjunko+Sheriffs of Nothingness, Håkon Stene, Mural, and a performance of Christian Wolff's piece, "Edges" that we're not remixed; three listening sessions (Winderen/Harding, Paulsen/Solbakken, Nils Christian Moe-Repstad); six seminars (Anderson, Bolte, Engelbrecht, Qvenild, Winderen/Harding, Zapp); a book presentation (Luca Vitali's Il suono del nord); and a visual art installation by Kjell Bjørgeengen/Keith Rowe at Kristiansand Kunsthall where Jan Bang, Erik Honore, Eivind Aarset, Arve Henriksen and Ingar Zach were involved most frequently of all, but which also featured guitarists Christian Fennesz and Keith Rowe, pianist Morten Qvenild, the string players of Zapp4, trumpeter Eivind Lønning, saxophonist Espen Reinertsen and violinist Ole-Henrik Moe, who all performed more than once.

As usual also this year's Punkt was a combination of known and new faces and multinational voices from Norway, Denmark, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, The United States and Australia. Among the new faces there were musicians who had worked with Punkt artists or at Punkt events in other places, such as drummers Hamid Drake and Samuel Rohrer, the string quartet Zapp 4 (Jeffrey Bruinsma, Jasper le Clercq, Oene Van Geel , Emile Visser) and saxophonist Rafaele Casarano. The notable young Norwegian label, Hubro, was represented prominently this year (Håkon Stene, sPace moNkey, Erik Honoré) alongside Norwegian labels Sofa and Gigafon, British label Touch, Danish label ILK and German Arjuna label, amongst others.

In the past, pioneers of the field Punkt has been derived from were invited and participated in various roles in the festival. Laurie Anderson's groundbreaking work and her multimedia-mediated storytelling has been highly influential for what ultimately emerged as Punkt ten years ago. Consequently, the two artistic directors of Punkt were utterly happy to finally announce Anderson's participation at this year's festival. For these pioneers— big names now and artists with strong musical identities—it is a real challenge to enter this festival's special field of forces, to engage and interact in it. So the festival directors were even happier when Anderson decided to invite one of Punkt's key musicians, Arve Henriksen, to join her for her Kristiansand performance on the last night of the festival.

First Day

A festival lives by the quality of its contrasts, oppositions—even confrontations or collisions—its tension curve and, of course, its highlights. There were more than enough contrasts. Last year's edition started with the pop band Mariam The Believer, featuring Swedish vocalist Mariam Wallentin, one-half of Swedish rock duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums. This year however, started with a musical realization of Samuel Beckett's 1984 text Worstward Ho, performed by pianist John Tilbury and guitarist Keith Rowe, two of the founding members of the famous pioneering improvisational group AMM, plus Aleks Kolkowski's voice on tape, reciting Beckett's text and Kjell Bjørgeengen—one of Norway's most significant video artists—supplying his visuals.

All the music on the first day balanced on the edge of the barely audible and quietude. The opening piece, with its even dynamics and masterful timing, created a special kind of untouchable remoteness—an almost extraterrestrial feeling.

"On. Say on. Be said on. Somehow on. 'Til no-how on. Said no-how on. Say a body. Where none. No mind. Where none. That at least. A place. Where none. For the body. To be in. Move in. Out of. Back into. No. No out. No back. Only in. Stay in. On in. Still. All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better ..."

A manifestation of the principle of failing but also emptying right at the start. When it was over, it was over, floor free for the next turn. Unfortunately the pauses between the performances of the first day/night were quite long—too long.

Next was the bundling of two remarkable younger generation duos: Streifenjunko and Sheriffs of Nothingness. Streifenjunko is trumpeter Eivind Lønning and saxophonist Espen Reinertsen, both part of Christian Wallumrod's ensemble and also working together in the improvising quintet Koboku Senju with tubaist Martin Taxt, guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama and no-input electronic musician Toshimaru Nakamura, The as well as collaborating with Sidsel Endresen, Keith Rowe/Kjell Bjørgeengen and Evan Parker in the past. Lønning, as part of the Norwegian trumpet legacy, is expanding the instrument's voice, especially into the areas of sub-perception, while Reinertsen is, perhaps, the most quiet-sounding tenorist around at the moment. The Sheriffs of Nothingness is the improvisational duo of violinist Kari Rønnekleiv, and Violist Ole-Henrik Moe. Working together since 2004, its focus is on timbral transitions and sound mass expansions, with an eye on creating new instruments within the instruments. Both duos are closely connected to Norway's Sofa label.

When progressively unfolding its sound figments close and deep listening is required by the musicians to arrive at fits, expansions, condensations and transformations of sound. For the listener, the sounds heard recalled the sound of a flock of birds in a wide cold wintry landscape at one moment and of geese and walrus voices at another. The musicians achieved a higher degree of natural order in their sound making. As a listener, there were permanent sensations such as: "Oh, this sound particle, did it really came from the tenor saxophone?" Or "Oh, did I just hear the other violin?" At a certain point, the merging of horns and strings gave the impression of music coming from far beyond the horizon. These young musicians extended the lines drawn by the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble and Dans Les Arbres. They rediscovered and exploited things intensively explored in the past by Luigi Nono and Helmut Lachenmann by putting them in a new context of playing.

The excursions of the bundled duos were followed by an ensemble gathered together by praised young vibraphonist/guitarist Håkon Stene, including the renowned cellist Tanya Orning and two equally well-known special keyboardists, Sigbjorn Apeland and Ellen Ugelvik; all three musicians profiled crossbreeds. Orning was a longtime member of the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble, while Apeland is a keyboardist (mostly organ and harmonium) who opens up new dimensions for old keyboard instruments in various contexts of contemporary music. Ugelvik has been a soloist with The Oslo Filharmonien Orchestra, Oslo Sinfonietta, Bodø Sinfonietta and The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, performing Lachenman's Piano Concerto, "Ausklang." Her Crumb recording won the Norwegian Grammy Award in 2008. Ugelvik also performs with groups Jagerflygel and Polygon and is currently part of the artistic research program at the Norwegian Music Academy (as is Stene).

Stene's ensemble—with the leader alternately on vibraphone and electric guitar—performed through-composed, minimalistic pieces by Gavin Bryars ("Hi Tremolo"), Laurence Crane and Stene himself, pieces recently released on Stene's Hubro album Lush Laments For Lazy Mammal. It was music of slowly swelling, rising, scintillating and ebbing away sound waves requiring close coordination and fine-tuning. It was, however, a quite different merging of sounds, dynamics and effects than the preceding extemporaneous music. Lush Laments ... is an apt title for this music, music to drive or take a bath to. The space of the performance place plays a major role in balancing the flowing sounds. The musicians did their best but it was a bit hard to achieve the full effect in the space of Musikkens Hus. In the end it was still quite an overwhelming experience.

Late evening brought the official opening of the installation created by Norwegian video artist Kjell Bjørgeengen in collaboration with British guitarist and visual artist Keith Rowe—concurrently the start of a special event that would extend deep into the night, a four-hour concert by trio Mural with visuals by Bjørgeengen. Mural, consisting of Australian saxophonist Jim Denley, Madrilenian Ingar Zach—key Punkt percussionist of Norwegian origin—and Norwegian guitarist Kim Myhr. Mural is fairly experienced in this kind of event. It delivered this kind of extended playing, for instance, at the Rothko chapel in Houston, Texas, documented on Live at the Rothko Chapel (Rothko Chapel, 2011).
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