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Punkt Festival 2014

Henning Bolte By

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In its seminar, Zapp4 gave a cumulative concert demonstration of its strategies and techniques, culminating in demonstrating its very much appreciated approach of rhythmic cycles plus its transposition of Radiohead pieces into Zapp4 remixes on We Suck Young Blood—The Radiohead Songbook (Buzz, 2012).

According to Italian writer Luca Vitali, Norway played a crucial role in the emancipation of European jazz from its Afro-American roots. Fiona Talkington had a conversation with Vitali about his recently published book, The Sound of the North or, in its native Italiian, Il suono del nord. La Norvegia protagonista della scena europea (Auditorium, 2013). In his book, Vitali has sought to dismantle distorted views on jazz in Europe and the role of the Norwegian scene, recounting it from his point of view on his first-hand recollections of the participants on the scene and his own experience at the scene's clubs and festivals which brought him to its latest shoot: Punkt. As his enthusiasm grew and he learned more, he realized how much there was to discover besides the nucleus of musicians popular at festivals around Europe. Pursuing this interest, and following the scene more and more closely, brought him into contact with the musical world of Jan Bang and the Punkt Festival, founded with Erik Honorè and characterized by Live Remix.

Remix Concerts

It was not the first time that Jan Bang and Dutch string quartet Zapp4 had played together. Earlier, they collaborated successfully at last year's edition of November Music, a New Music festival in Den Bosch in the southeast of the Netherlands. Working not only with strings (which happened earlier) but directly with a non-classical, improvising string quartet, makes a lot of sense considering Jan Bang's history of recording and live performances. Their first performance together at November Music pushed the envelope in the sense that it was a 100% extemporaneous performance, creating a type of music that was clearly a piece of chamber music but which would be difficult to notate and then render live in the same quality.

The music departed into dark moods, deep abysses and inferno sceneries moving on to forcefully hammered pizzicatos reminiscent of cellist Tom Cora at times. Zapp and Bang maintained the gripping high tension over the whole, the complete stretch with lots of impressive shiftings and swelling overflows, a highly dynamic, increasingly intense piece of work that, in the end, triggered a standing ovation and made a real mark. It lifted the qualities of its earlier performance to a still higher level. So this format clearly proved to be "Punkt suitable" and open for further explorations.

The remix was reserved for Erik Honoré and saxophonist Raffaele Casarano. Raffaele produced long stretching cantilenas of a Jan Garbarek kind, above a sample of Visser's cello as the remix's pulse. Casarano's electronically enhanced saxophone became a bit too dominant in the long run, loosing its contrasting tension and release effect.

Next up was Danish trio Friis/Osgood/Dodebum, also new to Punkt. Maria Laurette Friis is a Danish composing and improvising sound artist who explores the space between primal, ceremonial sound, classical eastern influences, 20th century classical music, noise and folk song, currently using processed voice, Korg MS-10, cembalo, flutes and tamboura. She has collaborated with the likes of Pamelia Kurstin, Stian Westerhus, Eivind Lønning, Fred Frith and Mat Maneri. Kresten Osgood, a member of Kopenhagen's ILK collective, is one of the most colorful and busiest drummers on the Danish scene, covering a broad range of musical idioms. He has collaborated with likes of Sam Rivers, Tim Berne and Paul Bley, and has his own annual Musketeer Festival, where musicians from all styles of music meet and break down the walls of the music scene of Copenhagen. Dodebum is Henrik Sundh, electronic musician and producer from Copenhagen. His musical universe is mostly dark, spooky and almost empty, with some decrepit leftovers inhabited by sparse, lonesome flitting melodic fragments.

The trio's performance became an utterly darkened affair, with Osgood's razor- sharp muscular and sweeping drum cycles, Sundh's inward directed electronics and Friis' multiple sound extensions and layering. What started quite fascinating became more and more locked in a feeling—what might have been intentionally or unintentionally accepted. It seemed the trio was caught in an endless electro-acoustical loop that reproduced itself with only minimal shifts that constantly reentered the cycle. A kind of dark doom trance which did not appeal to everybody.

Again, a remix crew with a strong signature—Nils Petter Molvaer, Hamid Drake, Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang—was ready to take up the challenge and do their collective thing with it. The piece of departure and the remix should be considered as constituting a special kind of working unit. And then it becomes fascinating what the remix musicians hear in the source music—what they can get out of it and how they do it. There are so many possibilities to fail gorgeously or splendidly, or get stuck in one's own routines and patterns. In this case, however, something happened—far from expectations or set frames. Provoked by a strong initial attack from Molvær, the crew turned it all radically over into a brilliantly shining light and banned the dark spirits...an ingenious prank! Once underway, the music started to vibrate, quaking like a pow-wow and conjuring up the spirit of Jim Pepper. A wonderful unexpected segue which, for the time being, brought into existence a new brotherhood of breath. And it was a remix that brought forth an encore. Many things were at work to bring all this about, one of them, apparently, the strong impulse given by the source material and, of course, the strong chemistry of the remix crew.

Another remix concert, a concluding apotheosis was still waiting to happen in the big hall of the Fønix cinema: the performance of Laurie Anderson and Arve Henriksen, remixed by Christian Fennesz, with visuals by the great master, Tord Knudsen. The stage setting was brilliant, the commitment high. So were expectations. Both Anderson and Henriksen were—as usual—good in focusing on intimate sounds, gestures and narratives. Both manifested themselves in full strength unfolding rich and flourishing sonic landscapes, but maybe it was just that which prevented moments of sudden bare wonder to arise, unforeseen transmutation to happen or cross-fertilizations to occur. Some elements did not find their place, getting lost. Nevertheless, moments of pure beauty, reminiscence and near- surrender occurred, strengthened by Fennesz's remix, which followed immediately. The shrieking sound streams of his guitar, full of subtleties, gradually burned away the sonic landscapes just experienced. It remains a miracle how he managed this appealing equilibrium of loudness, noise, texturing and sub-melodic traits.

Conclusion

2014, at the end of a cruel summer, was a less abundant and euphoric edition than some editions in the past but it was very much focused and structured with lots of striking contrasts and fits. There were clear highlights, some doubts and even dislikes.

The core crew of Punkt artists has succeeded in establishing the festival internationally, as a non-negligible quantity and, at the same time, retaining its original spirit as something upon which can be relied. Punkt has played a leading and guiding role and has, therefore, had quite an impact and abiding influence on various musical fields and musicians. The achievements have clear contours. The challenge is not only to expand and enter new territories and musical scents (like the string quartet, the sound artists or involving younger generation's attack like that of sPace moNkey), but also to sharpen the focus on the quality of contrasts (and counters) in the remixing chain. Is it endless open-ended variation or will it be more urgent to find out how to pave the path to germination and discover 'the best" striking fits?

Photo Credit: Henning Bolte

Thanks to John Kelman, long time, experienced Punkt-reviewer

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