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Punkt Festival 2014

Henning Bolte By

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"Edges," for any number of players and free instrumentation (1969), by Christian Wolff (1934)—performed by John Tilbury, Keith Rowe, Christian Fennesz, Eivind Lønning, Espen Reinertsen, Kari Rønnekleiv, Ole-Henrik Moe and Ingar Zach—was an ideal transitional piece between first day's music and the remix concerts of the second day. The signs on the score of "Edges" do not refer primarily to what the player plays or the listener hears. The signs mark out spaces, indicate points, surfaces, routes or limitations. Each player should play to, in or around what is marked out. This opens up a lot of interesting possibilities, choices and interactions that make every performance new. The listener is given a similar task of "composing" when perceiving the space and the voices, the sounds coming out of it. The visibility of the musicians aided this process, although partial non-visibility might have made it still more intriguing.

Remix Concerts

Drummer Gard Nilssen and pianist Morten Qvenild are two key musicians of the younger generation of the Norwegian scene. Both are—given the range and number of groups in which they participate—not only highly versatile but also investigative musicians. Nilssen has released a solo album (Drumming Music , Gigafon) recently; Qvenild is currently a research fellow in a new artistic (action-)research program at Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo. Under the title "hyPer(sonal) piano," he investigates the possibilities/restrictions of extending the piano. As sPace moNkey, the duo has just released its debut album The Karman Line (Hubro, 2014), operating extemporaneously in contrast to the preceding Christian Wolff's preceding, configured "Edges," or the through- composed pieces Håkon Stene played with his ensemble the day before. These qualifications are clearly scalar entities. Qvenild/Nilssen might at certain moments in the performance make use of a few pre-structured elements. sPace moNkey's music unpredictably shuttled between high energy outburst and freak outs, and beautifully strange, quiet soundscaping.

Qvenild chose to start with a quite straight, gospel-like Ray Charles vibe that became increasingly dense and heated. After awhile, it mutated into firedamp lightnings and turmoil but kept its graspable complexity and burning energy. The music exploded, spreading and stretching out energetically. The duo held up the tension, firing and keeping it steady from underneath. And, for landing, it managed to return into the curve of the initial gospel feel. The only evil-doer was a too ample, sound-killing, dulling subwoofer. The duo's music was the sheer opposite of the music heard the day before.

sPace moNkey created a strong challenge for Jan Bang and guitarists Eivind Aarset, together with a different drummer, Punkt-novice Samuel Rohrer. Rohrer, a Swiss musician from Berlin, has earned quite a reputation through his participation in various configurations with German ECM and Swiss Intakt label collaborations with Norwegian musicians including Jan Bang and, more recently, diving deeper into electronics with his new trio with Max Loderbauer (on buchla 200e) and Claudio Puntin (clarinets), on their first album, ambiq, on the new Arjuna-label.

For the remix, the source material provides impulses and casts a shadow. The musicians have to find and project their way into the action. In the beginning, Bang faded a melody line in and out, with Nilssen's bass drum deeply buried. Along with Rohrer's dry short drum beats and Aarset's guitar sounding almost mandolin-like for a short stretch, it departed. Gradually getting more layered---through Aarset's and Rohrer's subtle electronics too—it morphed into differing shapes and temperatures. The drum beats began to splinter, Aarset's electric guitar went into heavy rock mode. A storm arose—swooshing sound waves, as if a raving church organ was ascending. And, even better: Major Tom returned to the ground perfectly timed, not a single nanosecond too long—a crucial virtue. The potentials and possibilities of Bang's little Akai box again appeared to be amazing, but still more amazing was the rapidity of Bang's decision-making and his execution in and out of the musical flow. The initial remix: a marvellous match.

Punkt's co-artistic director Erik Honoré's new album, Heliographs, was officially released this day on Andreas Meland's profiling Hubro label. For the release concert, Honoré was joined onstage by trumpeter Arve Henriksen, guitarist Eivind Aarset, Dutch violinist Jeffrey Bruinsma and percussionist Ingar Zach. Alas, eminent vocalist and (irreplaceable) core Punkt musician Sidsel Endresen, who is on the recording, could not make it.

The album's title originates from Honoré's first novel Orakelveggen (Oracle Routes). The opening chapter of the book contains a fictional account of the development of photography nearly 200 years ago. Frenchman Joseph Niépce was the first, in 1822, to apply a procedure of light gravure, which he called heliography—writing with sunlight. The process used Bitumen of Judea, a naturally occurring asphalt, as a coating on glass or metal. It hardened in proportion to its exposure to light. When the plate was washed with oil of lavender, only the hardened areas remained. This concept is an illuminative cue to the album's nature, its bringing into relief from dark substratum which can also serve as a metaphor for the reverse characterstics of media—and life—and might trigger reflection (!) on the common properties of light and sound.

Stoically, the pulsing, humming, undulating dark-textured drone uncoiled with subliminal expectation of ebullitions, small and big bumps, de-railings or sudden outbursts. Bruisma's violin viscerally silhouetted against the background and shed tonal lights—even more intense as a new not yet fully adapted voice. Aarset's guitar eventually started soaring with a strong Oriental tinge; meanwhile, the dark soundscape was shifting from close-up to frontal view, and vice versa. Later still, Bruinsma's violin returned to the center with the beauty of a lost voice in the dark, as Henriksen and Aarset echoed each other in the vast sea of sound before the loud and cacophonous outburst of "Strife" took place. Honoré finished with "Sanctuary Revisited," crossfading into Morten Qvenild and Arve Henriksen's duo remix. Their remix turned into a softly vibrating curve with loopings of Bruisma's violin and Henriksen's own singing, joined by Qvenild's slowly emerging organ. But Qvenild is not a man to dwell; very soon he went against it, shattering and shaking. Finally, humor won out over severity through Qvenild's well-timed twist. The remix was a kind of extended coda that marked a new entrance.

Guitarist Christian Fennesz (pronounced /fenness/) returned to Punkt this year after playing, in 2013, with David Sylvian and Stephan Mathieu in The Kilowatt Hour. Fennesz's guitar is maybe one of the loudest beauty: no matter how loud he is playing, the beauty in it remains. It is, however, not a question of sheer volume, it is Fennesz's combination and fine-tuning of vibrations, and overdriven sounds on the edge of interference noise. No matter how loud and overdriven, a core quality remained clearly recognizable throughout. The thundering and roaring also set free lots of musical recollections, recognizable elements...even motifs, shining through the massive noise.

Fennesz is closely connected to the Viennese Polwechsel musicians, which is not self-evident at first sight/ear. Polwechsel bassist Werner Dafeldecker and Polwechsel drummer Martin Brandlmayr both participated in Fennesz's just-released Bécs (pronounced /baeetch/, the Hungarian name for Vienna). Polwechsel, in turn, is connected to and collaborates with John Tilbury and David Sylvian.

Fennesz played his solo set stoically, with only few adjusting actions on his laptop and switchboard on a table—no armada of pedals. Very loud swooshing and swishing, very simple motifs, all enlarged and extended, like a starting, departing and ascending airplane. Breaks were timed very well to redirect the attention. He even went into Albatross mode very briefly, and started a frenzied repetitive ascending guitar riff that led the heartbeat to a higher rate. And then, he went out of it just before it came to close to its own secondary cliché. It seems that he tried to let it go, emerging from the parameters set at the start to let it sing as much as possible.

To enter a remix of Fennesz by a string quartet could be called bold, and bold it was. It was also the quartet's very first appearance at the Punkt Festival, a double challenge and a test. Bang and Honoré hit the stage, immediately after Fennesz's performance, with Dutch string men Jeffrey Bruinsma (violin), Jasper le Clercq (violin), Oene van Geel (viola) and Emile Visser (cello): the tight quartet, Zapp.

A string quartet is an organism that has to get attuned, especially in a situation like this, when a fully extemporaneous reaction to Fennesz's guitar storm was afforded. The quartet started strumming collectively—sensing, like an alpine plant at sunrise in the morning. Small melodic buds appeared for short moments. Bang let it float for awhile before throwing in some impulsive obstacles, pushing it dynamically upward and forward. More and more layers appeared, more and more elements circled around, expanded, contracted, attracted, heated up and exploded. The strings, at one point, were a pizzicato looped and magnified, in another layer a sample played backwards and more deeply buried in Fennesz's work. Meanwhile, a complex dynamic interplay was underway. All the musicians were, by this time, synchronized to a great degree and taking initiatives—especially Visser, in the low register of his cello, increasing the music's richness and beauty. The group entered a climaxing, cathartic curve with a long turn down and landed with great precision, followed by a cheering response from the audience at Kick. A quite upbeat promise for their own concert the next day.

Third Day

Saturday, the third and last day, had three seminars (Henning Bolte w/Jan Bang, Morten Qvenild and Zapp4), two listening session (Niels Christian Moe-Repstad/Erik Honoré and Terje Paulsen/Alf Solbakken) and three remix concerts, specifically Zapp4 with Jan Bang, Friis/Osgood/Dodebum and Laurie Anderson with Arve Henriksen. The contexts here were sampling, sound extension and transposition, in addition to other music. The Punkt Festival has a strict consecutive program with no parallel events. It is, however, quite densely timed which sometimes makes it difficult to attend all the programs. Alas, it was impossible to make it for the listening sessions with Nils Christian Moe-Repstad, Terje Paulsen and Alf Solbakken.
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