Punkt Festival 2014

Henning Bolte By

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Myhr's solo music explores the acoustic possibilities of the 12-string guitar. It might remind listeners of György Ligeti's early music or Morton Feldman, but also contains an energy and simplicity similar to American folk music. As a composer, Myhr wrote "Stems and Cages" for the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra that in 2009 was performed by a large ensemble including, amongst others, singer Sidsel Endresen and pianist Christian Wallumrød, released as Stems and Cages (MNJ Records, 2010). It could perhaps be compared to the recent five-hour Morton Feldman concert at the Ruhr Triennale in Germany. It was fascinating to walk in at certain moments, listen, walk out again and return later to get an idea where and how it had proceeded—a special experience; maybe a bit too non-committal.

Anyway, it was a good occasion, too, to watch Bjørgeengen's video work. Bjørgeengen has put the emphasis on working live with musicians even more than before, notably with Keith Rowe, Evan Parker, MIMEO and Marc Ribot. The live work featured the production of flickering videos. The flicker was sound synced to video, thus becoming video and revealing the self-identity of the two. The flickering image might be the simplest and most fundamental image, oscillating between shades of light and darkness, given from the outside as a simple binary pairing of the visual experience. It was a device for refocusing art viewing. As Bjørgeengen himself stated: "The flicker works can be harsh to watch first, as they are perceived on a physical level. The black and white works are often perceived in colors. There is a threshold that needs to be overcome. A still image from the video reads like a minimal work; set in motion the work turns into its opposite. The art work, having all the traditional marks of the art-making process, turns into a phenomenon and touches the demarcation line between art and non-art."

Another video artist closely connected with Norwegian music and especially the Punkt festival and regular Punkt musicians is Tord Knudsen. His work, an essential part of the concerts, could be experienced intensively during the next two days.

Second Day

The next two days went according to a clear pattern: start with seminars, then listening sessions and finally the remix concerts at Kick Scene and Fønix Kino.

Friday, the second day, had three seminars, one listening session (Jana Winderen/Mike Harding) and three remix concerts, namely sPace moNkey, Erik Honoré's album-release and Fennesz. A glance at the program not only revealed different sorts of contrasts but also various contexts/contextualizations of music the broadest/mightiest of which doubtless is nature (Jana Winderen) completed by media/recording plus storage plus distribution (Mike Harding), media/radio (Michael Engelbrecht), personal and artistic (hi)story (Laurie Anderson), animals, language (Laurie Anderson), other music (remix concerts).

The seminar program started with Michael Engelbrecht's "Storytelling for burning songs (Or: how to make radio magic)." Engelbrecht used the fabulating imagery of "Pacific Radio Fire," a short text from Richard Brautigan's 1971 book The Revenge Of The Lawn as stepping-stone: a running transistor radio is set on fire by one of the two young Weltschmerz-guys lingering on a lonely Monterey beach in mournful company of each other. The charged imagery of the burning songs served as an igniting metaphor for the evocation of magical effects: "As the radio gently burned away, the flames began to affect the songs that we were listening to."

In a staged radio-show Engelbrecht acted out his way of interconnecting and contouring heterogeneous types of music by his personal imaginative narratives—a demonstration of the art of talking every person of the audience into captivated or preferably even mesmerized listening to a well-weighed sequence of Ensemble Economique, Penguin Café Orchestra, Eric Honoré, Thomas Köner, Kim Kaskashian, Mirel Wagner, Brian Eno/Karl Hyde. Along a special associative narrative logic portions of fiction, colportage, polemics, musical background information, literary references, subjective projection of dreams and desires, predictions and prayers unfurled—alluding, provoking, dissing, praising—over the top at times. At its core was the suggestive power of the speaking and projected realms anchored in the authority of the narrator. His imagination even carried him far into the future, to a decisive and detailed burning lineup of one of the Punkt Festival days in 2015.

The context of nature was represented by Norwegian sound artist Jana Winderen. She miked animal sound worlds from difficult accessible underwater habitats, the (unheard) sound world of humpback whales, toad and parrot fish, very noisy (underwater) insects, and coral reefs; but she also uncovered sound worlds inaudible for the human ear like that of bats. She not only recorded these worlds with the latest technology. She also prepared and arranged them to bring them to our perception and experience in suitable, appropriate ways. Like a month ago, when she "installed" oceanic underwater soundscapes in New York City for an audience promenading the Park Avenue tunnel, or last year at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The ambisonic "sound installation" she fabricated there is a good place to start for an example of her work.

Winderen was educated in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College in London, and has a background in mathematics, chemistry and fish ecology from the University in Oslo. She releases her audio-visual works on Mike Harding and John Wozencroft's Touch label, a label that, over the past decades, has built up a special expertise in presenting unusual sound works, collaborating with artists iike Philip Jeck, Chris Watson and Christian Fennesz.

It was fascinating to learn about her expeditions, her sound hunting—a term introduced by Jan Bang in the seminar next day—and surprising and revealing in several respects, listening to her presentation of these sound worlds. It raised a couple of fundamental question about the biological significance, function and organization of sound compared to human musical perception and organization. An important reference here is the groundbreaking work of musician, instrument builder and biologist/biophonetician Bernie Krause.

The technical development that enables us to hear and record these sound worlds is at the same time responsible for a lot of disturbance and damage of the same biological habitats. It is two sides of the same coin. When listening to the edited recordings, it is maybe just more fascinating and exciting because we, as human beings, can hear (our) music in it. That applies very strongly to pieces composed by Winderen from field recordings made at Barents Sea, Greenland and Norway for her album Energy Field (Touch, 2010), especially halfway through the piece "Sense of Latent Power". Still more remarkable is that the until now unheard sounds resemble very much those produced and used in contemporary electronic music—Punkt-related musicians and groups included.

Not only is the recording of these sound worlds a special challenge; so, too, is presenting it to a broader, interested audience. The Touch label is, indeed, experienced in doing this kind of work and has been involved in a lot of special projects. The works published by the label are immediately recognizable due to the design and photography of Jon Wozencroft. Mike Harding described how changes over the past generation---the way audio is produced, perceived, marketed and consumed—have affected the working relationship with artists and the impact this has had on their work. Harding also curates Spire , a performance event which explores the acoustics of remarkable buildings, especially cathedrals and churches, such as York Minster, Lincoln, Geneva and Brussels Cathedrals.

Anderson/Talkington conversation

A brief look at Laurie Anderson's bio at the Punkt website gives a good indication where the tangents are, and why she finally was present at Punkt. An intriguing interplay of de-stylized and hyper-stylized modes is one of the characteristics of Laurie Anderson's interdisciplinary work.

More, in general, her appearances are of a special kind of ambient centring. She starts talking, like a nice neighbor, about daily things—common as well as uncommon—and then, all of a sudden, it turns into an amiable, highly poetic thing. Her gift is to bring a special elucidating significance, and to connect things along the way. She is able to direct the attention and inner dedication to a lovely detail—a center, for awhile, in a chaotic world. She does this by switching: by a kind of fading in and out. It is a very ambient thing, no reified creations here. It functions as a soft counterpoint to our everlasting, inescapable activity of rigid classification and fixing categorizations. Anderson's watchfulness is a constant process of passage. Of course, it may differ in the degree that her "things" appeal, or create a trace to pursue. In layering, extending and remixing heterogeneous sounds in a certain way a similar thing is going on. It is not a question of making crazy, nice or odd combinations and fusions; it is that special kind of differential quality, striking and elevating, that counts.

The talk with Punkt MC Fiona Talkington led into an ambient conversation navigating through manifold waters. From Turning Confusion Into Clarity, Yongey Mingyur Ringpoche's guide to the foundation practices of Tibetan Buddhism, to animals in music. Heiner Goebbels brought 100 sheep onstage recently at Ruhrbiennale; Anderson, together with Lou Reed, Colin Stetson and others, gave a concert for dogs at Sidney opera house some time ago. There were thoughts on the sound of barking dog, her blind dog playing piano, her dog Lolabelle attacked from the air. Then from dogs to church windows and sound gardening. She told how she was captivated by the magic of the church windows at the Grossmünster in Zürich, created by renowned visual artist Sigmar Polke.

She went on to describe her own participation in "In the Garden of Sonic Delights," an exhibition of new sound sculptures at the Caramoor Center for Music & the Arts in Katona, New York. Mentioning her new story-generating machine, a language of the future. The sequence of her discussing all these things occurred naturally and was always focused. She went on to discuss "Landfall," a piece she wrote for Kronos Quartet, the storage of pain (with your body it's harder to lie) and the expansion of one's hearing range through silent meditation (Paul Bradley), and the dynamic sense of space, as well as the ARTE TV movie essay she is currently working on.

ARTE asked her to make a film about her philosophy of life ... a mission clearly impossible, but nonetheless she has begun with some parts: about her dog, about surveillance and cameras ... and, finally, a concluding audience-initiated dialogue about the witches monument of the Steilneset memorial site at Vardø, created by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois. Vardø is situated in the Varanger area of Finmark, the eastern-most part of Norway, a 2,750 km distance from Kristiansand (about the same distance as to Tirana, Albania). It is a monument to commemorate the suspected witches who were burned at the stake there between the years 1589 and 1692,when a total of 135 people were indicted. 91 were executed as witches, the vast majority of Sami ancestry. All these topics passed with the ease of her connecting narrative.
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